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MONROE TWP., NJ-Although storm clouds are gathering over New Jersey’s economic landscape, the mood at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce meeting here was somewhat optimistic. Caren Franzini, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority was on hand to offer an overall look at the state of business in New Jersey and also to describe the recent restructuring of the state commerce department and streamlining of the incentives programs.

“This is the most unpredictable environment that any of us have been in,” Franzini admitted. “What we in the EDA are doing today may change, but that’s how it should be—the EDA must constantly change to help businesses in the state.”

Franzini went on to paint a rosier picture of the state than many have been offering in recent months. Among other things, she reported that New Jersey is home to 24 Fortune 500 businesses, 25 of the top pharmaceutical businesses and 1,400 international businesses, which speaks to the diversity of the state. In addition, New Jersey offers good logistics through its road and rail networks and has recently attracted such major players as Arch Insurance, which relocated 300 jobs to Jersey City, and Optipharma, which shifted its operations from Virginia to New Jersey. Still, said Franzini, more could be done, and hopefully the recent reorganization of certain government departments will help.

On July 1, Governor Corzine shut down the Commerce Commission and farmed out its duties to four other state departments in an effort to streamline processes. Travel and Tourism was sent to the Secretary of State’s office, Urban Enterprise Zone Authority was moved to the Department of Community Affairs, a certification group was joined with the contracts group, and the remaining commerce group, which included the state’s major business incentives programs, was sent to the EDA.

Franzini described her plans for the commerce groups and the business incentives programs, which includes developing a strategy to make the state’s businesses more aware of where they can go with questions. As part of this, the EDA is developing calling plans tailored to companies’ needs and sizes. The largest companies, which generate the most revenue by the state, will be contacted by the governor. Smaller companies that require help with tax incentives and assistance with growth will be in touch with the EDA.

In addition, Franzini plans to make a more concerted effort to target out-of-state and out-of-country life sciences, finance and energy companies and persuade them to relocate to New Jersey.

“We have to do a better job of promoting New Jersey,” she said. “But we can’t do it alone.” Franzini advocates partnering with established businesses in the state to promote New Jersey and also to look to other states that have been successful in attracting new tenants and borrowing some of their ideas.

Perhaps the biggest effect the consolidation could have on business in the Garden State is the streamlining of the incentives programs. Before, incentives programs were run by several different departments, making the application process lengthy, frustrating and repetitive. Now, the largest programs—Brownfields Reimbursement, BRAAG and the Transit Hub Tax Credit program—are under the control of the EDA, which means that companies only have to fill out one set of paperwork when applying. Franzini hopes to use these programs to target growth in the state’s urban areas and make them viable. In addition, EDA offers the Edison Innovation Fund, which helps growing young technology companies secure real estate space and provides them with tax benefits to encourage their growth.

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