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LIVINGSTON, NJ-A joint meeting sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of CoreNet Global and the Economic Development Association of New Jersey was both a recap of bills that have been signed into law to help the state’s attractiveness to businesses as well as a stage for a few hints of what may be coming down the pipeline.

Speakers at the event included: Jerry Zaro, chief of the New Jersey Office of Economic Growth; Joseph Taylor, CEO of Matrix Development and chair of the Governor’s Real Estate Advisory Board; Steve Pozycki, CEO of SJP Properties and chair of the marketing subcommittee of the Real Estate Advisory Board; and Tim Lizura, senior vice president for business development for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Taylor kicked off the session by saying that the mission of the advisory board, now a year old, was to make the state more competitive in the battle for businesses, remove hurdles to economic development and send a message to corporate America that New Jersey was “open for business.” Pozycki followed by saying that in the past, the state was not always consistent in its economic development efforts. But the appointment of Zaro, formerly a private developer, has helped in bringing about that consistency, Pozycki added.

Much of the discussion revolved around the recently enacted revisions to the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit and the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant Programs. Also mentioned were the Licensed Site Remediation Professional Act and the suspension of the 2.5% COAH fee on developers.

Zaro said there has been “inordinate interest” in the UTHTC program and applications are already coming into the department. He termed the UTHTC program “the greatest economic driver in the state” and can be a powerful tool to stem unemployment in the state’s urban areas.

In regards to COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) regulations, Zaro said the state should provide affordable housing, but the current system “is ill advised to accomplish that goal.” He said the regulations are based on antiquated numbers. Further, he predicted COAH will be revamped in the next administration of the state “whoever wins” the governor’s race.

Zaro said that the LSRP program, which allows private contractors licensed by the DEP to oversee the cleanup of contaminated sites, could be expanded to other state agencies, such as the Department of Transportation. Outside contractors, he explained, could handle routine access permits, for example.Governor Jon Corzine’s clean energy program has shown results, Zaro reported, since New Jersey is now number two in the country for solar installations and manufacturing.

Lizura said guidelines for the ERRG program are on track to be approved next month, with the program set to be launched in December. He said the state has begun to see job creation facilitated by the Business Employment Incentive Program, which gives grants to businesses that expand or relocate and create at least 25 jobs in New Jersey.

Both Zaro and Lizura stressed that these programs are not giveaways to developers, as some critics have charged. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Zaro stated. Before any money is given to a developer, a review of the project is undertaken and the benefits to the state must be more than the grant awarded, said both state officials.

Furthermore, Zaro emphasized the state’s needs these incentives in order to compete with other states to win jobs and businesses. When asked by an audience member what is the EDA’s hit rate when it attempts to attract businesses to the state, Lizura said the percentage is about 50%.

For the next round of economic stimulus efforts, Zaro said changes to the state’s tax code, such as eliminating the levy on the overseas revenue of New Jersey-based businesses, are being contemplated. “We want to stop taxes at the water’s edge,” he said.

Extending the Invest NJ program is also on tap. The program, which gives businesses $3,000 for each new hire, was oversubscribed in its first five weeks after it was launched last year, and was responsible for the addition of 17,000 jobs, according to Zaro.

Overall, the state must do more to emphasize its attributes–a highly educated workforce, good school system, an international airport and seaport and mass transit, Zaro said. Rather than making it difficult to do business in the state, “We should be welcoming companies,” he said.

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