Making it easier to do business in New Jersey – the ultimate question

Chris Abruzzo, vice president of business development at NJ American Water, jumped straight to the point Wednesday — because that’s the kind of event the ReNew Jersey Business Summit was.

“The state of New Jersey needs to make it easier for the business community and even residents to do business with the state of New Jersey,” he said. “No disrespect to lawyers or engineers, but you shouldn’t hire an engineering firm or a law firm to help you get a permit or license. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.”

Abruzzo, speaking on a Day 2 panel — “The 2025 Gubernatorial Campaign: Matters That Matter to Business” — was just getting started. And he admitted to the crowd in Atlantic City that all cases can be different.

“Some permits, especially with DEP are complicated — and they require sophisticated applications,” he said. “But agencies can help improve (the process) by looking at the things they’re doing for the services they provide and making sure, especially with today’s technology, that it’s easier.

“When you apply for an application, you need to have a pretty good idea of ​​how long it will take to get your permit or license – you need to know what the cost will be. You don’t have to get a small business loan to get that permit or that license.”

The ReNew Jersey Summit was designed to produce this type of dialogue. Moderator Tom Bracken, CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, certainly encouraged it.

On this panel, the length of the government process seemed to be more of a problem than having a government process.

Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber, said he supports the regulation — and acknowledges the role it has played in the state in the past, when there were many bad actors. He called for an update.

“(Developers) are being treated like they were 30 years ago,” he said. “The mentality of the regulatory environment is if it would still happen, and it has changed – so government agencies have to change.”

Kirkos said the mindset needs to change.

“Today’s actors are very different; developers are very different – ​​and they should be treated differently,” he said.

Gil Medina, an executive vice president at CBRE who once served as the state’s secretary of commerce, acknowledged that government can play a key role in areas no one else can, including law enforcement, environmental protection and transportation infrastructure.

The problem, Medina said, is that the government can control its appetite.

“We continue to create more programs and more ways to spend money that these taxes have to raise,” he said. “And it starts to get to a point where it’s not sustainable.”

His solution: “I think the government should spend less, tax less, regulate less, legislate less and govern better,” he said.

Finding this balance can be difficult.

Diane Wasser, managing partner at Eisner Amper, had high praise for the NJ Economic Development Authority and the programs it offers. However, the praise came with a complaint.

Wasser said the time it can take to complete an application and get it approved can be so long that she’s had clients stop the process before completing it.

Another complaint is that some of the programs come with stipulations — such as paying above the minimum wage — that can cancel program benefits, she said.

“Our programs are really, really good,” she said. “(EDA CEO) Tim Sullivan does a great job. However, one of the things that can be a huge opportunity is to make them less cumbersome, less expensive and less confusing. It’s really hard to get help from the state when people need it.

“It’s bittersweet, there are big incentives and you want to take advantage of it, but it’s so overwhelming that some people give up.”

Don’t get confused. The group was not completely subservient to the state. Far from it.

He praised the state’s educated workforce, workforce development initiatives and the strong connection between business and academia.

However, it came with concerns. The cost of housing – and the need for more workforce housing – is huge.

However, nothing is more important than finding more revenue, especially at a time when taxes are going up, Kirkos said.

“The growth of the business provides that natural flow of income and rate,” he said. “If we don’t continue to be business-friendly, those revenue streams are going to dry up — and then we’re going to have real problems.”

Abruzzo, who came to NJAW after years working in Pennsylvania, said business taxes set the state’s image.

“The one thing that I think is true, no matter what state you work in, is that high taxes on your business community sends a really bad message to businesses when they want to come to your state,” he said. “And for the businesses that are out there, when you raise those taxes to pay for other services, there’s a direct correlation, whether it’s hiring new employees or having to lay off employees, the money doesn’t just come out of nowhere.

“When you meet businesses, there is a direct impact. And I think the next governor should really look at it closely. If you want to unleash the talent and business potential of New Jersey, you must create a plan that is more attractive to businesses, large and small.”

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