New Jersey Business Action Center: Powerful Ally For Business Growth

Friday, July 1, 2011 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Linda Kellner, Acting Executive Director, New Jersey Business Action Center.

Editor: Please tell our readers about the New Jersey Business Action Center. What is its structure and mission?

Kellner: The Business Action Center was developed by the Christie administration as part of the larger Partnership for Action - the centerpiece of the administration's comprehensive economic development strategy. Under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, the Partnership is the starting point for all initiatives, policies and efforts toward growing our economy, creating quality, sustainable jobs and making New Jersey a home for growth.

Three entities make up the Partnership for Action: Choose New Jersey, the Business Action Center (BAC) and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, or EDA. The Business Action Center is dedicated to expanding opportunities and spurring investment across New Jersey's business community. Its talented and diverse staff works to foster economic vitality, create jobs and position New Jersey as a national leader in retaining, expanding and attracting businesses.

Editor: What services are offered by the BAC?

Kellner: The BAC plays a vital role in working to retain and attract business to the state by providing professional and coordinated assistance to businesses. These services include the following:

• Financial and Incentive Programs: BAC's business advocates walk businesses through the vast array of the state's available incentive and financing programs.

• Permitting and Regulatory Assistance: BAC provides professional services to help new and existing businesses navigate New Jersey's regulatory process. By actively working with various state agencies and departments, BAC staff studies all of the issues involved, quickly assesses the challenges, and formulates solutions. Beyond key contacts on the state level, the BAC has excellent working relationships with county and local government entities throughout New Jersey.

• Site Selection Services: BAC also offers a full range of site selection solutions. This includes, but is not limited to, key development services, such as assembling land and restructuring financing.

Editor: Please take us through the process from start to finish. Are your services flexible enough to accommodate businesses of all sizes?

Kellner: A company of any size can reach out to the BAC's team of economic development experts by calling (866) 534-7789. Our call center staff will then assess the needs of the caller and put them in touch with the appropriate business advocate.For business retention, expansion and attraction projects, the advocates will conduct a meeting with company officials. They will then identify and match the project with ideal state programs and resources that meet the individual needs of each business. Simply stated, our business advocates save a company valuable time and money by working as an extension of a company's own team for site selection services, financial solutions, regulatory issues, and complicated technical and compliance issues.

I would also like to point out that the BAC call center team is particularly trained to address the needs of small to mid-sized businesses, whether as a resource to answer questions about starting or growing a business, as experts on the state's financing and incentive programs, or as advisors on what licenses or permits one needs to do business in New Jersey.

Editor: Does BAC's function encompass expertise or services for international companies?

Kellner: The Business Action Center provides assistance to companies looking to do business globally through trade consulting services and inward foreign direct investment services. These services include identifying buyers and international markets; finding partners for joint ventures and strategic alliances; and trade assistance and trade advocacy.

Whatever a company's global ambitions may be, the BAC will provide the expertise and programs to help it succeed - here in New Jersey and throughout the highly competitive global marketplace.

Editor: What are your thoughts on the upcoming New Jersey legislative session and its potential impact on your activities?

Kellner: As one of the three components of the larger Partnership for Action, the Business Action Center always keeps a keen eye on legislative sessions. Efforts to control property taxes have had a direct effect on the BAC's ability to promote New Jersey's quality of life. Similarly, ongoing efforts by the Christie administration to enact comprehensive tax and regulatory reform through the legislative process will directly influence our effectiveness in attracting and retaining businesses of all types and sizes.

A terrific example occurred recently when Governor Christie signed a bill to improve the state's Business Retention & Relocation Assistance Grant program, or BRRAG. As a result, the incentive's maximum credit now stands at $2,250 per year for six years for every job retained in the state, as opposed to the prior $1,500 one-time credit for each job retained. The change was instrumental to Honeywell International's reaffirming its commitment to New Jersey and could affect 10,000 total jobs at various companies throughout the state. The BAC, as an entity directly responsible for carrying out economic development policy, sees the budget negotiations for the upcoming 2012 fiscal year as a process of paramount importance.

Editor: Has there been progress with efforts to make New Jersey's regulatory environment more transparent and user-friendly? What are some specific accomplishments, and where is further action needed most?

Kellner: In his first hours in office, Governor Christie signed a series of Executive Orders (EOs) aimed at reforming New Jersey's troubling regulatory climate - efforts that have since garnered national headlines. EO No. 1 gave all state departments 90 days to review proposed regulations and 180 days to review existing regulations. The intent was simple: to eliminate ineffectual, outdated and duplicative rules that have long hindered economic growth and job creation. With EO No. 2, the governor created the bipartisan Red Tape Review Group, a gathering of experts to "review all pending and proposed rules and regulations to assess their effects on New Jersey's economy and to determine whether their burdens on business and workers outweigh their intended benefits."

As a result of this work, of the 128 proposed regulations that had been frozen by EO No. 1, state departments withdrew 16. Furthermore, the departments recommended abolishing six chapters of the administrative code in their entirety and proposed to amend 99 regulations and repeal 31 regulations. Moreover, the New Jersey Register of proposed and adopted regulations was 3,086 pages long at the close of 2010 - less than two-thirds of the total 4,846 pages at the close of 2009 and less than half of the 7,020-page total at the close of 2008.

In addition to these accomplishments, I wanted to point out two significant changes that are an outcome of the Red Tape Review.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) made immediate "common sense" changes to Public Access Rules as they relate to exempted waterfront dredging activities, development at existing port facilities and any property with homeland security concerns. If the permitted activity does not impact public access or go beyond the existing parcel of land, no access will be required. Under these circumstances, chemical, industrial, manufacturing, energy and homeland security facilities will not get hit with public access fees.

DEP recognizes that naming specific forms in Site Remediation Rules sets the stage for rule amendments since the form names often change. Instead, DEP's new process directs the person conducting the remediation to web-based forms that are listed by subject and cross-referenced to the citation in the NJAC. The most noteworthy change to these rules is that a licensed site remediation professional may now proceed with a remediation without pausing for DEP review and approval after each phase. This will expedite the remediation process and reduce costs.

Building on the activity of its predecessor, the 90-day Red Tape Review Group, the ongoing Red Tape Review Commission was established by Executive Order 41 and will hold at least three public meetings throughout the state in 2011, submitting a final report to Governor Christie in December. Through these forums, the Commission will continue to solicit the public's view of New Jersey's regulatory process.

Editor: How does the BAC further New Jersey's initiatives to attract business? What are common questions that businesses ask about New Jersey?

Kellner: We work to attract businesses with a combination of traditional new business development strategies and with new and innovative outreach initiatives to spread the word that New Jersey is an excellent business location. Businesses often ask us how we rank in terms of our workforce, our strategic location and, of course, our quality of life. They also want to know about changes the Christie administration is making to our business environment. New Jersey truly has an impressive story to tell.

We are situated at the center of the bustling Northeast Corridor, giving businesses access to consumers worldwide and 100 million people within a 24-hour drive. New Jersey ranks among the top ten states in which to do business, with its well-educated and highly skilled workforce. We are also the state of choice for more than 20 percent of the world's Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of multinational firms.

New Jersey offers an exceptional quality of life and is a wonderful place for families. In fact, Forbes magazine recently ranked New Jersey fifth in the country in terms of quality of life. The state's public, primary and secondary schools are outstanding, ranking in the top three states for the highest dollar-investment-per-student ratios in the United States.

Adding to our strength as a world-class business location, Governor Christie is diligently making changes that provide common sense, targeted tax relief to improve the state's business climate. Since taking office, the governor has been committed to making important reforms to improve the state's business climate while maintaining fiscal discipline over spending. This included bold action, such as allowing the Corporate Business Tax surcharge to sunset, protecting businesses from an average $400 per employee (52 percent) increase in the unemployment insurance payroll tax, placing a hard two percent cap on property taxes, and seeking to close an $11 billion budget deficit without tax increases. These policies all demonstrate that New Jersey is well-positioned for business expansion, economic growth and job creation.

I also want to stress that the attitude of New Jersey CEOs toward the state's economy and business climate has improved significantly during the Christie administration, according to the New Jersey Economic Policy Summit's latest "C-Suite Survey" (C-Suite VI) of Garden State CEOs.

The findings, presented in May 2011, show that 75 percent of respondents believe state government has become more responsive to the needs of the business community over the past six months, and 72 percent rated New Jersey's economy as fair or good. These figures are up from 35 percent and 34 percent, respectively, in the previous C-Suite Survey (C-Suite V) conducted in the fall of 2009.

Editor: How's business at the BAC? Can you provide some statistics about either prospects for new businesses to come to New Jersey or factors that contribute to decisions to stay here?

Kellner: Business is booming at the Business Action Center. In fact, the lieutenant governor-led Partnership for Action is making a difference! Together, BAC entities have

• counseled 521 businesses and 60 exporters;

• assisted nearly 32,800 customers through our call center;

• issued 163 proposals for business retention, expansion and attraction projects;

• expanded New Jersey's presence in overseas markets;

• hosted 23 foreign trade delegations;

• provided $567.3 million in financing assistance, incentives and tax credits;

• supported the creation of 5,200 new permanent jobs; and

• retained 12,000 jobs.

One of our most recent wins was Bayer Healthcare. Bayer chose to remain in New Jersey, keeping more than 2,000 jobs here and making our state home to its U.S. corporate headquarters - creating at least another 500 jobs.

Editor: How can companies find you?

Kellner: They can find us at www.newjerseybusiness.gov as well by phone at (866) 534-7789.

Please email the interviewee at businessactioncenter@sos.state.nj.us with questions about this interview.