Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Business Leaders See Strength in Numbers at Summit 500 Welcome Call for 'Contract with New Jersey'

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Business Leaders See Strength in Numbers at Summit 500 Welcome Call for 'Contract with New Jersey'

Article excerpt

ATLANTIC CITY -- Sometimes, as the saying goes, "It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it" that gets results.

At least, that is the hope of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, as the dust settles on its first business summit -- titled "A Time for Action" -- held in Atlantic City last week.

Through half a dozen panels, speakers voiced a litany of concerns over New Jersey's business climate, some saying the state faces an emergency situation, and even a "crisis," that will result in investment and jobs fleeing, or avoiding the state, if something is not done soon.

But in truth, most of the themes that emerged at the forum have been voiced by business leaders often before -- such as high taxes, exorbitant cost of living, suffocating red tape and more -- as some leaders acknowledged.

"I felt [in] a lot of people, this sense of Groundhog Day," Michele Sierkaka, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said on a panel of trade group leaders Friday morning, referring to the Thursday sessions. "We heard: Didn't we talk about this before? Aren't there a whole bunch of white papers on this?"

Yet business leaders hope that this time is different, and progress can be made, in part due to the strong turnout for the event. About 500 people registered, which chamber leaders said privately was about twice what they initially expected.

"I'm more positive today than I have been," said Paul Boudreau, president of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce. "Bringing 500 people here to send a message on some of these key issues, I think that's a better spot than we were in six months ago." He suggested that the group create a "Contract With New Jersey" as a galvanizing tract, in the same way former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tried to incite Republicans with his Contract With America.

Jim Kirkos, president and CEO of Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, said the business community may have reached a critical mass of support.

"What's different is you can see the groundswell of collaboration is bigger now than at any other time in the past," he said. "Here you have every regional chamber, every big business association and all kinds of organizations all on the same page.

"What we are really saying is, the state sport that was created of kicking the can down the road -- cannot be kicked any further on a bunch of major issues," he said. "It's time to deal with it."

*

The choice of Atlantic City, with its numerous problems and casino industry meltdown, as the site for the forum was no accident. The choice was made to spotlight a key New Jersey city in the process of "reinventing itself," and to promote "a city that needs help," said state Chamber President Tom Bracken.

And Tom Ballance, president of the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, where the forum took place, wasted no time in making a play for business from his captive audience of business leaders and executives -- and demonstrating the process of reinvention. …

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