AFORCEFUL ADVOCATE FOR business growth in South Jersey, New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3)—who represents the counties of Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland— has spearheaded numerous initiatives furthering expansion of commercial activity in the region.
This matters, as he is one of the three top legislative leaders in Trenton, and exerts major influence on legislation and public policy in the Garden State. In this exclusive interview with COMMERCE, Senator Sweeney shares his views on the key issues and trends pivotal to the business community of South Jersey.
The Port of Paulsboro. “We opened up the first new port in New Jersey in nearly 50 years in Paulsboro. When it’s finished, probably $350 million to $400 million will have been spent to build this port, and it’s going to create a thousand jobs. Six miles down the road further south, a $65 million infrastructure hedge fund [Fortress Investment Group] bought the old Dupont Repauno site in Greenwich, and they are building a port with private sector dollars. With these two ports, we’re talking about thousands of jobs, and maximizing our natural resources to bring old brownfield sites back to life.”
Renewal of New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund. “We are a logistics state. New Jersey sits within a radius of 60 million people. You know the old saying, ‘Location, location, location?’ We have the location, but with that we need the infrastructure. With the renewal of the Transportation Trust Fund, we will be able to complete the Camden-Gloucester light rail project, which is critical to the lifeblood of this region. When you build ports, you must have reliable freight rail. Freight rail is what moves the product, safer and faster, and it is better for the environment. With New Jersey dollars backed by federal dollars, we have programmed $1.4 billion over the next eight years to fix our freight rail system. It’s long overdue, it’s necessary and it will really improve commerce in New Jersey.”
Investment in South Jersey. “Another great investment is the Route 42 Direct Connect project in Camden County [connecting I-295, I-76 and Route 42, ongoing until 2023]. That project had been talked about for 15 years, but now it has started and is a $1.3 billion project. It’s designed to unlock an area that is one of the most congested in the state.”
Preservation of the NJ/PA Income Tax Reciprocity Agreement. “If that reciprocity agreement had not been restored, it would have cost southern New Jersey residents an additional $200 million in taxes. That would be $200 million coming right out of the economy of this region. In terms of the ripple effect, for every dollar saved, it amounts to $7 to $8 in economic development. People who live in New Jersey and spend dollars here, but who work in Philadelphia, would have been hurt by the Philadelphia income tax and city wage tax. New Jersey has a progressive income tax that starts out much lower, so someone making [for example] $100,000 would wind up paying $1,500 to $2,000 in Philadelphia taxes. It would have hurt our economy in a dramatic way.”
Business-Education Partnerships. “Our universities, Rowan and Stockton, are becoming economic drivers for southern New Jersey. Having partnerships with private companies strengthens their commitment to the region and provides employment opportunities for our young people. Engineering students at Rowan are getting internships at Lockheed Martin and end up getting employment there. Rowan is just the second university i
n the country, after Michigan State, to offer both M.D. and D.O. [Doctor of Osteopathic]-granting medical programs. Our region of the state has a lot of heavy industry, and light industry like warehousing and plant [factory] work, but we would like to have more engineering-based and pharmaceutical-based types of high-paying jobs. With the expansion of Rowan from 8,000 to 17,000 students, the success of its engineering school and its designation as a research university, millions of dollars are staying in the economy in southern New Jersey, because we are educating the future workforce for those jobs, and young people who would have been shut out here are now staying.”
Restructuring Higher Education. “I was one of the prime drivers of restructuring higher education in New Jersey with the merger of Rutgers and UMDNJ. [As part of the reorganization, Rowan was elevated to the status of research university and authorized to absorb UMDNJ’s School of Osteopathic Medicine.] Rutgers went from $316 million in research dollars to $539 million in two years.”
Support from Trenton for Business Expansion. “Before the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 was passed, 98 cents of every dollar went to Hudson and Essex counties. There was not a recognition that land costs and labor costs here in southern New Jersey are different than in other parts of the state. When a threshold of $50 million was set for a project to qualify for the program’s incentives, there are not a lot of $50 million projects in this area, so we could not take full advantage. We worked on legislation to help change this, and made southern New Jersey eligible for a lot of programs that were working in the northern part of the state. It’s not the South against the Central or the North. We are all in this together, and we want to help all regions of the state of New