New Jersey Budget: It’s All About “the Company We Keep”

Written by Debbie Hart, President & CEO, BioNJ

“Move Over, New Jersey”.  That’s the opening line in The Boston Globe story we were greeted to upon arrival at the International BIO Conference in Boston last week. In a story quoting Massachusetts Life Sciences Center CEO Travis McCready, it was reported that “The state continues to field calls from New Jersey life sciences companies looking to relocate or expand in Massachusetts”. The Globe touted Massachusetts’ advancing status as a top biotech hub having just outpaced New Jersey. And the following day, Mass. Governor Charlie Baker announced a $400M investment into biotech on top of the billions they have already invested.

I could not wait to get back to the safety of my beloved home state. But alas, I returned to the reality of “budget season” and the startling news of possible increased taxes on corporations.

At the conference, our New Jersey team of NJEDA, Choose New Jersey and the Business Action Center worked hard to attract companies from other states and countries. And while in Boston, we reported our own story of job growth with an increase of 2.6% since 2014. However, that was compared to 4.4% nationally, 8.9% in MA and 6.1% in PA. I shudder to think — unless something changes — how much more those gaps will widen.

At the same time, I am heartened by our Governor’s commitment to encouraging innovation and his willingness to be our Chief Salesperson and by Senate President Sweeney’s and Speaker Coughlin’s commitments to finding new solutions. I hope they will all be successful. Because we are at a tipping point.

Whether biotech or nanotech or artificial intelligence, how many more companies will we lose and how many others simply won’t come? And for those that are here, it is not just whether they stay, but also where they choose to expand and grow. I talked to one of our home-grown CEOs last week who is considering relocating literally hundreds of jobs outside New Jersey and he, as well as two other executives I spoke with, are just waiting to see what the budget will include to make their decisions. I have never fielded more calls than I have in recent months with concerns over New Jersey’s trajectory.

I have been working in support of our state’s economic growth for a long time and I am not one to overreact. But I have also never been more concerned.

Meanwhile, despite the slowing growth, the industry represents nearly 3,300 establishments, 117,000 direct jobs and an average salary of $148K. That’s a lot to lose.

And given federal tax reform and its impact on New Jersey, this is the worst possible time to raise taxes on corporations or to do anything that will jeopardize what we have.

Over the next three weeks, state budget decisions will be made that will send a clear message to business as to whether New Jersey is a place in which to grow and expand or to push companies to other states like Massachusetts, by raising taxes.

The state has weathered more than one budget crisis and spending challenges in the past. Please think long-term as you work to close the budget gap and consider the opportunities — not just in life sciences, but all the opportunities — that could evaporate and disappear. If companies like Ipsen continue to move facilities and jobs to other states, they will take with them the vital revenue the state needs.

Now, more than ever before, New Jersey has the opportunity to not only retain our current businesses, but attract new innovative companies. New Jersey needs to invest in business and job retention or be content to have other states pick our proverbial economic pockets.

I, for one, vote for building on the strengths and assets of our state that will enhance business investment and job creation, now and in the future. In fact, this Wednesday the bipartisan, bicameral New Jersey Biotechnology Task Force will release its recommendations, a blueprint for growing this important industry. I hope those recommendations will be given the chance to deliver on their promise.

So to those who can make a difference, please do. We need to hold on to what we have and expand the pie. That will only come with long-term thinking and investment.