New Governor, New Focus for New Jersey Economic Development Authority?

The New Jersey State House is seen in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, June 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority has established a dedicated small business unit, the agency announced in a press release. This follows years of focusing economic development efforts on luring large businesses like Amazon—NJ’s $7 billion incentive bid for HQ2 was the second largest bid made publicly available.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a first-term Democrat, said in a statement that “our vision for a stronger and fairer economy in New Jersey includes removing the barriers that small businesses face in growing and creating jobs here.”

The new unit will provide financial, technical and workforce assistance to New Jersey-based small businesses, with a focus on businesses owned by historically underrepresented groups.

Among the programs offered is the new Access program, a $15 million loan fund that will offer loans and loan guarantees of up to $1.5 million with requirements that are more flexible than a traditional small business loan.

The new unit comes as Governor Murphy revealed his first economic plan, which states: “Our vision is to reestablish New Jersey as an economic and innovation leader: as a place where diverse talent, companies, and ideas flourish; where real pathways exist to the middle class; and where all residents can prosper in the economy. To unlock long-term and resilient economic growth, we must create a New Jersey economy that is both stronger and fairer.”

The document suggests a focus on small and young businesses (the latter “a key driver of economic growth”) and some ambitious moves, like creating a public-private venture capital fund. The state would offer tax credits to investors and hand the money raised over to private venture capitalists to invest in New Jersey-based businesses. The proposal could “potentially create tens of thousands of new jobs in the innovation economy,” the plan said.

New Jersey Spotlight adds that this aspect of the proposal “has won some early praise from industry groups that work closely with small businesses across New Jersey.”

The shift to focusing on small businesses is a big change for the state. In addition to the $7 billion Amazon package, under Gov. Chris Christie’s leadership, the state approved $5 billion in tax incentives, NJ Spotlight says. The EDA gave $40 million to Honeywell, which announced two days ago that it is relocating its headquarters to North Carolina. It is reportedly leaving enough employees in its Morris Plains, New Jersey, headquarters to qualify for the tax break.

In the early part of this year, a former Newark economic development director penned an op-ed arguing that cities and states that had promised Amazon billions of dollars in incentives but lost out on the second headquarters should follow through with their economic development plans, instead spending the money on existing local businesses. With the new EDA office, New Jersey is heading along that path. A few million down, $6.9 billion to go.

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