By Wilda Diaz, Mayor
& Helga van Eckert, Director,
Office of Economic and Community Development,
Redevelopment, UEZ and BID,
City of Perth Amboy
By any ranking of attractiveness to business, New Jersey’s performance is dismal. Depending on which yardstick you use, our beautiful state ranks between 24th (CNBC) and 50th (Tax Foundation) among the 50 states in terms of attractiveness to business. To counter this negative perception, state officials have launched a marketing campaign to tout the advantages of locating in New Jersey. Recognizing the need to actively recruit businesses to our community, the City of Perth Amboy is doing the same.
Like the state, our beautiful “city by the bay” has much to recommend it, including a location at the heart of one of the world’s largest and wealthiest consumer markets. We also have an outstanding transportation network that includes rail access, a deep-water port and easy access to Newark Liberty International Airport and a network of highways including Interstates 80, 95, 280 and 287 and the Garden State Parkway.
But if we are to attract the new jobs that are more critical to our prosperity than ever in light of the current high rates of unemployment, we need to create a business-friendly environment and get the word out that “Perth Amboy means business.”
To accomplish this goal, Perth Amboy has restructured its approach to economic revitalization with the goal of competing nationally in terms of business recruitment and economic development. The first step was for the city to consolidate four separate city departments with business recruitment and economic development functions in order to create a comprehensive economic development plan.
Combining these offices, namely the Economic and Community Development, Redevelopment, Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) and the Business Improvement District (BID), has allowed the city to streamline operations, pool resources, avoid duplication of efforts, cut red tape and ramp up our game in an atmosphere in which the national competition to attract new business has become increasingly intense and sophisticated.
Each of the newly united economic development functions possesses resources that can help businesses thrive; such as incentives, grants and loans. Community development, planning and support is also recognized as a key component to the economic development discussion because of the dependence of business recruitment and success upon a thriving community.
Obviously, these departments communicated closely prior to the restructuring, which occurred about six months ago. However, the new organization facilitates communications, operations and long-term and strategic planning. Each former department and the associated Board members benefit from access to the others’ full scope of resources and areas of expertise. This is critical if they are going to address the changing needs of the business community.
On the business side, the length of the approvals process is a major complaint about New Jersey’s business climate. Many projects have faltered or even failed as a consequence of delayed approvals. Stability and expeditious reviews are paramount in attracting new businesses and investment to a community. The new office serves as an advocate—helping businesses to cut red tape and navigate the approvals process.
For example, the new office might set up a technical meeting for a new or expanding business with all entities—including those at the county and state levels. This “one stop approach” allows businesses who are seeking permits to avoid making time-consuming rounds to several offices.
Businesses that choose to locate in Perth Amboy may also be entitled to financial incentives. As a result of the NJ Portfield, UEZ, Redevelopment and Brownfield Development Area designations, properties in certain areas of the city can receive financial, planning and environmental remediation incentives, as well as expedited regulatory review and approvals.
However, we are not ignoring existing businesses. We take great pride in the businesses that have played a part in revitalizing our thriving downtown and our historic waterfront. Our goals—job creation, new tax ratables and overall prosperity—are also dependent on their success and growth. Some of our more popular economic development efforts with the existing businesses are focused on programs to improve facades, promote entrepreneurship, clean up litter, remove gum from city sidewalks and attract residents and visitors to the downtown through events.
Like the state, Perth Amboy, the “city by the bay” has much to recommend it. We are at the heart of one of the world’s largest and wealthiest consumer markets. And we have access to a transportation network that includes rail access, a deep-water port, easy access to Newark Liberty International
Airport and a network of highways
While the city is implementing changes to create a pro-business environment, it is equally important that the perception of the city making business a priority creates a level of confidence that will allow a project to move forward. If a business sees that it is welcome and that the city will do everything it can to help, it makes a marked difference.
To this end, the city has hired an experienced public relations firm, Beckerman, to help us craft our messaging, “brand” the city as business-friendly and develop traditional and “new” media public relations campaigns. We are expanding our outreach with Facebook and Twitter while also publicizing the achievements and activities of our existing businesses. Our recently unveiled website, perthamboymeansbusiness.com is a one-stop shop for everything business-related in the city.
Additionally, we are partnering with Choose New Jersey, a private organization that is working with state officials to promote business, in a national marketing campaign. The campaign’s primary vehicle will be a booklet-sized “New Jersey Economic Development Guide” in which Perth Amboy will be featured in several pages of ads highlighting the reasons to locate in our city.
Our efforts to revitalize the city have already met with considerable success. We’ve revitalized the waterfront, attracted new businesses such as Excalibur, LLC, and provided assistance to existing businesses such as Vira Manufacturing. We’ve also tackled improvements in quality of life by cleaning up environmentally contaminated sites.
But if we are going to continue to prosper in an increasingly competitive climate, we need to be aggressive about attracting new business and promoting the growth of existing businesses. The uniting of our economic development functions, in conjunction with our new marketing campaign, are the key to that effort.
First Published in New Jersey
Municipalities, Volume 88, Number 5, May 2011