Business Report Plus: New Jersey welcomes a new governor

Our new governor has only been in office for a few days, but already Phil Murphy is taking several actions that will impact workers and businesses in New Jersey. Shortly after he was sworn in, Gov. Murphy signed an executive order to support equal pay for women. In New Jersey, women earn 81 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Women of color earn even less. Michael Aaron reported on the executive order earlier this week.

During his inaugural address, Murphy called for a “stronger and fairer” New Jersey, and signaled his commitment to a $15 minimum wage and earned sick leave for workers. Later in the week, the governor also signed an executive order directing a performance audit of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s tax incentive program. The EDA’s tax incentives were designed to be a tool used to grow the economy, but have faced criticism for their effectiveness. Murphy said the state has handed out $8 billion in incentives since 2010, but New Jersey’s economic growth has lagged behind the nation’s. But the governor supports offering $5 billion in state incentives to lure Amazon, as learned from Brenda Flanagan.

It’s safe to say state and local tax incentives probably helped Newark make Amazon’s short list of finalists for its second headquarters. Amazon tossed out bids from 218 cities, keeping Newark on its list of 20 possible locations. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka called it “a great victory,” adding that “it means that world-class corporations and organizations like Amazon have recognized the success of our administration’s efforts to build a stronger city that welcomes business, is open to innovation, and at the cutting edge of technology and transportation.”

RELATED: Newark says it’s the best place for Amazon HQ2

Believers in Newark’s renaissance are already sold on the city, and to some degree, so is Amazon. It’s Audible business is located in Newark and the online retailer likes Jersey enough to locate numerous warehouses here. But, only time will tell if Newark is lucky enough to win the bid. Amazon is poised to make its final decision later this year.

2017 marked a year of job gains in New Jersey, but that came to an abrupt halt in December. Preliminary estimates released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the Garden State lost 11,400 jobs last month. The state’s unemployment rate now stands at 5 percent. For all of last year, New Jersey gained nearly 23,000 new jobs — all of them in the private sector. 2017 marked the eigth straight year of job growth in the state.

In Atlantic City, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is hiring workers to fill an expected 3,000 positions ahead of its planned opening this summer. Hard Rock purchased the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal last year, and has posted job listings for those former Taj workers.

Several New Jersey companies made headlines this week. Shares of Merck rose after the company revealed positive results from another trial of its cancer immuno therapy drug Keytruda. The trial showed that Keytruda, combined with a type of chemotherapy, kept patients with lung cancer alive for longer.

Biotechnology company Celgene, based in Summit, announced this week it will open a state of the art lab space later this year. Celgene says the facility will be for entrepreneurs interested in medical research and innovation, and will serve as an incubator for scientists and start-up companies. Celgene is accepting applications from those interested in potentially using the space.

One final note, for those of us who still send letters. Postage rates are going up on Sunday. The cost of a stamp will rise one penny to 50 cents.