BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Chamber of Commerce President Says NJ Business Environment is Cautious, But Optimistic

With the economic downturn, businesses as well as individuals have suffered. But New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the state’s businesses are optimistic about the future, though he said legislators in Washington, D.C. need to resolve issues of taxation and spending cuts soon to improve the business climate.

Bracken said that while the business environment in New Jersey is cautious, it’s still trending toward optimistic. He cited pro-business initiatives enacted by the current administration and the legislature over the last few years as positive signs, but he also said legislators in Washington, D.C. need to take action on pending issues.

Questions about taxes — with reductions from the Bush administration ready to expire — and proposed spending cuts are two major concerns for the business community, according to Bracken. “I think there needs to be a resolution of those fairly quickly because that’s a huge black cloud hanging over what the business community is looking at,” he said. “The business community likes to deal with certainty, not uncertainty. And that situation in Washington makes for a very uncertain environment.”

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When asked how smaller businesses, as opposed to major corporations, are faring in New Jersey, Bracken said, “I think Main Street is doing OK probably because over the last couple of years those businesses have made some very difficult spending cuts. Probably a lot have been on the Human Resource side.”

Bracken said dealing with taxes and growing top line revenue are critical for businesses to survive. “I think once a business cuts expense as much as they can, then they have to rely on top line revenue growth to enhance their profitability and that’s what they’re looking for now,” he said.

Help is in the works, according to Bracken. “The administration through the Business Action Center has instituted a very strategic push toward opening up international markets for companies in New Jersey. I think that’s a very, very smart move on their part because there’s a lot of interest in New Jersey for foreign countries to provide export and import opportunities and once that gets some traction, that should open up new markets for companies, enhance the top line revenue,” he said. “If that happens, that would be a big plus for the companies in New Jersey.”

Job creation and unemployment numbers have been studied and analyzed throughout the economic downturn. Bracken said he believes there will be a new normal when looking at these numbers in the future. “In addition to the fact that companies have found ways to do things in a leaner way from a Human Resource standpoint, you also have enhanced technology, which reduces the need for people and probably enhances the efficiency and productivity of the company dramatically,” he said.

While Bracken said he believes unemployment rates will remain higher than they had been, he said that doesn’t mean companies won’t be increasing their employment base, which he said is happening now in New Jersey. “You’re seeing I think a total of 95,000 jobs … in the last two years being added to New Jersey,” he said. “The unemployment rate is inching up but the sheer fact that we have more people employed I think is a very positive sign.”