By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
If a small business wants to bid on a public contract, it usually needs a surety bond.
Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill today making it easier for small businesses to get a surety bond through the state EDA, the Economic Development Authority.
“This is an important bill but little discussed issue, that when you’re going for federal and state contracts, you need to have that bonding, and small businesses often don’t have access to it. The EDA is going to provide that now so that these entities can more easily bid on state and federal contracts,” Christie said.
The signing was held in the building down the street from the Statehouse, home of the African-American Chamber of Commerce.
The group has been working toward this law for about five years.
“I think in the state of New Jersey any public contract north of $200,000 requires a bond, so without this, a lot of folks — it’s been an exclusionary process,” said African-American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey President and CEO John Harmon.
Called the Small Business Bonding Readiness Assistance Program, it passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously.
Several of its sponsors were on hand for the signing.
“It was a common sense piece of legislation. It was bipartisan. It was the right thing to do. And I’m glad that it is now law,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley.
Christie said 98 percent of all businesses in New Jersey are small businesses, defined as under 100 employees.
He said the law will help revitalize minority businesses in particular and urban centers.
“Walk around those neighborhoods and see what brings vitality to those neighborhoods. It’s two things. It’s the residents, who decide they want to raise their families there and live there and it’s the small businesses that bring a certain vitality and a cultural flavor to the city as well,” Christie said.
“That’s where the need is, the need is in some of those urban communities, some of these small start-ups. They have the drive, the ambition, that American dream. They just need a little push, a little help,” said Sen. Joe Pennacchio.
The hope here is that a little thing like a surety bond won’t continue to be such an obstacle.
“I remember when I was in the banking business and talking to small business owners about bonding and their eyes would glaze over and the bonding company’s eyes would glaze over. That would eliminate them from getting contracts and getting work,” said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken.
Christie spoke for about half an hour and while he didn’t take questions, he did talk about making this final year of his governorship productive. And called this bill signing a good way to kick off that year.
“We have work to do this year,” Christie said. “And I thought starting this year with a hopeful piece of legislation, like this, it was unanimously agreed to by the Legislature and signed by the governor. Started by a group of diverse people who came to the governor’s residence and advocated for positive change to help the constituencies that they are a part of and represent. It would hopefully call us to our better angels. We’ll see how long that lasts.”