BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Former Labor Commissioner Would Hold Economic Summit to Spur Job Creation

The latest jobs report released today showed unemployment in New Jersey rose to 9.8 percent in July — the highest since 1977 — and the state lost 12,000 jobs. Former New Jersey Department of Labor Commissioner Albert Kroll told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he wasn’t surprised by the numbers because of persisting economic problems. He said the key to emerging from the recession is for the state’s universities, technology industry and state government to work together. He also said construction projects like the American Dream will boost the economy in the short term.

Kroll pointed out that New Jersey isn’t the only place suffering. He said the recession has hit across the United States and the world. He admitted that it’s troubling the Garden State hasn’t bounced back like the rest of the country, but he said “some of the inherent problems that have been in our economy are still there.”

The long-term outlook for the economy is positive, according to Kroll. “You’re starting to see a pickup in real estate with regards to residential housing. You’re seeing some other positive things,” he said. “Manufacturing has picked up.”

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While manufacturing may be picking up now, that industry and construction jobs led the declines for New Jersey. Kroll said the Garden State has changed to a technology-based industry. “And our problem, quite frankly, in technology — I think we identified it back in 2004 — was the inability to put the three key components in a technology-based industry together,” he said. “That being the universities, technology industry itself and the state government. Those three have to work as a triangle.”

Kroll cited Massachusetts as a model for ramping up the technology industry. He said in 2004, Massachusetts was the state officials were most concerned about, but now it has the 12th lowest unemployment rate in the country. “All along Route 28 in Massachusetts the governor put money into universities to develop research centers,” Kroll explained.

Gov. Chris Christie has the ability to drive change in New Jersey, according to Kroll. “He’s done the consolidation with respect to the universities and with respect to the business community or the technology-based companies,” Kroll said. “He’s got a very good rapport with them.”

If he were in charge, Kroll said he would hold an economic summit with leaders of the business world, universities and state government who would meet for a day and discuss the issues, designating people to different areas. He said Christie has the staff to get that accomplished. “In my opinion he has the best staffed front office that I’ve seen in the last 30 years,” Kroll said. “He’s got the people to do it.”

For the short-term, Kroll said the American Dream project will be crucial because it will give an immediate boost to the economy. “Construction jobs are very important to the economy in that it’s instant spending,” he explained. “People spend the money where they’re living. Most of the construction workers [working] in New Jersey live in New Jersey. That’s where they spend their money.”