Murphy sells New Jersey overseas, did any businesses bite?

BY Rhonda Schaffler, Correspondent |

Anjalee Khemlani, managing editor at ROI, is just returning after a whirlwind trip with Gov. Phil Murphy, who was in Germany and Israel.

Schaffler: Let’s talk about this trip the governor went on, that was not paid for by the taxpayers — just a reminder, we’ve mentioned that before. What was the goal of this trip and did the governor accomplish it?

Khemlani: Yeah, I think the goal was definitely to sort of advertise New Jersey, as well as get some conversations rolling about who’s interested in coming here, growing here, expanding here. And I would say that he definitely got the message across, whether or not anyone bit remains to be seen.

Schaffler: Well that’s what’s interesting, right, because New Jersey, unfortunately, often ranks near the bottom of many surveys as a good place to do business. So wasn’t it a bit of a tough sell for the governor?

Khemlani: It was and it wasn’t. So, there’s an advantage for being overseas. Here, you know, in the Northeast region we sort of have this bias about New Jersey and everyone knows about its business climate. But I think overseas you can kind of sell it as a really good central point between the Washington-Boston corridor, so some people do kind of see it that way. They understand that there’s some value to that, and depending on what the businesses are looking for, I think that there is some selling point there.

Schaffler: Certainly pharma, biotechnology — that’s what we’re known for here in New Jersey.

Khemlani: And anything that needs the ports as well.

Schaffler: Yes, so, the governor, you wrote about, was talking frequently about the Evergreen Fund, which is something that he put out there with his broad plan for helping New Jersey’s economy. It’s basically trying to get investment. Why was he selling that message overseas? Shouldn’t that be a message that he’s selling here at home? Was it a trial balloon he was floating up there?

Khemlani: I think there’s already an appetite, based on my understanding of the conversations he’s had, there’s already an appetite for it here, so I think it was a trial balloon for overseas. I think that it’s going to be interesting to see now that we’re trying a different sort of tax credit route, whether or not the companies overseas see value in that as well.

Schaffler: So what was the governor like, kind of taken away from the spotlight of Trenton? Did he seem to be a little bit different, more comfortable, less comfortable?

Khemlani: I think he was pretty much the same. I think someone captured it really well — Wes Matthews of the EDA, who was the chief of staff when he was at the embassy — I think captured it really well saying that he is just always going at a frenetic pace, and I think that was very true. You could see that overseas. He’s always just ready to go at the next.

Schaffler: So what do you think the businesses will have to be convinced of now to decide to expand into New Jersey or increase operations here? What’s the next step, I guess, from this trip?

Khemlani: I think that definitely they’re going to have to think about what is important to them. Whether location or, you know, like a cheap area to grow their business is important, because it’s not that New Jersey’s poor business climate wasn’t invisible, or you know wasn’t visible. It definitely was something that people knew about. The transit system is something people knew about. So, I think that it just remains to be seen, you know, just what they’re looking for, and how they’re going to decide based on that.

Schaffler: He definitely had that theme of the innovation economy running pretty much through every day it seems.

Khemlani: Yes, yeah, he did. That seemed to be the goal. It seemed to be less of a focus on larger companies and businesses that, maybe, you know, could make the decision independently, and more companies that he was looking for to be part of this vision of an innovation economy that he has. That’s the sense I got.