NJBIA members optimistic about the future of business in NJ

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Michele Siekerka leads the New Jersey Business & Industry Association as president and CEO. She says more than a thousand members took part in the annual survey.

“Our 59th Annual Business Outlook Survey shows us that we have tremendous energy and optimism right now in the state of New Jersey,” she said.

Among the findings: 58 percent predicts sales will rise next year; 9 percent says they’ll fall. Overall, that’s 11 percent higher than last year; 55 percent predicts bigger profits compared to 12 percent who says no. Overall, that’s 12 percent higher than last year.

“New Jersey businesses are bullish on their opportunity to do well in the year coming,” said Siekerka.

It’s optimism, but with caution. The survey found 78 percent of NJBIA members surveyed expect health care costs to rise next year and more than half think the Affordable Care Act has had a negative impact on their company.

Come January, Democrats will control the state legislature and the governorship, and pledged to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“I’ve been asked a lot on the campaign trail, from folks who didn’t see it quite the same way as we all do, ‘What’s the magic of $15 minimum wage?’ I would answer, ‘What’s the magic about 8.44?'” said Governor-elect Phil.

The NJBIA says its survey found 64 percent of its members say the wage hike would impact their business — 30 percent of them would raise prices, 29 percent would layoff workers, 27 percent would cut hours and 11 percent would increase automation.

The NJBIA says there’s a better way to raise wages in New Jersey than simply raising the minimum to $15 an hour.

“When we lift the skill set of an entry-level worker, their wages go with it. So, if we can focus on workforce development and lifting skills in the state of New Jersey, we won’t have people stuck in front an entry-level positions. Every time they lift their skills, their wages will lift with them,” said Siekerka.

Siekerka says while businesses think New Jersey’s K-12 public schools rank among the best in the country and contribute to a highly educated and skilled workforce — New Jersey is the number one net out-migration state for millennials.

“We have almost 40,000 vacant, middle-level skilled jobs in the state of New Jersey that go unfilled, and our survey down in the detail continues to tell us that our members are having a very difficult time identifying and attracting middle-level skilled jobs. And, we know those middle-level skilled jobs is what creates the middle class and those are the folks who can afford to live, work and play in the state of New Jersey. If we can just get that equation right, I think we’d do something to stem millennial out-migration in the state of New Jersey,” said Siekerka.

Siekerka says the issue is workforce development and the NJBIA survey found four out of five businesses had no engagement with their vocational and local school districts; opportunities being missed, she says, but being explored with a task force that invites all stakeholders to the table for solutions.