BUSINESS & ECONOMY

NJBIA President: NJ Economic Revitalization Slow and Steady

New Jersey’s business outlook is mixed. Employers are concerned about the costs of affordable health care and high taxes and even the cost of doing business in the state. But sales have improved. So has spending and many expect their profits to rise. Those are, in a nutshell, the conclusions drawn from the New Jersey Business and Industry Association’s 56th annual survey. The NJBIA is the largest statewide employer association in America, with 20,000 members. The new NJBIA President Michele Siekerka told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that economic revitalization is happening slowly and steadily in New Jersey.

Siekerka said that the most significant finding in this year’s Business Outlook Survey is that the business community is cautiously optimistic about 2015 and that optimism follows strong performance results in 2014. She said there were no surprises in the report and she is thrilled with the results.

When asked if businesses are more optimistic now than at the height of the recession, Siekerka said, “This year and last year we’re seeing the highest sense of optimism that we’ve seen since the recession. The last three years are the strongest expectations looking forward that businesses are providing and as well following two years of strong performance. Last year was a bellwether year. This year we’re slightly behind last year’s numbers but still strong.”

Siekerka said that this is a good indicator of economic revitalization in New Jersey, but it is slow and steady. She said that the significance of a positive outlook in hiring for three consecutive years is creating jobs because an economy only improves when creating new jobs in New Jersey. She said that employers are looking to create new jobs in 2015 and she anticipates more hiring.

Siekerka said that the cost of employee health benefits continues to increase and it is significantly moving faster than businesses can keep up with. She said that 85 percent of NJBIA business members say that they are anticipating an increase in costs next year. She said that the businesses can only sustain that for so long.

Before becoming NJBIA president, Siekerka worked at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. When asked what from that experience she will bring to the NJBIA, Siekerka said, “I think what’s great in my four and a half years inside government have provided me with the insight to understand that we need to take a very pragmatic approach in how we approach solutions. We need to look at the opportunity to do things in small pieces that will ultimately lead to some comprehensive change. But we can’t come and expect that we’re going to have comprehensive change in one year. It takes a very long time to make change when you’re following decades of difficult policy in the state.”

Siekerka said that her most important new initiative is protecting the tax climate in New Jersey. She said that the only way to stay competitive is to keep the costs of doing business down. She said that she is hoping for positive signals next year on the inheritance and estate taxes. She said that could be a very positive signal that government could send early in the year that they are going to look at addressing those areas of business. She said that she is also looking at some tax credit and tax programs for small businesses that would bring them relief. She said if she can’t fix the system, she can at least try to mitigate the costs.