Tourism is one of the top revenue producers in the Garden State, and the Jersey Shore is the economic driver of that $35 billion industry. Images of shore areas left devastated by superstorm Sandy was a focus of the national media in its storm coverage. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke to Assemblyman Matthew Milam (D-1), Chair of the Assembly Tourism and Arts Committee, about the rebuilding of the shore and the state’s tourism industry.
Encouraged by the bipartisanship displayed by lawmakers, Milam says he’s optimistic about the state’s rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“The state of New Jersey, the people of the state of New Jersey need to have this continue of everyone getting on the same page,” said Milam.
According to Milam, the state needs to get out out front in sending the right message about what New Jersey has to offer and that includes correcting misconceptions about the actual damage done to the shore. For instance, he points out that media reports that Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk was badly damaged by the storm were greatly exaggerated. The part of the boardwalk that was indeed damaged was already scheduled for condemnation.
“The rest of the boardwalk is intact there and that’s going to be a very important message that we need to send,” said Milam. “Yeah, you saw the amusement park in the water but you didn’t see the amusement park that isn’t in the water. That is still functioning whether it’s in Monmouth County, Ocean County, Point Pleasant Beach, whether it’s the Cape May County — the Wildwoods, in Ocean City. Everything is still intact there and that’s what we need to project to the rest of the people to get those tourists back here.”
He underscored the importance of the tourism industry to the state, saying it makes up the second or third largest revenue stream. Milam thinks the focus on the hurricane damage offers a great opportunity to market New Jersey. “I’ve been really, really thinking about this. If we market this to just say come and visit New Jersey, we’re still here, help us in our rebuilding, that’s kind of the idea that I have,” he said.
His own district, which includes Cumberland County and Cape May County, took a big hit. But Milam credits all the people involved in the cleanup and restoration of services for mitigating the storm’s impact.
“I think the people coming together whether it’s the municipalities, whether it’s the emergency responders and whether it’s all the people that are working to get these streets cleaned to get that sand back on the beach to get our beaches beautified again and to make sure everything is safe.”
Milam says the coordinated effort extends to beach replenishment projects in the shore communities which involve the Army Corps of Engineers and the engineers in the various municipalities all working together. Getting the dunes rebuilt has to be a priority because the state’s beaches will have to be in top form, says Milam.
“We have to sell our beaches. Our beaches are beautiful. We need to get them back to where they’re safe again and to make sure people know that yes we are still here and we’re wide open for business in the tourism industry.”