New Jersey’s economy was obviously not a priority of the red-vote-state-chasing previous administration, leaving it mostly to fend for itself. With a strong national economy and new progressive leadership, New Jersey is now in a position to experience significant economic growth — the type of growth that can bolster the state’s economy for a generation. But for that to happen, New Jersey will need to prioritize its urban communities, or New Jersey’s economy, as a whole, will continue to falter.
New Jersey has assets other states envy, including a highly competitive public education system, a smart adult population, a diverse demographic, and the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, New Jersey also has one of the highest housing-foreclosure rates in the country. New Jersey is ranked the least fiscally sound state, the number one exporter of high school graduates, college graduates and senior citizens. Building a bridge between New Jersey’s urban assets and the state’s economic challenges is the connection necessary for resurrecting New Jersey’s economy.
The Brookings Institute’s Senior Fellow John Austin argues that local and state governments should pursue economically dynamic, asset-based strategies as mechanisms to grow the economies. Developing an economic development strategy that focuses on the multiple assets of a city can lead to a recovery from a previous, manufacturing company town, helping to bring back the town and the region.
New Jersey does not have cities with the size or breadth of Baltimore, Chicago, or Minneapolis. New Jersey’s cities are geographically and demographically much smaller, yet still, they are asset rich, including public transportation systems, educational and healthcare facilities, waterfront properties, entertainment venues, government services, affordable and market-rate housing, and ethnically diverse populations — all the amenities you find in larger urban cities. These urban areas were New Jersey’s economic backbone in the mid-20 century when the state’s economy was thriving, but now play a much more marginal role due to the reduced manufacturing sector, suburbanization, and racism. Urban redevelopment is critical to the state’s economy and there are a few policies, I believe, that can assist these cities grow and structurally improve the State’s economy:
New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has the Green Acres program, which manages open-space acquisitions and preservation. DEP has the environmental clean-up programs. Developing a team focusing on urban waterfront open-space development and preservation can accelerate the redevelopment of urban New Jersey, creating an amenity for the local residents and leveraging arguably the most important natural asset in New Jersey.
The New Jersey economy has been slow to recover from the Great Recession, leaving homeowners, high school and college graduates and senior citizens searching for a more suitable place to live. The new progressive state leadership has many options to improving the state’s economy, but choosing an economic-recovery strategy that runs through urban New Jersey will strengthen the state’s economic foundation and build upon the state’s most important assets — water, land, and, of course, its people.