Annual survey reveals outlook of businesses in the state

Leah Mishkin, Correspondent | December 6, 2018

Siekerka says when skills increase, wages increase organically.

“Companies are continuing to see an increase in sales, profit and employment,” said New Jersey Business and Industry Association President & CEO Michele Siekerka, “and at the same time, as we said, 70 percent expect to increase wages in 2019. That’s very important.”

What she’s concerned about is a new bill Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin introduced that looks to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“They will have increase the price of their products and services. They may have to cut hours, they’ll move more toward automation,” Siekerka said.

According to the 60th annual Business Outlook Survey, 50 percent of businesses in New Jersey have no plans of expanding, and 36 percent that do say they won’t expand in the Garden State.

“They’re creating new jobs and they’re not creating them in the state of New Jersey,” she said.

The forecast shows companies are concerned about New Jersey’s overall business climate and economy.

“Only 30 percent believe that New Jersey’s economy is favorable, whereas 83 percent believe the national economy is favorable,” Siekerka said.

Top concerns for companies are property taxes and the cost of doing business. Siekerka says for the first time in decades health care was not number one on the list.

“Please don’t take this as a positive, health care in the state of New Jersey is still extremely expensive, but clearly given policy in the state of New Jersey over this past year, our members are now more concerned with property taxes and cost of doing business,” Siekerka said.

But it’s not just affordability. Companies also feel they are less competitive than other states in many categories, like tax environment and controlling government spending.

“Too many things that our companies are feeling, New Jersey is lagging in, and that’s causing challenges for New Jersey business in order to continue to stay here and grow,” Siekerka said.

On the positive side, people surveyed feel we’re doing better compared to other states when it comes to the quality of public schools and of the workforce. Construction also remains strong.

“Which is a really good sign because when construction stays strong that means that things are growing,” said Siekerka.

But overall, she says this look ahead shows the state is in a challenging place right now.

“This whole concern about lack of expansion, the fact that individuals and companies are still talking about out migration, the fact that we see cost and taxes of a higher concern than they were in years past. … I think the caution to our policy makers is to go into this next budget process realizing that you asked a lot of businesses this past year, and they’re feeling the pain from that, and they’re responding to that so let’s make sure we’re helping to grow business next year,” Siekerka said.

The results were mixed in terms of what companies think the legalization of marijuana will do on New Jersey’s economy. But there were concerns about safety and productivity in the workforce.

Siekerka says that’s why the NJBIA pushed for an amendment on workforce safety that was added to legislation under review.