In the two districts we represent - one urban and one suburban -- more than 500 manufacturing businesses employ nearly 18,000 people. Statewide, nearly a quarter of million people are engaged in manufacturing.
And we could be doing much better.
It's time for New Jersey to start playing to its strengths so we can have an economy that offers everyone the chance to thrive.
For too long, state policy has focused on the wrong things. Instead of taking advantage of a location the rest of the nation envies, we've been squandering that asset by letting our transportation system deteriorate.
Instead of doing everything possible to nurture small businesses, we've been trying to lure large, multi-state firms by promising big tax breaks that take away the resources needed for job training and other public investments that make a state attractive to people who want to start a business.
A recent report by McKinsey & Company, "Reseeding growth in the Garden State," offered a sobering, yet encouraging look at New Jersey's economy today. It was sobering because it pointed out numerous mistakes the state has made in recent years, and encouraging because there are strategies we can follow to get back on track.
As the report points out, even though New Jersey's labor force has higher education levels than most there is a disturbing labor-market mismatch. We're not training enough workers for today's jobs in health care and transportation, among others. Other states have done more to deal with this problem, whether through wide-ranging apprenticeship programs or coordinating schools and local employers to make sure the skills being developed are those needed for today's and tomorrow's jobs, not yesterday's.
As a recent report by The Fund for New Jersey, "Promoting Jobs and Economic Growth for All New Jerseyans," found, many unemployed workers "...lack the skills and resources to navigate a web of occupational requirements and training programs." One solution is to expand support for community college-based training for the unemployed when the curriculum leads to attainment of a credential that is endorsed by groups of private employers and is portable from one company to another to promote career mobility.
In addition to reviving the transportation system to help get people to work and goods to market and fixing the skills mismatch, New Jersey should pay much more attention to young companies in our own backyard. More than 85 percent of new jobs created in the state come from startups and other businesses already in the state. They need better access to capital, business incubators that teach key skills like financial management, and public-private partnerships that assist in navigating regulations.
Taking all these important steps, even if they only got New Jersey back to the national average, would create 250,000 new high-quality, high-paying jobs.
Sure, it would be great if Amazon decides to accept New Jersey's generous offer to locate here. But the next Amazon, or Apple, or Google might be in someone else's garage in Somerville or Bayonne today -- and that's where our attention needs to turn.
Andrew Zwicker, a Democrat, represents the 16th District (parts of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties); Nicholas Chiaravalloti, a Democrat, represents the 31st District (parts of Hudson County). They both serve on the bipartisan New Jersey Legislative Manufacturing Caucus.