The Business Action Center may have been shaped into its current mold by the previous administration, but it has been in Trenton in some form or another for years.
Melanie Willoughby, the new executive director, is also no stranger in the state capital. She has held positions both in government and lobbying government — from the Retail Merchants Association to the New Jersey Business & Industry Association — and sees her new position as an opportunity to affect the outmigration of businesses from the state.
During the time when her predecessor, Lauren Moore, lead the department, along with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the department had a reputation for racking up miles traveling to ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings around the state. Willoughby sees the role differently.
She recently sat down with ROI-NJ to discuss her goals and priorities.
Melanie Willoughby: The governor has decided that it is absolutely best to keep the BAC, because it’s the one group that has been continuous throughout. Choose New Jersey was formed in the Christie administration. The EDA has been around a long time and it has always been the bank, basically, but it’s the BAC that was always on the ground. Think of us as the boots on the ground who essentially are one-by-one helping businesses small and large with dealing with the problems that come up. The BAC is where those companies, once they’re attracted and financed, and they need to get the permits and they need to find workers and they need to do all those things. And, so, we’re sort of the nuts and bolts.
ROI: Sort of a liaison between the community and the government. What sorts of issues crop up?
MW: I had a manufacturer call about the fact that he had not received his fire hazard invoices for nine years, and then got one bill, which was expected to be paid immediately. He called me. Of course, this is the DCA (Division of Consumer Affairs) issue. So, I called DCA to try to work that out for him.
Now, we are working that out, but it’s that kind of thing that a company doesn’t know what to do. You’re sort of the conduit for resolving administrative snafus. And there are lots of permits that are required in New Jersey. We are higher in permitting requirements than most other states. We have to help people with permits, and sometimes permits fall off desks, so we find out — we’re not going to make things happen, but we’re going to find out where they are in the process so that we can let the company, ‘You need to understand this is going to take this much time,’ because nobody really explains that to them. And then that helps them in understanding what they’re up against.
ROI: Gov. Phil Murphy has been very committed to the idea of an innovation economy. How do we do that with companies leaving the state or threatening to all the time?
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