Over the last few days, our state has been in the national spotlight due to inappropriate actions taken by members of the Christie administration that led to major traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, America’s busiest roadway. Their deplorable actions caused physical and mental harm, and authorities may even investigate one woman’s death. Many who use the roadway may have initially thought last September’s traffic tie-ups were not unusual, only to discover later that they were caused deliberately and involved political retribution.

However, last week, our two-term state commander in chief and former U.S. attorney, Gov. Chris Christie, declared that he had no knowledge of these acts by members of his own administration and took what he deemed appropriate action by removing them promptly from their posts. This is a very serious matter; given the governor’s past experience of prosecuting criminals, clearly he knows the consequences if he broke the law himself. I would urge New Jerseyans to consider taking him at his word.

During Gov. Christie’s recent news conference, he took ownership, made his apologies and attempted to set the stage to move forward. Clearly, we cannot marginalize the severity of what occurred on the George Washington Bridge or its residual adverse impact on the town of Fort Lee. We are not opposed to officials moving forward with a thorough investigation, however they deem necessary. However, we would also like to see the same amount of energy and focus by these same officials on critical areas that affect the economic standing of our citizens — specifically New Jersey’s 66,000 African American businesses, which historically have not had an equitable stake in economic opportunities, which limits their ability to create jobs.

Ninety-three percent of African American businesses are sole proprietorships, and they have not been privy to the same access to contracts as their mainstream counterparts. However, given that New Jersey will be hosting the Super Bowl next month, many of these businesses should be allowed the privilege of experiencing professional and financial growth from the nation’s largest and most celebrated sporting event. The event will bring to New Jersey thousands of visitors seeking to enjoy our culture, patronize our businesses and return home with fond memories. Fortunately, as a member of the Super Bowl Host Committee, I have introduced a number of businesses to the event’s procurement process and they have secured contracts. This is just one example of what can be achieved when the process is open and there is a commitment to do business with all sectors of New Jersey’s economy.

In addition, let’s not forget the many families displaced and businesses disrupted in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy. There are now a number of proposed infrastructure projects, i.e. water systems, telecommunications, gas and electric systems, that are slated to improve our resilience against future storms and enhance service reliability, while producing cost efficiency and thousands of jobs.

The potential economic impact of the Super Bowl, rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy and proposed infrastructure improvements by the various utility companies could elevate New Jersey’s economy exponentially in short order. These projects will put citizens to work, improving the conditions of many households and contributing to the success of many businesses.

However, the proposed projects require regulatory approval, something still pending in many instances. Therefore, now is the perfect time for our governor, public officials and citizens to focus their attention on these and other economic issues that will engender benefits and transform our state.

As president/CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, what has me excited about these multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects is that many will take place in urban sectors of New Jersey, where many of our members and constituency live. If these projects are appropriately coordinated with clearly defined objectives to put as many citizens and businesses in play as possible, this will greatly enhance the state’s competitiveness. We have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage public- and private-sector resources to create economic opportunities within the state.

Incorporating incentives to hire and train a great number of those who are currently unemployed, disabled, recipients of public assistance or who are difficult to employ for other reasons would be another remarkable accomplishment for our state.

What we have before us is essentially a multibillion-dollar stimulus package. As New Jerseyans, we can ill afford to allow the dialogue to be about the George Washington Bridge incident only.

I ask New Jerseyans to join me in voicing their expectation that the proposed projects move more swiftly, and that Gov. Christie’s account of what happened during the George Washington Bridge traffic jam be validated, once all of the investigations are concluded.

John E. Harmon Sr. is founder and president/CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (aaccnj.com). The organization will host a “Keeping the Dream Alive” unity luncheon on Tuesday, January 28, at the Hyatt Regency Princeton from noon to 2 p.m. Register online at www.aaccnj.com or call 609-571-1620.

#b#From the NJ Chamber#/b#

A similar statement of support for Governor Christie’s economic initiatives was received on January 14 — following the governor’s “State of the State” address — from Thomas Bracken, president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce:

We were very pleased with the tone and the content of the governor’s State of the State address. We’ve heard many times in the past week that the business of the state must continue, and we were encouraged to hear Gov. Christie reiterate that emphatically today.

As the governor said, we cannot let distractions prevent us from continuing to aggressively move forward to improve the state’s economy. Our gains in recent years have been hard fought. We must keep our focus on growing the economy and generating jobs.

The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the business community stand ready to work with the governor and the Legislature to continue to advance the state’s competitive position. We look forward to hearing the governor outline his priorities at our Congressional Dinner in Washington on Thursday, February 13.

U.S. 1 welcomes letters and “op ed” opinion pieces on the Christie controversy and other issues. See page 2 of this issue for some of the reaction to Dan Aubrey’s January 15 cover story, “Bully Pulpit.”

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