When Sandoz, a maker of generic prescription drugs based in Carnegie Center West was looking for a new headquarters last year, the company considered moving to Pennsylvania. Instead, it chose to move into the former Novo Nordisk building at 100 College Road West, thanks in part of a $9.1 million incentive package from the state Economic Development Authority’s Grow New Jersey Assistance program. The company agreed to retain 292 jobs at the site, and create 70 new full-time positions.
Behind the scenes of that deal was Lauren Moore, executive director of the Business Action Center, a state agency founded in 2010 to help the business community in its dealings with the state government.
Moore says he previously dealt with Sandoz’s parent company, Novartis, so Sandoz knew to give him a call before moving out of state. “We immediately set up an appointment with executives,” Moore says, and they worked with the EDA to offer a performance-based incentive proposal — a tax break if Sandoz hired the number of employees it said it would.
If you’re a business person, and you want to accomplish something, Moore wants you to give him a call. Although the agency is best known for initiating incentive packages like the one Sandoz got, Moore coordinates everything from tax incentive packages to foreign trade deals to getting various permits. He also sets up meetings with local and state officials.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to push the business action center in front of the New Jersey business community to make sure if they run into challenges, they should start a conversation with us,” he says. “I report directly to the lieutenant governor, and she is aggressively involved in business development.”
Moore, who took office about a year ago, is the third executive director of the agency but the first to come from an economic development background. The first two were executives recruited from the private sector.
Moore grew up in Hamilton Township, where his father, Lauren Moore Sr., was a teacher at the Katzenbach School for the Deaf. “My dad is a standing member of Mensa,” Moore says. “He can pick up a Rubik’s Cube, look at it for 30 seconds, and he’s done with it.” The family also owned farms in Salem County, and Moore spent his formative weekends roaming the countryside in a 1946 chevy pickup truck, chasing pheasants and rabbits with his dog.
“That gave me a love of the environment,” he says. “I wanted to be in environmental planning because I knew outdoors and open space.”
Moore studied environmental science at Stockton College, and got his first job at the Mercer County Improvement Authority, where he launched the county’s first curbside recycling movement in the mid-1980s. Over his 25-year career, Moore rose through the ranks as a planner, working in Atlantic and Mercer counties, before ending up at the Economic Development Authority. He joined the BAC when it formed in 2010 and served as deputy executive director until his promotion last year. Today he lives in Bordentown and is married with three children.
Moore says his background in government gives him a perspective that allows him to help businesses navigate the various bureaucracies they encounter. “It’s very important to understand how government works,” he says. “Because I come from a local government background I understand how government works.”
The state’s policy of giving businesses tax breaks for creating jobs is not without controversy. For example, in 2011, the EDA offered a $261 million tax incentive to the Revel casino for opening in Atlantic City. The $2.4 billion casino opened in 2012 only to go out of business this September.
Moore defended the practice, noting that the tax incentive was a performance-based bond that only paid the casino for staying in business and hiring more workers. “Do you know how much tax money they got?” he says “Zero. New Jersey’s incentives are performance-based. We do not have up-front incentive programs where we provide incentives in advance of a project being completed. That is our protection. When you have a project like Revel that’s underperforming, the risk is not on the state of New Jersey.”
Moore says some competing states do offer up-front cash incentives. “But that’s not our philosophy, and it’s worked out very well for us.” he says. “When you have scarce fiscal resources, you have to be prudent and tactical in your application of incentives.”
The Business Action Center has a hotline at 866-534-7789 that fields about 35,000 calls a year. For more information visit http://www.nj.gov/njbusiness/home/bac/.
“We don’t just help identify incentives and financial resources; we help them understand permits, approvals, licenses, planning boards, and we assist and facilitate with everything it’s going to take to get their project done,” Moore says. “We have 40 to 50 different programs that could help. If you explain to us what you are trying to accomplish, we can use our expertise to match you up with programs and services and resources to meet the needs of your project.”
In addition to incentive packages, a major focus of the BAC is foreign trade. “One of the ways to grow wealth and grow the economy is to expand to new markets,” Moore says. “We have an office of international trade and protocol. It helps identify companies that want to export. Maybe your company has thought about it, but didn’t know where to start. We have been very aggressive in applying for federal grants, and we have funds to help companies explore markets overseas. Moore says the BAC has helped 42 companies tap into foreign markets.
Moore has worked with businesses ranging in size from Amazon, which opened a warehouse in Robbinsville this summer, all the way down to one-person startup companies that have little more than an idea for a business. Moore has personal experience in the mom-and-pop operation — he helped his father run a funnel cake stand at Cowtown (a South Jersey rodeo operation) for 40 years until his dad retired from the business five years ago. (Moore says his father still jealously guards his funnel cake recipe.)
Moore says anyone can call the Trenton-based business action center hotline or call him directly — he gives his cell phone number freely to businesses. He says the Business Action Center is often behind major incentive packages that are reported in the news, such as the $118 million tax incentive for Subaru to move to Camden, and many other deals, and that the BAC stays involved after the move is made.
“We take a customer service approach,” he says. “We are a full-service organization, working with our business customers before it becomes an application to the EDA, during the application with the EDA, and after that application is approved. We are working to make sure we are doing everything we can to close the deal and make them comfortable in New Jersey.”