In an economic climate where the savvy and well-prepared state is the one likely to see healthy growth in its business community, the newest organization on the block is the Growth Partnership of Central Jersey, a nonprofit established by the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“The goal of the organization is to support and promote expansion, retention, and attraction of new business entities in central New Jersey,” says Robert Prunetti, interim executive director of the partnership and president and chief executive officer of the chamber.

“We also want to be sure that we complement the efforts of our other development partners: local and state government and other planning and economic development organizations,” he says.

Prunetti’s vision is to be the go-to organization that provides regional resources and information to businesses identified by organizations like the state’s Choose New Jersey and other economic development entities as being interested in a move to the state.

The resources he has in mind will include not only the hard numbers a business will need to make a decision but also a core of knowledgeable individuals who can help with recruitment of businesses, show them the area and specific sites within it, and talk about resources available to them, for example, through the Economic Development Authority.

These resources will also support consultations with companies thinking about leaving the state to find out their concerns and provide them with information and resources that might convince them to stay put.

Others the partnership will support are professionals like real estate brokers and developers who have a prospect looking to relocate.

Prunetti also envisions the partnership as providing coordination among local and regional organizations with planning and economic responsibilities.

“We want to pool together our resources so we can have one policy or strategy amongst us so there are not different agencies that are inconsistent with one another,” he says. “When a company is looking at the area, we want to make sure that all hands are on deck. We want to be the organization that assists in providing that unified strategy.”

Finally, the partnership will collect relevant business and economic data from the Federal Reserve, the Department of Labor, and various business organizations, sharing it with its members and people interested in the area, as is already done with the chamber’s central New Jersey Economic Bulletin.

The idea is to show how Central New Jersey compares with the state and the rest of the nation.

“This data would save different businesses and organizations the time of doing that research themselves,” says Prunetti, who would like to classify and categorize timely data on the economy, housing, government, consumers, employment, and expertise of central New Jersey’s employment base.

Beyond providing statistics, the organization will also do feasibility and planning studies that may be necessary to attract various companies and industries to the region.

The first study, done by the College of New Jersey, looks at the future of businesses in the metropolitan areas of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and which industries are growing and which are fading away.

The study also tries to clarify the elements of Central New Jersey’s identity as a region so that the partnership can develop strategies to market its strengths. The study’s results will be presented at a free reception hosted by the Growth Partnership of Central Jersey, Thursday, May 17, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Trenton Country Club. For information, contact Nicol Nicola at 609-689-9960, ext. 22, or nicol@mercerchamber.org.

The study categorizes industries in four categories, and Prunetti provides examples of each:

Winning industries. These are base industries that are growing, doing well, and can probably do even better: for example, finance and insurance.

“This area is creating a niche for financial organizations,” says Prunetti. His feeling, though more research is needed to be sure, is that several issues are contributing to this growth: security issues; high quality of life for individuals of high net worth; easy access to the Manhattan hub of the finance industry without having to commute daily; and a capable work force.

Emerging industries. These up-and-coming industries may be feeding off some of our base industries. One example is transportation, warehousing, and logistics, which is growing particularly in the Robbinsville, East Windsor, and Monroe areas that are right off the interstate and the turnpike.

Another area comprises auxiliary healthcare industries that have grown up around pharma and hospitals, including labs, technical services, and bio and medical products.

Slipping industries. These are still strong but do not have the same market share that they once did. A prime example is educational services like testing and even publishing houses.

Prunetti says, “Education is one of our top industries but in recent years there has been a little slippage. This is a perfect example we want to examine further: is it temporary or more systemic?”

Prunetti surmises that the source of the slippage may have been the downsizing of educational institutions over the last three to five years and possibly some relocation of educational support services, but more research is required to know for sure.

Trailing industries. These are businesses that have been waning over the last decade, such as real estate and manufacturing. Though more data is required to say for sure, the fall in manufacturing is not the fault of our region but likely is part of a larger economic trend. “It may be an industry that may not have much of a future, and a decision to spend resources on them may not be the wisest,” says Prunetti.

Prunetti grew up in Trenton, where his father was a postal worker and his mother, who immigrated from Italy at age 14, worked in different factories, including a doll and a cigar factory, ending up at Trenton Folding Box.

Prunetti recalls a women’s day celebration where he shared the stage with Governor Christie Whitman. After she had talked about all the advances women had made and their involvement in various professions, Prunetti thought about his mother and took a different tack from the governor.

He told his audience: “It’s right to celebrate these women, but let’s not forget the women who came before — maybe not professionals, lawyers, doctors, or accountants, but who paved the way for them. They worked in factories while the men were at war to keep the country going and so that the next generation had a better life.”

Prunetti graduated from the College of New Jersey with a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, and he holds a master’s in public administration from New York University.

He served as county executive from 1992 to 2004. In addition to his roles with the chamber and the partnership, Prunetti is president of Phoenix Ventures, a Trenton-based public affairs firm.

Prunetti concludes with one of the larger ideas behind the study and the Growth Partnership of Central Jersey more generally, facilitating growth in particular industry clusters.

“The whole theory behind industry clusters is bringing businesses together geographically that can support and grow from one another, who share the need for a similar type of work force and maybe access to transportation services. If we make our area more attractive to those types of firms, then we should see growth in that industry cluster,” he says.

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