In the first four months of 2011 the United States saw an upward spike of 825,000 private-sector jobs, almost 70 percent of private-sector job growth achieved in 2010.
From January through April New Jersey gained 19,800 private-sector jobs, nearly quadruple last year’s total of 5,200. According to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, new claims for unemployment benefits fell to their lowest numbers in almost three years.
Then came May. Job growth stalled significantly, in part due to the Japan earthquake and its effects on the global supply chain, and a sudden rise in oil prices.
Recently two surveys from accounting perspectives came out considering factors like unemployment and hiring, energy costs, inflation, and health care costs. According to the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants Economic Index and Quarterly Outlook, released on June 2, accountants in executive roles nationwide are “far less optimistic” about the economy now than they were during first quarter of 2011. According to the study, just 12 percent of companies plan to hire, while 21 percent said they are understaffed but hesitant to hire.
Also in May the Alloy Silverstein accounting group, based in Cherry Hill and Hammonton, released a survey of New Jersey and Philadelphia-area chief executives and financial officers. Among respondents, 18 percent of New Jersey-area executives said they are hiring, but 61 percent have no plans to do so.
The economic climate will be discussed by professors, politicians, and economists on Friday, July 8, when Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy will host “Month 25 of the Economic Recovery: Where are we and Where are we going?” The program will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 33 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick. Cost: $40. E-mail email@example.com or call 609-695-3481, ext. 111.
Woodbridge mayor John McCormac, former state treasurer under governors Jim McGreevy and Richard Codey, will share his experiences and approaches to dealing with large-scale budget cuts at the Bloustein seminar.
“The economic downturn should teach governments to be frugal, to spend money wisely, and issue debt only when necessary because things will not always be what they are when times are good,” McCormac says.
Under McCormac Woodbridge has made strides despite losing $6 million in state aid in the budget for 2010-’11. Tough decisions had to be made. McCormac was forced to eliminate municipal jobs. As of March, Woodbridge had 112 fewer employees on the public payroll than his first year in office, 2006.
McCormac began his career in accounting, first working with Arthur & Young CPAs after college, then running his own business, McCormac & Co., between 1988 and 2001. From 1992 to 2001 he served as Woodbridge Township’s chief financial officer before Jim McGreevy (mayor of Woodbridge at the time) appointed him as the town’s business administrator. After McGreevy was sworn in as governor in 2002 McCormac was tapped to be state treasurer, a position he held for four years.
A lifelong resident of the township, McCormac sees his strengths lying in two key areas: thinking as an accountant first with his eye on the town’s balances at all times, and thinking outside the box when it comes to positioning Woodbridge as a business and investment destination. But he is honest enough to admit Woodbridge has some advantages other places don’t.
“We’ll always compete because we’re at the crossroads of New Jersey — the intersection of the Parkway and the Turnpike with four other major state highways,” he says. “We have three transit stations, freight lines, we’re half an hour from [Newark International] airport, and we’re on the water. We have everything anybody could possibly want in a location for economic development.”
With Woodbridge as an obvious transportation hub McCormac says mass transit is something the state must build up, but helping commerce move around is his chief concern. “Road infrastructure is of primary importance to the rebound of the state’s economy,” he says. “If companies can’t get their employees or their products where they need to be then the economy will never rebound.”
In his town the rails pay dividends. Locations like Oak Tree Road in Iselin have become destinations for shoppers now that the MetroPark station is convenient and continues to see upgrades. The mayor cited the new HAWK (High intensity Activated crossWalK) pedestrian crossing along Route 27 as a new safety feature. Addressing needs of commuters is a selling point to attract future residents, he says.
“It keeps our property values high with so many commuter stations, and they’ve all gotten major investments in the past 10 years,” he says. “That’s huge. People want to live here because of proximity to the train.”
Intentions to keep residents safe, content, and employed have been demonstrated through reforms made during McCormac’s tenure. “Buy & Shop Local” is an initiative started two years ago that encourages consumers to support locally owned, independent businesses — but with a Sam’s Club catch. “Buy Local” club cards will be sent to township residents in July and businesses will offer discounts.
McCormac touts the effort as good for Woodbridge’s economy, creating more jobs, and as a green initiative that reduces travel and fuel consumption and advances the wellness of residents who walk to local merchants and stores. “We want to connect our people with our businesses wherever possible,” McCormac says.
Having residents with disposable income and attracting new blood is vital. Downtown, a 24-unit upscale luxury apartment building and learning center was put in place. At the Woodbridge Mall, chain restaurants Olive Garden and Bahama Breeze are scheduled to open this fall. Other significant developments or re-developments include Club Sleep at the Main Street/Route 9 ramp being converted to a kidney dialysis center; a La-Z-Boy store on Route 9 turning into MonkeySports Superstore; and the High Hill Garage on Main Street giving way to Northfield Bank and the Lighthouse Day Care Center.
McCormac comes from an Irish-American family and served as grand marshal of the Woodbridge St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2006, before becoming mayor. His father was an Irish immigrant in the 1950s who became a steel plant foreman, while his mother, a homemaker, was second-generation Irish-American. His family bought their longtime home in Menlo Park Terrace in 1960.
McCormac has always been obsessed with the New York Yankees, even decorating his public offices and the basement of his house in Colonia with team memorabilia of many varieties. He once sat next to Joe DiMaggio at an Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium.
As a boy, McCormac dreamed of one day donning the pinstripes, but after realizing he would not be a star athlete he turned to writing about sports while at Rutgers. After briefly entertaining the idea of working as a sports journalist, McCormac followed his nose for business and graduated in 1980 with a bachelor’s in accounting. He then earned an MBA from St. John’s two years later.
McCormac attended the Newark campus as an undergraduate, where met his wife, Tammy, and later taught certified government finance officer courses as an adjunct.
In his political life, things have occasionally gone less smoothly. As mayor, McCormac orchestrated a crackdown on illegal housing situations and property maintenance issues, which in 2007 was reported in the New York Times as somewhat biased because many South Asians come from abroad and live in the area while working for IT companies.
From January to May, 2007, in McCormac’s first year as mayor, more than 300 notices of housing violations were handed out as new inspectors were hired and a hotline was set up for residents to come forward with anonymous complaints.
Ever since McCormac has justified the motive “as a way of assuring families that their neighborhood will be comprised of families, which they would expect living in residential areas.”
Woodbridge has actively gone after grants from all angles, earning certification and recognition from Sustainable Jersey as 2010 Silver Champion and 2009 Champion. In November of 2009 Fairleigh Dickinson University and the Citi Foundation partnered with Woodbridge to develop a Green Technology Park and Business Incubator on 107 acres of land in the township. For this effort the township received a federal grant of $250,000.
McCormac wants to stay aggressive when it comes to luring businesses to Woodbridge. The town has a committee of statewide experts in advising roles, an aggressive marketing campaign, and a company working on “how to position the project.”
But though he is all about Woodbridge, McCormac admits he has virtually a nonexistent relationship with other New Jersey municipalities. The closest he has come to getting involved with other towns was when he, as chairman of Camden’s Economic Recovery Board, appointed by Jim McGreevey, helped negotiate a $175 million agreement for the renovation and expansion the New Jersey State Aquarium and the development of additional property along the city’s waterfront.
Leadership through a financial focal lens can be beneficial to all, McCormac says. Municipalities can learn from one another and work together on developments and innovations such as Woodbridge set out to do, all for the betterment of the people of the state.