Bernie Flynn is chairman of Choose New Jersey, a public-private industry partnership that promotes the state as a good place to do business. He is also president of New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company, which has found the Garden State a good place to do business for a very long time.
“We celebrate 100 years in business in 2013,” says Flynn. He’s a New Jersey native and so is Manufacturers. “We started out as a workers’ compensation company right here in Trenton,” he says.
Flynn gives the keynote address at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Mercer County Economic Summit on Thursday, February 28. The half-day event begins at 1 p.m. at the Conference Center at Mercer County Community College. Subtitled “The Road Ahead: Preparing Your Business for 2013 and Beyond,” the event is presented by Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, the Mercer County Freeholders, and the Mercer County Office of Economic Development and Sustainability.
Also speaking is Herb Taylor of the Philadelphia Reserve Bank, who will give a national and local economic update. Featured discussions include “Major Sporting Events coming to NJ in 2014” and “Doing Business with Big Business.” Cost: $75. Call 609-924-1776.
New Jersey, still the butt of jokes on late-night television, in novels, and around the Internet, is set for at least two major turns in the spotlight in 2014. The Super Bowl will take place in the Meadowlands next February, and Mercer County will host the National Special Olympics in June.
Both events will deliver a direct economic jolt, along with abundant opportunities for showcasing the state’s many attractions. Flynn, who has been with Manufacturers since 1993 and has been its president since 2008, is especially enthusiastic about the Special Olympics, with events taking place close to his company’s sprawling West Trenton campus.
“The National Special Olympics will be a great boost to Mercer,” he says, “a great platform for civic leaders and businesses.” There will be opportunities for corporate sponsorships, for strong regional companies. “It’s a chance to showcase the parks, higher education, everything,” he adds. The event is expected to bring 80,000 people to Mercer County.
As for the other big sporting event, Flynn says that Choose New Jersey has been “talking to people running the Super Bowl. We are considering all manner of ways to promote New Jersey to business leaders.”
But Choose New Jersey is not waiting for big events to land in its own stadiums. Flynn talks enthusiastically about its recent out-of-state ad campaigns, which, he says, were orchestrated by Tracye McDaniel, a Texan recently appointed by Governor Christie to head up the partnership.
“We blanketed D.C. during the Inauguration,” he says. “New Jersey: A State of Resilience” banners were hung around Union Station and rode on the outside of Washington, D.C., buses. Then, says Flynn, “we duplicated the effort in New Orleans during the Super Bowl and then Mardi Gras. We were prominent on buses and taxis.” Choose New Jersey is determined to spread its message wherever corporate decision makers and site selectors are likely to gather.
In addition to working on outsiders’ perception of New Jersey, Flynn says that the state is working harder at being a stellar place to do business. He points to a three-pronged effort to attract new business. Choose New Jersey gets the message out, while, he says “the Business Action Center helps with necessary permits and the Economic Development Agency implements incentive programs where appropriate.”
“It starts with leadership,” says Flynn. “Governor Christie is working hard at improving the business climate. The regulatory climate is improving. The tax climate is improving. It’s not the same as some other states, but we’re looking to be as competitive as possible.”
A good place to do business. While New Jersey is still a relatively expensive place to live and to do business, Flynn, a Delran resident who earned his B.S at Fordham (Class of 1986) and his J.D. at Rutgers, says that the state’s prime location and abundant amenities make up for any extra cost.
He points to the gigantic new Amazon warehouse in Robbinsville as an example of how the state’s advantages outweigh any disadvantages. The state’s transportation network just can’t be beat. “We have ports, railroads,” says Flynn. And, of course, the state of a million “exit” jokes has swift interstate highways a plenty.
Flynn also cites a well-educated work force and outstanding higher education as valuable pluses for companies considering New Jersey.
The challenges ahead. Asked for New Jersey’s greatest challenge in 2013, Flynn does not hesitate: “Our most critical challenge is recovery and rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy,” he says. His company, which has already paid $250 million on auto and homeowners’ claims and expects to pay about $150 to $250 million more, is “intimately involved” in that recovery. And, he adds, “we have just 8 to 10 percent of the insured marketplace.” The scope of the disaster is huge, and, Flynn is keenly aware that “people are suffering.” His company has acted quickly to pay out claims, a task that, he says, is now 95 percent complete.
Sandy is Manufacturers’ biggest challenge, he says, but, coming so close on the heels of Irene, the second biggest event in the company’s 100-year history, his employees were ready. “It took everyone here to provide the kind of response the company needed,” he says. “We had a disaster response plan in effect.” The plan had been given a trial run during the previous storm and worked well. Flynn says that Manufacturers is financially strong and could handle another Sandy should it come along this year. But he fervently hopes that “the winds remain calm” this summer.
Sandy also threatened one of New Jersey’s top amenities. Tourism brings “billions” to the state, says Flynn. In addition to the financial value of the state’s beautiful, diverse beach towns, there is a strong sentimental value.
“My mother is from North Jersey and my father is from South Jersey,” says Flynn. The divide between affection for separate shore towns among residents of the two halves of the state is well known. Having a parent in each camp, Flynn became familiar with them all. “I was raised going to shore towns,” he says. “I met my wife in Bradley Beach. Living and working in New Jersey is so terrific, I can get to a beach in less than 50 minutes.”
Flynn’s favorite beach is now Belmar, where he and his wife, Ann, have a home that has become a gathering place for their children, 12-year-old Katie and 22-year-old Jack, and for their extended family.
There are few bigger goals for New Jersey than getting the shore open by Memorial Day, says Flynn, who points out that large areas of the shore escaped major damage and are already up and running.
After spending nearly all of his life in the state, he is credible when he says, “New Jersey is a wonderful place to live. It truly is the Garden State.”