BY HUGH R. MORLEY
The head of the agency charged with bringing business from around the world to New Jersey told an international trade conference Wednesday that concerns about the state's business climate are all in the mind.
Tracye McDaniel, president and CEO of Choose New Jersey, said the state merely needs to position itself to capitalize on strengths. Speaking at the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel in East Rutherford, Tracye McDaniel, president and CEO of Choose New Jersey, said the state merely needs to position itself to capitalize on strengths such as the ports, workforce, access to capital and quality of life.
"New Jersey really doesn't have a reality problem," McDaniel told the 350 business people at the Gateway to International Trade conference. "It has a perception problem. And it's time to change that ... New Jersey has all the ingredients an international company needs to be successful."
McDaniel outlined strategies she and the state are pursuing to transform the negative perception, among them the creation in June of her own agency, a non-profit organization funded with $7 million in corporate donations.
Governor Christie created the agency, and appointed McDaniel to lead it in December, to promote the state to businesses across the nation and the world.
The conference came less than a week after the release of an annual survey conducted by Florida-based Chief Executive magazine that ranked New Jersey 47th as a place to do business. The state held the same position in the magazine's surveys in 2010 and in 2009, the last year of Governor Jon Corzine's tenure.
Business leaders have for years said the state is unfriendly to business, and Christie, since taking office 16 months ago, has made it a top priority to improve the business climate. But the poll, based on the responses of 550 CEOs, showed that Christie's efforts have yet to make an impression.
McDaniel said it will be her job to change that.
"I think the opportunity for us to move that needle is occurring," said McDaniel, who noted earlier that she had been in her position only 99 days. "It's not going to happen overnight.
"There is always a default to old tapes - people say the same things over and over again, and it kind of gets stuck there, that repeat," she said. "We are going to have to change it."
She told that conference that the New Jersey, through aggressive improvement of its ports, is primed to take advantage of changes that are expected to see the movement of cargo around the world "nearly triple in the next 20 years."
These changes include state initiatives to deepen the ports and find waterfront sites for expansion and development. She said that one in five jobs in the state "depend on trade."
Choose New Jersey has already completed a series of strategic plans - for 90 days, six months and 12 months - and is conducting a survey of 4,000 executives outside of New Jersey, soliciting their perceptions of the state. The agency is also studying New Jersey's strengths and weaknesses, in comparison to other states, and identifying fast-growing industries, she said.
The results of those efforts be used to create a "Choose New Jersey brand" and a marketing plan, for release in September, she said. And she asked those present for their input, too.
"Collaboration is one of the key elements needed for successful economic development efforts. So I want to hear your thoughts," said McDaniels, before reading out her e-mail address. "If you woke up this morning and you were the CEO of Choose New Jersey, what would you do?"