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Visions of a World-Class Region
20 of the area’s top professional minds share their views for the future of the South Jersey region

by Julie Shannon

Change—it’s inevitable.

Health care is evolving, technology is constantly improving, getting an affordable education is more important than ever before and the economy has gone in every direction since the recession.

It’s easy to say South Jersey has gone through a transformation in recent years with a tremendous amount of change in every sector, and even more is on the horizon in the coming years. But exactly what changes will we see? Looking to the future and predicting what’s to come can be a daunting task. That’s why we came up with our first Visions of a World-Class Region edition, and we asked 20 industry leaders what they envision for the future in South Jersey, the obstacles the region needs to overcome, the many strides the area has made in the last few years, and ultimately what has to be done to make South Jersey a true World-Class Region.

Commissioner, N.J. Department of Transportation (NJDOT)
“Transportation is the circulatory system of the state’s economic body. Maintaining South Jersey’s roads and bridges in good repair is critical to keeping people, goods and services moving to ensure our economy continues to grow and thrive.

“The New Jersey Department of Transportation and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTPA) have invested billions of dollars in projects in the past several years to improve safety and ensure traffic moves efficiently through the region for decades to come. Significant projects that have been completed in the past few years and NJDOT projects under construction include the $900 million Direct Connection project to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion at the intersection of Interstates 295, 76 and Route 42, which will be complete in 2024; and the $350 million Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridges project, which will finish in 2020. All of these investments are improving New Jersey’s roads and bridge infrastructure today for the growth and economic needs of tomorrow.”

Market president, TD Bank
“Business owners [in South Jersey] need to consistently control costs and expenses. The past 10 years after the recession have forced many business owners to zero in on expenses and cut costs to survive. This practice needs to continue when times are good. Additionally, businesses must be willing to incorporate technological advancements that will enhance the customer experience. Whether it's payment solutions or service offerings, businesses need to understand the everchanging customer expectations today in order to meet and exceed expectations in every customer interaction.

According to our most recent state forecast from TD Economics, we expect a relatively modest pace of growth in New Jersey going forward. Actual growth numbers cited in the report show an expected growth of about 1.5 percent this year and 1.4 percent in 2018.”

Managing partner - Southern New Jersey, Friedman LLP
“Various tax incentives and credits are helping to transform certain areas of South Jersey. Incentives, including corporate tax credits ranging from $500 to $5,000 per job over a period of years drove business growth and real estate development to the city of Camden and other counties in South Jersey. There has been significant growth with Penn Medicine opening a new 150,000-square-foot outpatient facility in Cherry Hill and the development of The Shoppes and Residences at Renaissance Square in Evesham Township. The plans call for 338 new luxury rental apartments and over 126,000 square feet of retail space. Some of the companies that were awarded tax credits by the state to move their businesses to Camden include Subaru of America, Holtec International and the Philadelphia 76ers. The South Jersey region continues to grow with residential and commercial real estate development taking place in many counties. As long as the stock market and the economy remain strong, South Jersey’s growth will remain strong.”

Kaplin Stewart
“Our region will never attain true greatness until everyone’s oars are pulling in the same direction. Too often, parochialism wins out over vision, and the S.S. Greater Philadelphia goes nowhere. For example, everyone thinks transit improvements are a good thing, provided that they run through someone else’s neighborhood. Proposed extensions of SEPTA Route 100 and the PATCO speedline have been delayed for decades by bickering. Meanwhile, traffic worsens regionwide. Highway improvements fare no better. The Blue Route took 25 years to complete, but was obsolete the moment it opened because the southern half was reduced from six lanes to four in order to overcome residents’ objections. In 2016, Governor Christie proposed ending a long-standing agreement permitting residents of Pennsylvania or New Jersey to pay income taxes where they live, rather than where they work. It didn’t happen, but why was it even proposed? Greatness requires a greater vision.”

President and CEO, The New Jersey Hospital Association
“In health care, the future of a world-class region is already taking root today. We’ve clearly seen the regionalization of health care services with the mergers and partnerships of hospitals and health systems on both sides of the Delaware River. The vision, both in South Jersey and statewide, is for a health care system that is designed for the pursuit of good health and wellness, rather than illness and filling hospital beds. That’s really the goal of “population health”—that buzz phrase that we keep hearing. We’re working to identify all of the influences that affect our health, including typically ‘non-health care’ issues like housing and employment, and to create a broad, collaborative approach for the future. There’s an excellent example of that under way right now—the South Jersey Behavioral Health Innovation Collaborative, in which five health systems throughout the region are working together to design a better way to care for individuals with mental health and substance use disorder needs.”

Managing shareholder for Capehart Scatchard
Gone are the days when intellect and the gifts of oral and written eloquence alone can support a law firm. Increased competition and technology are weighing down on the traditional law firm model. Law firms, like other industries, must invest time and resources to integrate technology and legal services to compete in today’s economy. We must take a proactive approach to technology implementation to meet our clients’ demands for increased efficiency. With the increased production of tech-savvy talent by our local universities like Drexel and Rowan, our area is being gifted with candidates who can bring these skills to all sectors, including area law schools. This trend is certain to strengthen our business community.”

President, Rowan University
“Higher education in South Jersey is in the midst of a critically important transformation, one that will alter the economy and lives of so many families. In just the last seven years, Rowan has grown by 8,000 students and partnered with community colleges, creating 3+1 and other programs that provide students with opportunities to earn the four-year degree so important to their intellectual, professional and financial futures. Perhaps the greatest change will come in the research arena, particularly in the city of Camden, at the intersection of health care, engineering, science and business. People should be excited by our work in the city, where academic and health care organizations are partnering like never before. Rowan, Rutgers, the Coriell Institute, Cooper University Health Care and others will tackle practical research that will impact our society and make the city a research hub for the greater Delaware Valley.”

President, Delco Development
“Delco Development's vision for the future of South Jersey is to concentrate on areas in need of development or redevelopment. When there is collab - oration between government officials and the developer— there's a sense of pride and achievement once a project is completed. Our company has always been rooted in revitalization and New Jersey, and we feel that South Jersey is experiencing a resurgence that has the potential to attract larger national brand retailers and new residents.”

President, NEMR (National Employee Management Resources)
“I truly believe South Jersey and the Greater Philadelphia area is already a world-class region. Residents and businesses are so fortunate to be in this special pocket of our coun - try. We have access to excellent transportation infrastructure, top rated educational institutions, travel destinations, critical historical/cultural centers, shopping, entertainment, world-renowned culinary spots and so much more. And while the sudden explosion of growth in our region may give some reason for pause, I am very optimistic. If we continue to focus on attracting top employers and building critical infrastructure in the region, we will retain our homegrown higher education graduates, elevate our communities and we will all continue to prosper for many generations to come.”

President, Markeim Chalmers
“There are two key obstacles to commercial real estate growth in South Jersey. The first and most important is job growth, which must come from companies currently outside yet moving into the tri-county area. The other and oldest known hurdle to growth in South Jersey is high property taxes. Real estate valuations will continue to grow so long as interest rates stay low and new construction is only for end users versus flooding the market with speculative space.”

President & CEO, AAA South Jersey
“As we look toward the future, the areas that are of concern and need to be addressed in our industry involve the constant changes in vehicles— whether it’s electric cars, autonomous vehicles, or the increasing complexity of technology in automobiles, all will cause disruption in our industry.

As the South Jersey area continues to grow and thrive, it is imperative that our roads and highways change with the times. The construction project at the [Routes] 295/42 interchange is an excellent example of the type of progress needed to accommodate the growth of the region.

AAA has been around for over 100 years and has always made changes as needed to be the best-in-class in emergency road service. I am confident we will rise to the challenge.”

President, Camden County College
“Camden County College is uniquely poised to meet student needs in a changing economy. We offer a range of opportunities for students to enter new industries by providing clear pathways through our programs. I believe that in the future you will see employers valuing the decision to start at a community college as a fiscally responsible and smart choice, and even a choice that could be the deciding factor in selecting the best candidate.”

Chancellor, Rutgers University-Camden
“South Jersey’s universities and colleges are leading the region toward a knowledge- based economy that attracts multinational investment and encourages business growth. Institutions such as Rutgers–Camden and Camden County College are working with businesses to ensure that we are providing students with the creative thinking skills necessary to grow our economy. In Camden, our city is rising with the growth of an ‘eds and meds’ corridor that is building a critical mass of research innovation in the biosciences right here in South Jersey. To achieve these goals, we need to widen access and maintain affordability to attract and retain our best and brightest minds and reverse New Jersey’s outmigration of college students. As much as possible, we also need to share facilities and services to maximize taxpayer investment in higher education. Here in South Jersey, the higher ed community has proven that we can collaborate while we also compete. We have every reason to be optimistic.”

Lauletta Birnbaum, LLC
“I often hear people say that job creation is central to economic growth in the region. While this may be true, first-rate transportation is central to my vision for South Jersey as a world-class region. We need to overcome our dependence on fossil fuels by developing an enhanced public transportation system, as well as constructing the electric power infrastructure to support electric passenger vehicles, commercial fleets and buses. A commuter rail network that connects Camden, Gloucester and Burlington counties with each other and each of these counties with Philadelphia would fuel economic growth and enable South Jersey residents to more easily commute with a less harmful impact on the environment. It would also alleviate much of the congestion on our roads and highways. Gasoline and diesel powered internal combustion engines will soon be things of the past as electric vehicles become more of the norm. Opportunities exist for entrepreneurs to develop the electric power infrastructure needed in the not too distant future to support the electric vehicles that will soon be used by the masses.”

President, Stockton University
“Stockton is designated an ‘anchor institution’ by the state of New Jersey because of its projected impact on the social, cultural and economic future of the city and southern New Jersey. New academic and science buildings at Stockton’s Galloway campus, along with the first building in the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center, will meet growing demand for training and high-tech research opportunities in health and STEM fields that will help diversify the economy of the region. Stockton’s growth sends a clear message that higher education will be a driving force in the future of the region.”

President & CEO, Investors Bank
“South Jersey, and Camden in particular, has been in a no growth/slow growth pattern for decades, but this is about to change. The pace of improvement should accelerate over the next few years. Camden has an opportunity, if it latches on to emerging economic trends, to become the next Brooklyn Heights: it is directly across from Philadelphia, has bridge and rail connections directly into the city; and has space to expand, with desirable views. The process of revitalization has begun. The burgeoning Cooper Medical Center complex is the type of business needed to expand the economy while adding jobs, including those for less skilled workers. Health care will become even more important to the economy as the population ages; plus, it also drives ancillary business, expanding growth for other South Jersey businesses.”

President and CEO, Capital Bank of New Jersey
“South Jersey’s housing market and employment picture have solidified over the last several years, providing a good underpinning for economic activity, and I expect that the South Jersey economy will be off to a strong start in 2018. Capital Bank’s pipeline of commercial loan requests is currently good. We’re seeing a lot of business owner confidence, with plans to expand, invest in their businesses, make large capital expenditures and borrow money.”

Senior director, Colliers International 
South Jersey is competing on a national scale for industrial space. During the first three quarters of 2017, South Jersey’s 5.1 million square feet of absorption surpassed the Lehigh Valley, one of the hottest distribution markets on the East Coast.

Proximity to population remains the top demand driver, as more than 61 million people live within 250 miles. This makes New Jersey a key location for e-commerce companies, both for regional distribution centers and last mile delivery locations. Amazon alone will occupy 2.5 million square feet in South Jersey by the end of 2017.

Because of South Jersey’s proximity to agricultural areas, ports and a large consumer base, it is expected to become a major hub for production, packing and warehousing operations for both dry and cold storage of food products. Although there are fewer shovel-ready development sites at the highway exits, there are still greenfield and infill sites for new development.

With an excellent highway network, access to labor and proximity to a large consumer population, the South Jersey industrial market is well positioned for continued growth into the future.”

Region president, Atlantic City Electric
“At Atlantic City Electric, we work hard every day to deliver safe, reliable, affordable and clean energy and innovative services that benefit our customers and communities. As part of this effort, we are constantly engaging with our community partners and local stakeholders to support South Jersey’s economic vitality.

The Energy Discounts for Growing Enterprises (EDGE) program, which offers qualifying businesses a 20 percent discount on the electric delivery portion of the electric bill, is just one of the many ways we are helping local businesses—small and large— [to] grow and prosper.

We look forward to partnering with Gov.- elect Phil Murphy to help make New Jersey a clean energy leader with programs to promote economic growth while providing our customers with renewable energy options such as solar and wind in addition to new technologies including automated metering and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.”

Executive vice president of sales, Surety Title
“Predictions for the future of anything sometimes seem to border on prophecy, which may become self-realized. However, we can to a degree forecast and create success in our industry by our approach and positive thinking. We must keep in mind that one of the largest obstacles to future success is negative thinking with no analysis. Many of us have been following the attempts of Congress to forge an agreement on the overhaul of our nation’s tax laws. Specific to our industry includes any future cap on new mortgages whose interest can be deducted, possible maximum deductions for state, local and property taxes, as well as the Federal Reserve raising its key interest rate for the third time this year.

But let us not forget that although commercial and residential real estate sales are the keys to the success of our industry, buying and selling are also driven by factors other than pure economics. We must all, on behalf of our customers, responsibly look beyond what may appear to be obstacles and seek ways and methods to live the lives we desire.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 7, Issue 12 (December, 2017).

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