TRENTON, N.J.—Amid a deep recession and with consumer confidence ratings at an all-time low, Mercer County held its Fourth Annual Economic Summit March 12 to help give businesses a better sense of what to expect from the economy in 2009 and how they can begin to recover from the downturn.
Approximately 200 people—including New Jersey Office of Economic Growth Chief Jerry Zaro, members of the County’s business community, local mayors, and representatives from all 13 County municipalities—gathered at The Conference Center at Mercer County Community College for the summit, which focused on what economic trends to expect in 2009. The summit’s theme was “Plan B!: Surviving & Sustainability in Today’s Economy.”
“There is not a lot of good news out there, but I believe we have a lot to talk about and plenty to be optimistic about as we look ahead,” said Hughes as he opened the summit, which was co-sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We in Mercer County are taking a hit in this recession like every family, company, and government out there, but our priorities will still be putting a book in a young child’s hand, making sure they make it to school, taking care of our seniors and our neediest residents, and rebuilding our regional economy.”
Hughes introduced Zaro, who attended on behalf of Governor Jon S. Corzine and spoke about New Jersey as an increasingly attractive center of commerce compared to other, more expensive locations in the Northeast and around the country.
“Things are not all bleak. There’s an ancient saying, ‘You cannot control the wind, but you can adjust your sails’,” Zaro said, adding New Jersey has eliminated “arcane, unfriendly” corporate business taxes to entice more businesses to relocate here. “This recession is a crisis but it’s also an opportunity. A crisis like this causes laser-like focus and causes everyone to rethink and reinvent themselves.”
Zaro urged the conference attendees representing the private sector to “roll up their sleeves”, saying federal and state stimulus agendas will not be enough to pull the U.S. out of the recession. He said new state incentives to businesses who hire new workers can help the state economy rebound. For instance, one new state incentive program for businesses doles out $3,000 per new hire, and to date the total number of applications to the program from around the state will equate to 16,700 new jobs, Zaro said.
The event’s keynote speaker was Herb Taylor, an economist who is Vice President and Corporate Secretary of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Taylor gave attendees a detailed analysis of the economic forecast for the U.S. in 2009 and beyond.
The recession is forecasted by economists to last at least through mid-year 2009, Taylor said, but the second half of 2009 could actually see positive growth in the national economy. Banks are also predicted to begin easing up their restricted lending.
“The good news is we are at the worst point of this economic downturn and what we should see is improvement from here on out,” Taylor said.
Economists are also predicting job losses—which currently stand at a rate of 500,000 jobs lost per month—are at their worst right now, he said. Still, the survey of economists by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia showed the job market will likely not add new jobs until early 2010. Housing prices will continue to drop through 2009 as well, Taylor said.
In addition to a loss in home equity for many people, the recession has gouged personal wealth on an unprecedented scale. According to Taylor, household wealth in the U.S. has plunged $10 trillion, which is equivalent to the stock market “taking one year of income from every consumer.”
The economic stimulus, however, is putting theory into practice and is showing returns. Taylor highlighted the effects of direct federal funding with graphs that showed what job losses and the overall economy look like with the benefit of stimulus funding and without it, and the data shows the stimulus is limiting a deeper recession, he said.
Following the keynote address, three breakout sessions were held for attendees. They were: “Hot Topics in Energy Management: Integrating Green Solutions”; “Economic Realities of 2009: Impacts and Opportunities”; and “Thinking Outside the Box: Adapting Your Business in a New Economic Environment.”
Among the other notable officials at the event were: Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello; Mercer County freeholders Anthony Carabelli, Dan Benson, John Cimino, Pasquale Colavita, and Ann Cannon; and Mercer County Community College President Dr. Patricia Donohue.
The major sponsor for the Economic Summit was PSE&G. Reception sponsors were Heartland Payment Systems and Verizon, and the cocktail reception was sponsored by PNC Bank and Fox Rothschild LLP. The breakout sessions were sponsored by Mack-Cali Realty, Capital Health System, Hopewell Valley Community Bank, NAI Fennelly, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, and Select Greater Philadelphia. Enterprise sponsors included Amboy Bank, Capital City Redevelopment Corporation, Clarke Caton Hintz, ETS, Hyatt Regency Princeton, Klatzkin & Company LLP, Matrix Development Group, Quaker Bridge Mall, Spiezle Architectural Group, Inc., Thomas Edison State College, Trenton Downtown Association, Van Note-Harvey Associates, and P.C., V.J. Scozzari & Sons, Inc.