For over a year, COVID-19 has changed how New Jersey residents and businesses live and operate. Businesses were forced to close, employees worked from home, less fortunate individuals were laid off or furloughed, and students moved to virtual classrooms. As the number of positive cases in New Jersey rose early in the pandemic, it remained unknown how long these changes would need to be in place and the state tried to strike a balance of ensuring residents safety and their strong desire to get back to some semblance of normalcy. The approval and disbursement of various vaccines over recent months has brought a light at the end of the tunnel allowing all to begin focusing on what comes next.
As the state prepares to return to life as it was pre-pandemic, it is with the acknowledgement that some things that will look different. State government must start planning now for the “next normal” and how it will impact its residents and businesses. Businesses need stability and certainty to plan for a safe return and increase consumer confidence, something that is difficult to achieve given the uncertainty of the virus. However, the state must take the lead on presenting a clear and concise roadmap to open the economy as individuals begin returning to work and businesses safely reopen.
The Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey (CCSNJ) assembled a working group of approximately 100 member companies from various industries and business sizes. Their objective was to discuss what is needed to prepare for the next normal and how state government can effectively reopen the economy, and guide businesses successfully, if they learn from the victories and mistakes of the past year. The CCSNJ’s Preparing for the Next Normal: Recommendations for Supporting New Jersey’s Business Community and Reopening the Economy report details the suggestions and proposals from the working group discussions on how government can help businesses succeed post-pandemic.
Recommendations include: • New business assistance programs, including programs to continue and relaunch, as well as several suggestions for new programs which could potentially be funded with federal money from the American Rescue Plan • State government providing predictable lead times for business reopenings, especially those in heavily regulated industries such as gaming, tourism, including the amusement industry, restaurants, and hospitality industries — all of which drive the South Jersey economy in the summer months • A review of the governor’s executive orders and other legislative actions, including a more specific definition of what constitutes a “health emergency” in New Jersey • Revamping Gov. Murphy’s Restart & Recovery Council and Commission by making them long-term recovery planning groups • Ensuring equity in New Jersey’s recovery by continuing to have a focus on small, women and minority-owned businesses most deeply impacted by the pandemic • Reconsidering a geographical approach to reopening New Jersey’s economy • A coordinated, statewide messaging campaign explaining it is safe to visit businesses and restaurants, as well as a relaunch of Gov. Murphy’s “One Jersey” pledge • Necessary legislative actions, as well as an overview of previously supported COVID-19 legislation
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be long lasting, especially for those in New Jersey’s business community. However, before true normalcy is the “next normal,” which cannot be achieved without state government’s assistance and ongoing support.