Seeking to bolster the pandemic recovery of New Jersey’s more than 950,000 small businesses, Assembly Democrats on Monday introduced a new six-bill package designed to grow jobs, streamline state programs reduce barriers to entry for entrepreneurs seeking to start a new business or grow an existing business.
“Helping New Jersey’s small business community grow and thrive was one of the essential priorities we identified at the outset of this session,” said Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex).“From mom-and-pop shops to our tech start-ups, small businesses don’t just play a critical role in sustaining jobs and families. They contribute to the unique and defining character that make New Jersey communities the kinds of places people want to live and raise a family. Together, this package gives business owners the tools they need to find success in the long run.”
Small businesses are the backbone of New Jersey’s economy, employing 1.9 million people and sustaining Main Streets and commercial corridors in small towns and large cities across the state.
The newly introduced legislative package takes a comprehensive policy approach to support small businesses throughout their business lifecycle. Broadly, the bills serve to bolster the reach and utilization of existing state programs, support new business and entrepreneurship, nurture New Jersey’s culture of innovation, and aim to help businesses expand their footprint.
It seeks to build on the roughly $1 billion in federal and state pandemic aid allocated to small business recovery.
“Being a good steward of taxpayer money means we need to maximize our investments into programs, like the Small Business Improvement Grant,” said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Camden, Gloucester), who sponsors A-4748. The bill, aimed at improving the quality of state support provided to the business community, would require the New Jersey Business Action Center (BAC) to collect and share performance metrics, similar to what you might see in a customer satisfaction survey.
“Commercial space can be one of the costliest barriers to entry for a business because it can be an arduous process finding the storefront that suits your needs,” said Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon), lead sponsor of (A-4750). Part of the package, this bill would require the BAC to establish a public database of vacant commercial space, which would contain information about square footage and available onsite capital equipment.
Another bill (A-4753) in the package, models after a similar New York City initiative to provide relief to small businesses by providing a cure period for minor first-time violations. Bill sponsor Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon) said, “a warning and giving a business the opportunity to fix their mistake, when it’s not a matter of public safety, is the right thing to do.”
Over the last two decades, there has been a shift to online shopping. To help small retailers develop the web and social media presence they need for success in today’s shopping environment, Assemblyman Chris Tully sponsors a bill
(A-4752) to create a tech corps. “This team of innovative, technically-skilled professionals will help our small retailers modernize and reach customers right at home,” said Tully (D-Bergen, Passaic).“These days, more and more consumers prefer the ease and convenience of online shopping. Providing this tech support gives small business owners that crucial competitive edge.”
With a host of businesses coming out of the pandemic with new skills and knowledge about how to adapt and pivot in hardship, Assembly Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Camden, Gloucester) sponsors legislation (A-4751) to create a mentorship program that matches newly formed small businesses with more experienced peers. “The opportunity for an early stage entrepreneur to get guidance on what to do and, equally, what not to do can be a lifeline. Almost half of businesses fail in their first five years and access to a mentor puts just another tool in their toolbox for success.”
The Speaker’s bill (A-4749) would enable for the creation of an informative, but succinct, small business manual detailing relevant assistance programs and regulatory processes overseen by state departments.
The newly introduced bills accompany three existing pieces of legislation, which includes measures to: reduce barriers that hamstring construction (A-573), help minority, disabled and women-owned businesses in their bidding for government contracts (A-2146), and create relationship-building opportunities that help small businesses jumpstart growth by winning local, state and federal government contracts (A-3424).
“By codifying the required three-day inspection turnaround, we ensure things can move along expeditiously,” said Assemblyman Rob Karabinchak (D-Middlesex), sponsor of A-573. “Right now three days is the standard but because it’s not set in stone it’s often ignored and at the expense of a business or contractor experiencing costly delays.”
“New Jersey entrepreneurs come from all types of backgrounds and walks of life,” said Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon) who sponsors (A-2146). “Someone who has struggled socially and economically shouldn’t be kept from government contracting opportunities because their knowledge or access is different.”
Creating the Biannual Small Business Matchmaker Initiative, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic) says her bill (A-3424) is about leveling the playing field. “A business built over three generations is going to have a competitive advantage over someone who is just getting started. To help small businesses grow their footprint, this initiative seeks to elevate their visibility by putting them in the room with contractors looking for their services.”
Signaling support for the package, representatives and stakeholders from the business community issued the following statements:
“This package of bills is good news for small business. It establishes a new set of services for small businesses in New Jersey that range from customer assistance to mentorships to a public database of available commercial space,” said Tom Bracken, President and CEO of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce. “Further, the legislation provides the tools and resources the state Business Action Center’s mission needs to fulfill its role as a gatekeeper – helping small businesses navigate the web of state agencies that provide business assistance.
“Thanks to our ongoing partnership with the BAC, the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce is well aware of the solid support the BAC provides New Jersey businesses. This legislation will further strengthen the BACs arsenal of tools. We thank Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin for working on this package of bills and for accepting the input and modifications from the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce. These are the kind of steps needed to foster a stronger economy in New Jersey.”
“Small businesses are still struggling in the aftermath of the pandemic, and we thank Speaker Coughlin and the members of his Assembly Majority Caucus for recognizing the need to provide these employers with assistance,” said Christopher Emigholz, Chief Government Affairs Officer for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA). “Their multi-faceted package of bills will support small businesses by providing new business resources and making government more responsive to their ongoing needs.”
“I am ecstatic that the Assembly is prioritizing small businesses,” said Sharon McAuliffe, owner of Knot Just Bagels in Woodbridge. “Faced with having to quickly adapt, and sometimes at great time and expense to my business, the pandemic was tough to weather. Helping us existing small business owners and those just starting out rebound and grow should be a State priority. A package like this provides resources that I know will be valuable to me now, but even more so had they been in place when I was first opening up shop.”