On January 7, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the landmark New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020. Of all the economic recovery acts being proposed and passed in states around the U.S., this stands out as being the one most grounded in activities that are likely to create resilient prosperity.
That’s because it isn’t just based on bailing out small businesses (though it does that also, which is good). To propel New Jersey’s economic recovery for much of the next decade, it also focused on brownfields redevelopment, heritage restoration, and Main Street revitalization.
“These programs are the product of nearly three years of hard work, during which we received input from hundreds of voices on how best to structure our state’s recovery and growth,” said Governor Murphy. “I am immensely proud of the result, which will not only provide much needed relief for our small businesses, but will also fundamentally change economic development in our state while creating thousands of high-paying job for our residents.”
The legislation includes a host of new initiatives including the Main Street Recovery Finance Program, which will provide a direct $50 million appropriation for grants, loans, loan guarantees, and technical assistance to small and micro businesses.
This bill will also bolster the state’s startup and entrepreneur economy through implementation of the Innovation Evergreen Fund, a first-of-its-kind program that will combine state funds with private capital to support innovative new businesses.
The new legislation also includes several cutting-edge programs designed to promote growth in New Jersey’s urban centers, including the Brownfields Redevelopment Incentive designed to facilitate the redevelopment of environmentally contaminated properties; the Historic Property Tax Credit, which will incentivize the restoration of historic buildings, many of which are located in New Jersey’s oldest and most distressed neighborhoods; and the Community-Anchored Development Program, which will incentivize the construction of innovative new developments by partnering with universities, hospitals, arts, and cultural organizations and give the state an equity stake in the development.
“This is comprehensive legislation which will grow new industries and foster innovation around the state. It will create greater investment in our communities by providing further incentives to locate in distressed municipalities, build affordable housing and redevelop brownfields,” said Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, the prime sponsor.
“This law will help increase access to employment in high-growth industries, drive sustainable economic development and most importantly help our state to recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This effort is balanced in its approach, it will ensure responsible investment, greater oversight and tangible community benefits,” she explained.
The legislation also includes a groundbreaking Food Desert Relief program designed to ensure that all communities have access to fresh, healthy food. Incentives would offset the cost of development of a fresh-food grocery store in an area designated as a food desert, while also strengthening existing community assets like bodegas, corner stores, and mid-sized retailers by equipping them with the necessary equipment and infrastructure to provide healthier food options.
“We worked to develop a comprehensive piece of legislation that will put New Jersey on a path to economic recovery post-COVID-19 and beyond,” said Assembly Budget Chair Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin.
“It includes a wide range of critical business and redevelopment incentives, which will spur growth in many areas that have been longstanding concerns for the state. New Jersey has been without an incentive program for over a year and a half, and this measure will make our businesses competitive with those in other states again. When combined with incentives to invest in technological innovation, developing brownfields, and eliminating food deserts, among others, we can help those struggling and drive the entire state forward,” she added.
The legislation reforms the state’s two main tax incentive programs, placing caps on the amount of incentives awarded each year, as well as over the life of the programs. The programs, which incorporate many of the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on EDA’s Tax Incentives, greatly enhance compliance restrictions to ensure that money is being well spent and jobs are being created, including the creation of an inspector general post to investigate claims of abuses within the programs.
“The New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020 presents a strong recovery and reform package that will position New Jersey to build a stronger and fairer economy that invests in innovation, in our communities, and in our small businesses the right way, with the protections and oversight taxpayers deserve,” said NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan.
“Tax incentives and other investment tools are critical to economic development, and when used correctly they can drive transformative change that uplifts communities and creates new opportunities for everyone,” he continued.
The New Jersey Emerge program is a job creation tax credit focused on bringing new middle-class and well-paying jobs to our communities, with base and bonus structure for targeted industries and geographies.
The New Jersey Aspire program is a gap financing program to support commercial, industrial, mixed-use, and residential real estate development projects, with an emphasis on higher need communities.
Separate from the Emerge and Aspire program cap is a set-aside for large, transformative projects. There can be a maximum of ten such projects over the life of the incentives program.
“This incentives package will not only help strengthen our economy, but it will help address some of the longstanding inequities faced by the most distressed communities in our state,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.
“These renewed incentives are specifically directed toward reviving our local economies and helping main streets thrive throughout this crisis and beyond. I want to commend Governor Murphy and the legislature for their leadership in passing this bill which will put our state on a renewed path to prosperity,” she added.
This legislation will provide additional protections for organized labor, a longstanding promise of the governor’s, as well as community benefit agreements, which are designed to ensure an award recipient will engage and stay engaged with local government. For the first time, New Jersey’s economic development programs will include prevailing wage for building service work and labor harmony provisions, which will protect building trades and building service workers from unfair practices.
This sweeping legislation revamps several existing programs, including the successful Film and Television Tax Credit, which was expanded and enhanced to attract large studio construction to New Jersey, and the Offshore Wind Manufacturing credit, which now encompasses the entire state and will allow more businesses to qualify.
“Renewal of New Jersey’s tax incentive program was essential to ensuring our state’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining jobs and businesses in our global economy,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
“I am pleased that the compromise we reached includes a sufficiently high cap on total incentives to enable New Jersey to compete for mega-projects, and that it ensures that all regions and sectors of our state will benefit from the various programs. I would like to thank Senators M. Teresa Ruiz and Paul Sarlo, former Senator Ray Lesniak, who served as our special counsel, and of course, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Governor Phil Murphy for working together to bring this legislation to fruition,” he concluded.
Several existing NJEDA programs have been folded into the legislation as well, including the Angel Investor Tax Credit, the Net Operating Loss Credit, and the New Jersey Ignite Program.