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N.J.'s transportation issues — and their effect on business — are in focus at symposium
Brett Johnson |


(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Bicyclists make their way through Salt Lake City traffic. Officials are pushing to promote more walking and biking as the Wasatch Front population is predicted to double in coming decades.

There's a reason some of Silicon Valley's major companies have based their marketing operations in New Jersey. As Choose New Jersey's Michael Chrobak will tell you: It's an exceptional market.


And that has global resonance; Chrobak said more than half the calls his organization gets from companies interested in setting up in New Jersey are foreign businesses.


But for each business interested in entering the Garden State fray, many more of New Jersey’s workers exit. 


How the state's transportation options (or lack thereof) play into that dilemma was the subject of a symposium Wednesday in Iselin. The event was hosted by New Jersey's chapter of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association. 


Any discussion of the state's residents leaving in droves has to begin with the costs, which was State Senate President Stephen Sweeney's message in his keynote speech.


"Primarily it's the middle class leaving because they can't afford to live here anymore," Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said. "There needs to be a solution for that, and it can't be a partisan one."


But the transportation funding crisis, currently a major priority for Sweeney and other state leaders, has to be part of the conversation as well. 


As the panelists during the symposium's "The Intersection of Transportation & Workforce" segment all acknowledged, not only do the state's roads need to be maintained, but retaining younger workers necessitates a rounded offering of public transit options. 


Mary Murphy, executive director of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, pointed out how often it's been reported that millennials just don't have cars to rely on for the commute anymore.


"So we want to have good traveling options (for millennials) who want to have these opportunities to stay in New Jersey," she said. "But they want to have good transit.


"We're looking at a lot of avenues through transit-oriented development, and how we can have that grow and be right-sized in different communities in the state."


Murphy added that is isn't just a call for improved rail infrastructure.


"Nearly twice as many people take the bus to work (in the state) than the train," she said. "So that's an important component when looking at transit-oriented development."


Given that buses play such an integral role in transporting workers across the state, Murphy said, this asset should be better served and also better understood.


Jim Kirkos of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce and Gerard Scharfenberger of the state Office of Planning Advocacy for Middletown Twp. also spoke to the benefits of transit-oriented development.


And all the panelists agreed public-private partnerships — such as Mercer County's part in Amazon's free shuttle service to its Robbinsville warehouse — are a good way to bolster the state's set of attractive commute options.


"That shuttle program is playing a key role in the expansion of Amazon's business and its access to its workforce," Murphy said. "That's really critical."


While New Jersey still has its problems transportation-wise, Chrobak encouraged business owners to look at the big picture when examining the state's potential for facilitating a commute-ready workforce.


"We've got 2,800 miles of roadways, almost 14 commuter rail lines ... 92 direct flights nationally and more than 110 direct flights internationally," he said. "It's about finding linkages in the state. And we're going to get there."