Writer: Joey Garrand
4 min read April 2021 — It’s been over a year since the global economic shutdown that was prompted by COVID-19, yet families, businesses and economies continue to fight lasting challenges. South Jersey is a unique region, serving as a global leader in various industries while also acting as an attractive destination for travel. Each leader in South Jersey’s business community has their own perspective on the future and recovery of the local economy, but everyone seems to be in agreement that the future of South Jersey is still promising. Here is what some of the local business leaders told Invest: with regards to their outlook for the region and priorities for the next year:
Kristi Howell, President & CEO, Burlington County Regional Chamber of Commerce
As much as people are anxious to get back to some sense of normal, it’s going to be a slow restart. The restaurant industry will start to rebound because people want to get out. Ingeneral, everyone getting back to normal — what that looks like and what normal spend looks like is going to take a while. Our hotels, which are typically at 80-90% occupancy during the week with business travel, are going to see 18 months to two years pass before they witness a fully recovered business travel segment. Now that we have become so used to virtual platforms, there is a legitimate question over whether we are ever going to recover pre-pandemic business travel levels. We think we’re still going to need that face-to-face, however. Nothing can replace that in-person handshake and rapport.
Ray Jones, President, Camden Business Association
I think the outlook is good. We were able to help craft the “Buy Camden” ordinance for the city of Camden that would direct 30% of the procurement spend on goods and services to local businesses. I’m extremely happy and proud about that. It’ll be great to help these small businesses get some contracts that they might not have been able to get in the past.
I feel strongly that our state government needs to be more innovative and inclusive with tax incentives. It should consider giving anchor institutions and large corporations tax incentives for procuring goods and services through hiring local small businesses as well. It should not just be for hiring local people; it should be both as small businesses create a large portion of the jobs in NJ.
Albert Fox, Senior Vice President & Executive Director, Fox, Penberthy & Dehn at Morgan Stanley
There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding inflation at the moment. Any time there is massive stimulus, there is also some level of perceived or actual inflation.
However, we are most concerned with whether there will be permanent inflation above what the financial markets anticipate. Only time will tell the path inflation takes, but what we do know is that strategies have to be nimble and account for periods of time where inflation spikes.
Right now, the markets and economy are dislocated, in part due to low-interest rates that encourage excessive risk. Even though we are closer to normality than we were six months ago, there are still people and industries that are struggling. The stock market, which continues to hit new all-time highs, doesn’t accurately reflect that. There is no telling when things will return to normal, or even what normal is. Through it all, we are fully invested in our strategy of over-communicating with clients to understand and adapt to their ever-changing needs and objectives.
Mike Regina, Principal & Co-Founder, Big Sky Enterprises
South Jersey will do well, and I think there’s a benefit from the flight to suburbia. We’re also going to see a lot of growth in the industrial space. There’s going to be challenges in the office market, but from a construction standpoint, we’re going to see buildings being repurposed and that’s OK; that’s still going to drive construction. I think we’re still going to see growth in the healthcare sector, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the industrial and restaurant markets. Regarding the office lease market, there are no big deals happening at this point. We’ll see if that changes over the next 18 months, but it’s not like it was in 2008 when we experienced a complete crash.
Charles Grimley, CEO, Grimley Financial Corporation (GFC)
We have been humbled by what we have been through and to some extent fortunate and blessed to be here. There is a sizable, ongoing change, which tests your mettle and ability to be nimble and adapt. All the things you learned about business have been put to the test since last March, and it’s far from over. Fortunately, we are blessed to have employees that have been with us on average 12 years, and we are ideally positioned to grow in our space.
Marlene Asselta, President, Southern New Jersey Development Council (SNJDC)
I think we will continue to see a ramping-up of activity as the vaccination rate increases and “new norms” help us live with the New World. The business community is ready to go, people have learned to do their job in new and innovative ways. By pivoting, we have refocused our employees to work, smarter and more efficiently.
Christina Renna, President & CEO, Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey
The first priority has to be getting the casinos back fully online alongside the restaurant and hospitality industries. Other key areas of focus will be growth of infrastructure, the wind port and the cannabis industry. As it stands, everything is contingent on the continued vaccine rollout. Our economy will not succeed without the success of the vaccine program.
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