FLEMINGTON, NJ -  Although the county Freeholders have worked hard to eliminate county debt, limit county spending and pursue shared services agreements to lower costs, Freeholder Matt Holt said last week that there’s really only one way to reduce the property tax burden on residential property taxpayers: Increase the amount and value of Hunterdon’s commercial ratables.

“It’s been one of our goals for many years,” Holt said at last week’s Freeholder meeting, and Freeholders believe the path to increased ratables is paved with economic growth.

It’s difficult to know exactly when the Freeholders first made economic growth a high priority. The board took a decisive step in 2013 when it ordered the drafting of its Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.

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Since then, CEDS has been used to support the creation of a county Economic Development Division, moving its director and offices into the county Chamber of Commerce headquarters on Main Street in Flemington, the Freeholders' endorsement of Jack Cust's plans to redevelop the Union Hotel and surrounding properties and helping to streamline development regulations.

Since he was hired three years ago, county Economic Development Director Marc Saluk has been hard at work to attract growth to Hunterdon.

Saluk unveiled last week a new website - HunterdonCountyEDC.com – which he says sports “a new brand, and bold messaging.”

The site “positions Hunterdon as a hub of innovation and as a prime area for growth in advanced sectors such as technology and life sciences,” he said in a press release.

“Hunterdon residents constitute one of the most educated and accomplished workforces in the entire country,” said Freeholder Director Suzanne Lagay. “When that’s coupled with the quality of our corporate citizens and our location between the two major metros, it’s not hard to see why there’s substantial local innovation.”

Companies currently calling Hunterdon home include long-time corporate citizens such as ExxonMobil, 3M, QuickChek, Chubb Insurance, Georgia Pacific, and New York Life. More recently, UNICOM Global has announced plans to move here after acquiring the former Merck site in Readington.

The new website is designed to provide an array of resources to aid business retention and attraction. It includes a property locator and demographic, workforce and industrial data. It also includes guidance for starting and growing a business here and links to key state data and business incentive information.

“We firmly believe that economic development is a collaboration between the public and private sectors,” said Holt.

Saluk said the property locator is one of the website’s key features.

“We want to ensure that one of the ways we’re returning value to the communities is by having a positive impact on ratables,”  Saluk said. “The ability to draw attention to areas in need of development and other properties deemed appropriate for new business growth is one way to do that.”

According to the site, Hunterdon’s targeted industries are technology, agribusiness, business and finance, life sciences, and advanced manufacturing. The site also makes a pitch to companies that the county is an ideal location for regional and national headquarter operations.

Also working to drive growth to Hunterdon is the “78/22 Coalition,” an effort spearheaded by Saluk and formed last year. Bloomsbury, Bethlehem, Union, Clinton, Clinton Township, Franklin, Lebanon Borough, and Readington are represented in the Coalition. Its goals are to vet development opportunities and work together to address growth, Saluk said.

“This committee is the first successful county effort to work collaboratively with all the towns along these two routes that are so crucial to the future viability of Hunterdon,” said Freeholder Director Suzanne Lagay. “The best economic development is collaborative economic development.”

As some of its initial goals, the group will be working to promote the two corridors as prime locations for tech and entrepreneurial growth.

“The presence of companies like ExxonMobil, whose R&D facility here holds hundreds of research laboratories, speaks very strongly to the skill level of our local workforce,” said Clinton Township Mayor John Higgins, himself a former Merck executive. “This same workforce can support a wide array of industries requiring the ready availability of an educated workforce to reach their full potential.”

Saluk said town officials believe they can successfully leverage their proximity to New York City and Philadelphia to attract companies, in addition to factors such as affordable land and office space versus other New Jersey locales, beautiful surroundings, and the willingness of town and county officials to work closely with companies to support their endeavors.

The 78/22 Coalition meets monthly in the town of Clinton, according to a press release. The meetings are typically closed to the public and press.