FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders continued to lobby for the full reopening of business and commercial sectors of the northwestern New Jersey economy, with data and initiatives described at the June 16 meeting held via teleconference.
Freeholder J. Matthew Holt led a theme of addressing the county’s economic outlook in what officials hope becomes a summer of turnaround stories and a widespread revival with open businesses, consumer activity and an economy regenerated.
“Unemployment continues to be a growing problem, and it has been disturbing to hear the reports on unemployment totals,” he said. “While more and more New Jersey businesses are opening up after Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s latest executive orders, I think if you dig into the data that our economic development team works on, that would tell you and show you that the business community wants us (the Freeholder Board and area officials) to continue to press for a greater relaxation of the shutdown rules so that the economic recovery process can continue to pick up steam.”
He then spoke about the county Office of Economic Development’s creation of the new jobs and job postings feature on the website JobsHunterdon.com, a subsite of the main hub site HunterdonCountyEDC.com.
“This links a user to the site that is aggregating job listings, searchable by company name or category,” Holt said. "It becomes a great resource on both sides of the table, as someone looking for work can use this as a resource, and it is also being widely used by county businesses looking for services and employees during the pandemic, and there’s a lot of that out there.”
Freeholder Zach Rich is the freeholder liaison to Hunterdon County’s Workforce Development Board. He said, “the governor’s reopening plans are insufficient and too slow for the needed economic recovery.”
He cited local unemployment data and spoke about a quote he had read from Democratic Sen. Vin Gopal, of Monmouth County, who represents the 11th Legislative District in the New Jersey Senate. Rich noted Gopal’s comment that a great failure of the state during the COVID-19 pandemic is that New Jersey “had lifted up corporations while crushing mom and pop stores and picking winners and losers. That is unacceptable.”
“According to the Workforce Development Board, unemployment in Hunterdon County has now risen to 11,371 individuals,” Rich said. “Disappointingly but not surprisingly, that is up over 700 more people from my report at the last freeholders meeting June 2. To me, those are representing 11,371 darn good reasons that Gov. Murphy needs to fully reopen the economy in our area, something this board has been calling for for several weeks now. This is not a partisan issue.”
Deputy Freeholder Director Sue Soloway delivered the biweekly meeting update on the latest COVID-19 statistics in Hunterdon County to her fellow members of the freeholder board, executive county staff and the public listening in. Soloway said the day prior to the meeting, on June 15, zero new COVID-19 cases were reported in Hunterdon.
The county, she said, has the third lowest total of COVID-19 cases in New Jersey.
“Our county health department continues to respond to the public health emergency as well as assist businesses seeking to reopen, particularly food and retail establishments, public pools and youth camps,” she said.
Of the 67 COVID-19-related deaths that have been reported in Hunterdon County since March, Soloway reported, nearly 60 percent of them were people within privately-run long-term care facilities in the county.
She also noted that testing for Hunterdon and Somerset residents remains free and available at Raritan Valley Community College, in Branchburg, on consecutive Thursdays, for individuals with a physician’s prescription, first responders and essential employees.
Holt transitioned the concerns directly to the vitality of small businesses in Hunterdon County.
“Frankly, and I think this board agrees, from reports we are hearing, in excess of 30 percent of small businesses out there may not be able to reopen,” he said. “In my world, and I know in the world of most of you, that is simply unacceptable for rules and regulations to, in essence, kill 30 percent of our business community, and I intend to continue lobbying as heavily as we can for our businesses to be able to reopen in Hunterdon County.”
In the meantime, Holt noted how the county’s economic development team is proactive and working to provide fresh, useful information through the new JobsHunterdon.com site. This includes updates and tracking of new executive orders as they’re issued by Murphy.
“The site also contains the latest best practices updates from the health agencies and the business community,” he said. “It is so important and valuable that all the information is kept fresh, and the county economic development team has taken on that task.”