NEW BRUNSWICK,NJ - Economic development and job creation requires the combined efforts of government, business, and education, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin told private business leaders and elected officials today at the Middlesex County Business Summit.
"If business and education and government can work together, you're going to have a terrific opportunity. The trick is getting them together. It's that simple and that hard," Coughlin (D-Middlesex) told the more than 150 people who attended the second annual summit held at the Rutgers University Student Center.
Top officials from the university, RWJBarnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health and the university's Heldrich Center for Workforce Development participated in the conference.
"We have assembled an extraordinary group of panelists from the worlds of academia, health care, private business and government to discuss the impact of education and policy on Middlesex County’s economy," Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald Rios told the audience.
"Middlesex County is a key partner, and has established partnerships in the region that facilitate communication and collaboration for the benefit of our businesses, residents, students and visitors," Rios said.
Coughlin, the keynote speaker for the summit, referred to recent legislation promoting efforts between school, college and industry. He said investments in education attract business to New Jersey.
While admitting that companies coming to the state are aware of high taxes, Coughlin said he tells business leaders that "they are going to be sending their children to quality public schools for no extra money that might be spent on private schools, and the children will be prepared for quality universities."
Business development is necessary, Coughlin said, because often many of "our best and brightest college graduates go to other states" for jobs. He also touched on the need for affordable housing to provide homes for low-income families to succeed in communities with good schools and good jobs.
Rutgers President Robert Barchi said the university is becoming the choice for New Jersey high school students, which is necessary to keep the top scholars in the state.
"If they don't start here with their education, they won't wind up here," Barchi said.
However, Barchi said, schools need the continued support and investment from the state and private business to increase educational opportunities that will attract students.
Barchi also spoke of infrastructure needs such as for transportation. "We need to be able to get out of New Brunswick and Route 18 to the interstate in less than two hours," he said, referring to traffic congestion.
Barry Ostrowsky, CEO of RWJBarnabas Health, noted the continued expansion of hospitals and health care programs, but said the health care industry needs to move towards assisting families in their neighborhoods to improve lifestyles.
"There are folks who are insecure about their next meal. There are folks whose housing could be improved. We are working to train the unemployed and getting people to work with families about their health care," Ostowsky said.
Carl Van Horn, founding director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development in New Brunswick, said the state needs to prepare people to adapt to changing jobs and employment. Van Horn said the state ranked 49th in the country for the number of long-term unemployed.
"It is not just an issue of social justice but an issue of economic growth," he said.
Lina Llona, president of the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce, attended the summit and heard the speakers addressing the concerns of attracting and keeping workers. Some problems relate to infrastructure and transportation, she said.
"The biggest thing I hear from business is that they can't find employees. From Amazon, from small business. From warehouse jobs to the big companies," Llona said. The speakers at the summit, she said, "are reiterating what I hear on a daily basis," she said.