SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ —  More than 70 local business professionals, small business owners and representatives of non-profit organizations attended “How to Make Business in NJ More Affordable,” a panel discussion sponsored by the Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce at Shackamaxon Country Club Monday.

Westfield Mayor Andy Skibitsky moderated the two-part program.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R) and Assembly Majority Speaker Vincent Prieto (D) first answered questions about legislative action to protect the economic future of New Jersey, including the gas tax, estate taxes, state pension woes and the minimum wage. The two also spoke about how they as lawmakers work together and compromise to get things done.

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“One of the problems I find in society is everything’s black or white,” Bramnick, who grew up in Plainfield and now lives in Westfield, said. “What happened to somebody who has an open mind on any issues? Something — I don’t know if it’s Fox versus MSNBC, I don’t know if it’s cable news, I don’t know if it’s newspapers, but everybody’s an extremist. I’m not an extremist. And neither is the speaker. We talk practically.”

A second panel was made up of advocacy leaders Tom Bracken (president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce), Michele Siekerka (president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association) and Ken Bagner of the tax department of Sobel & Co. They answered questions about possible ways New Jersey could be more competitive and attractive to business owners and retirees.

Asked by Skibitsky about what downtowns like Westfield’s can do to remain viable as the retail paradigm shifts and national retailers close their stores, Siekerka asked that people join an organization she and Bracken are helping to lead called Opportunity New Jersey.

“Great businesses make great communities,” Siekerka said. “We need to get a movement going that dispels the perception that business is bad and reminds our communities and our people and our voters and every resident that great businesses create great communities, and this is something that we’re doing together in Opportunity New Jersey.”

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The discussion, which lasted about three hours, was the first of its kind to be held by the GWACC. Executive Director Gene Jannotti thanked board member Stephanie Branna for organizing the event.

“I want to thank all of the panelists who came out from their busy schedule to speak with us,” Jannotti said. “It was very informative. I hope we can continue to have these kinds of education sessions in the future.”

The GWACC serves about 500 businesses and non-profit organizations primarily in Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside and Westfield. To learn more, visit