The Real Jersey Comeback
Economists and analysts see signs of slow recovery, but warn that New Jersey is not well positioned for longer-term growth
Analysts, developers, and academicians all saw hopeful signs, however faint, for New Jersey’s economy and housing market, but told a state conference in Atlantic City that the highly suburbanized state is poorly adjusted for longer-term changes.
Attendees at the Governor’s Conference on Housing and Economic Development heard a sprinkling of numbers that should bring comfort -- although not joy -- to Gov. Chris Christie and President Barack Obama.
Building permits are up 3,000 from last year’s pace, and could hit 15,000, the best figure since before the Great Recession, said Tim Touhey, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Builder’s Association. But he described “20,000 and more” as “a healthy market for New Jersey.”
The 33,000 private-sector jobs the state added last year were the most since 2000, said Jeffrey Otteau, adding, “clearly there’s been a turning of the corner.” But the state’s foreclosure rate has risen to 3,200 a month as banks address a backlog built up during court-imposed moratoria, he said.
In another meeting room in the Atlantic City Convention Center, James Hughes, dean of Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, was repeating some of the same numbers.
Since the bottom of the employment trough in February 2010, the United States has seen steady private-sector job growth, Hughes said. But while it has recovered 53 percent of the recession’s losses, that still leaves another 4.1 million to go, he said.
New Jersey’s rebound has been sketchier, regaining only about 35 percent of lost private-sector jobs, but still is heading in the right direction, according to Hughes. But that positive assessment came with his reminder that despite population growth, “we have fewer jobs than we had in the year 1999.”
Hughes pointed to “transformative” demographic changes that should shape policy in housing and elsewhere. Some fallout already is apparent in the office market, he said. Hughes pointed to formerly “iconic” exurban business campuses like the now vacant BASF building in the Mt. Olive foreign trade zone, or Merck’s Whitehouse Station headquarters, being phased out for a reconsolidation to Summit.
Those sort of sprawling business centers are rapidly becoming relics, “along with the McMansions and starter-castles scattered across our countryside,” Hughes said.
Transportation costs, salary pressures, the sparseness of surrounding communities. and changes in personnel priorities are all pushing against the suburban patterns that have reshaped America since World War II, he said.