Author Archive: JackHarris

Why are we Gaming NJ’s Agricultural Future?

Two stories that highlight the dangerous games Governor Christie is playing with the state’s future:

1.) Atlantic City’s Revel resort, $1.3B in debt, faces potential bankruptcy or foreclosure

2.) NJ stallions seek greener pastures, find them in Pa.

“New Jersey is no longer competitive, putting more than 170,000 acres of equine farmland in jeopardy,” said Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association President Tom Luchento on the association’s website, sboanj.com.  Luchento also pointed to what he said are more than 10,000 jobs at stake should New Jersey wind up out of the equine business.”

Research from the Rutgers Equine Center shows that the NJ equine industry has a $1.1 billion economic impact across the state and accounts for 13,000 jobs.

So it begs the question:

Q: Why are we gambling with New Jersey’s agricultural future?

But there some very simple answers that can help preserve NJ Agriculture and also rebuild Atlantic City.

a.) If preserving and improving Atlantic City is dependent on casinos and gaming activities, why not headquarter all of New Jersey’s gaming, equine and tourism marketing, regulatory and related law enforcement agencies in Atlantic City with satellite offices in Trenton and on the northern shore in Asbury Park, near Monmouth Park, or at Fort Monmouth?

b.) The partnership between Rutgers, Johnson & Johnson and the City of New Brunswick/Devco is widely seen as the key driver of the revitalization of New Brunswick over the last quarter century. Why not recreate this model in Atlantic City with state gaming, tourism and equine agencies and offices?

If we’re serious about saving and rebuilding Atlantic City why not allow gaming at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands and make Atlantic City the hub of New Jersey’s gaming and tourism agencies and commissions?

A steady stream of office workers everyday would help sustain and create new small businesses in Atlantic City itself.

Locating state and association headquarters and satellite offices in Atlantic City would also keep AC front of mind year-round, not just in the summer or when a casino hits hard times.  

It’s not a quick fix, it’s a long-term process, but it’s a process that accounts for more than just the casino owner’s interests.

Cross-posted at Pocket Farms-Keeping Jersey Fresh

How I Learned to Love Sea Level Rise while New Jersey’s Land Sinks under our feet

promoted by Rosi

This is the first article for local publication in NJ I wrote after returning from New Orleans as State Communications Director for Repower America. It was published in the TriCityNews on January 21st 2010. TriCityNews only publishes in hard copy, so I reprinted it here, since it’s become suddenly relevant again in the last month. Originally published as: ‘Reshaping Asbury Park: Climate Change, Local Agriculture and Economic Development in a Hazardous World – or How I Learned to Love Sea Level Rise while New Jersey’s Land Sinks under our  feet’

So perhaps I’m crazy.  After a decade in Minnesota where stores sell t-shirts emblazoned with umbrella-carrying penguins and the slogan “Minnesotans for Global Warming” I spent a chunk of 2009 in Louisiana where a football field’s worth of land disappears into the sea every 15 minutes.  

So now I’m finally home in coastal Monmouth County in New Jersey – the Atlantic Coast state most threatened by sea level rise according to Geology, a science journal that reports on such things. New Jersey also happens to be the only eastern seaboard state with the same subsidence problem as Louisiana — the sinking of land due to geologic factors.  Luckily New Jersey doesn’t suffer from the severity of the problem that Louisiana does — destruction of wetlands from oil and gas production and massive losses of land-building sediment from the mighty Mississippi, but New Jersey’s coastal lands are slowly sinking even as overall sea level rises.  

Competing with New Jersey Agriculture: The Right Way to Come Back

Today’s announcement that Roche would be locating it’s new clinical transfer facility in the state of the art Alexandria  Life Sciences Center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side makes Lt. Governor Gudagno’s New Jersey’s agribusiness tour in August even more important, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more efforts like this.  

Having been heavily engaged in the Roche negotiations and losing should serve as a wake-up call to Governor Christie and his administration that competing for jobs in the knowledge economy requires investments in intellectual capital resources such as public universities and in developing regional economic clusters that build off of the state’s competitive advantages.  

Companies and creative class professionals want to locate near each other and not be reliant on traffic-choked highways to collaborate and meet.

By playing politics with the much-needed Rutgers University/UMDNJ merger last Spring, refusing to reverse the twenty-year decline in state funding to Rutgers, and killing transit projects, the Christie administration has failed to put together the basic building blocks needed to compete with a global city like New York for jobs and investments.  It’s no surprise that the pharma industry is following the communications industry out the door to other states when our state refuses to invest in the basics of success.  

Education, transportation, and open space in the nation’s most densely populated state are essential to retaining and attracting companies and educated professionals.  The days of growing an economy by offering tax incentives to build facilities in sprawling suburbs and on pancake flat farmland are gone.  Those chickens have come home to roost in the form of traffic-choked highways, crumbling sewer and water infrastructures and property tax burdens that can barely meet the needs of municipal budgets and schools.

However, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture under the leadership of Secretary Doug Fisher, along with Lt.  Governor Guadagno and her team, put together a tour of businesses in New Jersey’s agriculture and food sectors last August that highlighted this historic business ecosystem and the role it can play in New Jersey’s economic future.  Throughout the month of August Lieutenant  Governor Guadagno and Secretary Fisher visited both traditional and cutting edge food systems enterprises across the state.

New Jersey has 10,300 farms operating on roughly 550,000 acres of New Jersey’s 4.8 million acre land base and contributes annual sales of about $1.1 billion dollars to the state’s economy. The Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgton has assisted in the development of 40 new food products while serving 1,300 clients and training over 1,000 people since its launch in 2001. The open space and watersheds associated with New Jersey agriculture also help power a $45 billion dollar tourism, fisheries and marine industry.

New Jersey’s true competitive advantages can be found in the development of regional food systems that serve some of our nation’s largest markets. It’s going to become increasingly difficult to compete for intellectual capital driven businesses with New York and Philadelphia when we refuse to invest in our public colleges and universities and play politics with our flagship AAU-member state university.  

Losing Roche’s facilities to a city and state that is pursuing an aggressive and forward looking approach to developing overlapping ecosystems of knowledge-intensive industries should come as no surprise.  

While we need to invest in our own intellectual capital long-term, short and medium term solutions to New Jersey’s economic woes exist via our farms and food companies. Let’s make the right choices and invest in this industry and business ecosystem while protecting our rapidly dwindling land base and increasingly threatened watersheds.

Cross-posted at Pocket Farms-Keeping Jersey Fresh

Why are NJ Democrats Cutting from Mental Health & Family Services?

I normally don’t write on these issues for a number of reasons, but after seeing this article that details $20.4 million in cuts to mental health and family services I’m hoping some Democrats here can answer why? Or more accurately,

In what universe do democrats start cutting through the bottom layer of the social safety net?

These are basic, or even firewall services for the most vulnerable of NJ’s citizens.

In the interests of disclosure, I sit on the board of a national child protection training organization headquartered out of the Midwest. We don’t receive any funding from NJ, but we do receive federal funding.

Our small staff provides much of the training and curriculum nationwide for front-line professionals dealing with issues of child abuse and neglect in the judicial process. These highly experienced staffers train both law enforcement professionals like detectives and prosecutors working in this area as well as social workers and counselors. In NJ, these professionals work together in what are called multi-disciplinary teams.  They are the folks who first see the children and families involved in cases of abuse or neglect and work with them throughout the legal process.

As you can imagine, these children and their families need continued mental health and social support services if they are to heal or recover and to go on to have normal lives in some respect.

New Jersey has one of the best programs in place in the country for providing mental health services to these children and their families after the court process has concluded.

And everything in NJ related to children and families runs through the Department of Children and Family Services or DCF, which stands to lose at least $11.5 million dollars under the Democratic budget.

Under former Governor Corzine, DCF was reformed under court order to become a very well-run, proactive organization. In fact, a well-known reporter at an Eagleton seminar a couple of years ago said that he was surprised that Corzine didn’t run on this issue alone. That reporter believes that Governor Corzine could have won in 2009 on this issue itself.

Current DCF Commissioner Allison Blake is highly regarded by NJ mental health professionals who work with children and families and has been working to make the organization more efficient and to improve training.

These Democratic budget cuts in a.) mobile response b.) in-home or at-home therapy and c.) in the DCF budget itself, put more kids at risk, and jeopardize the processes NJ mental health professionals have built over decades to help children and families through the trauma processes associated with abuse, neglect, violence and other social maladies and family dysfunctions.

In many cases these programs and professionals are operating at the bottom rungs of the ladder with families that have no resources or capacity to deal with these issues. And for those families that do have the resources and wherewithal to confront and deal with an issue of abuse or violence, these NJ programs ensure that that they don’t have to run around cobbling together private resources during a time of trauma and hurt.

They can focus on their kids, their own responses and the healing process instead.

Why would NJ Democrats want to tear that asunder?

The thoughts expressed here are my own and are not the opinion or thoughts of the Board on which I serve. I sit on both our 501(c)(4) and our 501(c)(3) boards.

Living History in Little Silver: Inventing the Future in NJ

Last night Jon Gertner, author of The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation spoke to a packed room at the Little Silver Municipal Building.

Gertner’s talk was supposed to be held at the library but an overflow crowd necessitated moving the talk to the council chambers.  The crowd was packed with Bell Labs retirees, many of whom worked on the research, development and inventions detailed in the book.

Think about this, many of those who literally helped invent, develop and perfect the electronics that surround us in our everyday lives were sitting in one place for one hour on Prospect Avenue in Little Silver last night.

As we fight over revenue projections, budget priorities, the future of New Jersey’s state university, New Jersey’s nation leading unemployment figures and nation lagging GDP rate; we rarely hear about the role New Jersey played in inventing the future.

The future we are now living.

Solid state transistors, satellite communications, wireless communications, cellular communications, transatlantic cabling and communications, Unix, information theory, systems theory and so much more were all developed, invented or perfected right here in New Jersey.

As a Fort Monmouth retiree who started working there in 1947 said to me last fall while we were getting our oil changed:

“If it had an electron in it, we had something to do with it. If we didn’t have something to do with it, the boys down the road at Bell Labs sure did”.

We often forget all this in our day to day battles over jobs, funding and in trying to keep ourselves and others from falling off a cliff in today’s recessionary environment.

But we have to ask the big question(s) and not be afraid of laying out big plans.

How do we make New Jersey an inventor of the future again?

Rather than just a bedroom community for the financial services industry.

This question and last night’s event takes on even more meaning this week as Roche announced a decision to shut down the last vestiges of it’s U.S. R&D operations in Nutley and lay off 1,000 people.

So how about it New Jersey, how do we start inventing the future right here in New Jersey again?  

Beck/Sweeney Farmland Assessment Bill Passes out of Budget Committee

promoted by Rosi

The so-called “fake farmers” bill passed out of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee yesterday.

The bill, a signature issue of State Senator Jennifer Beck raises required annual agricultural sales to $1000 per year, up from the current requirement of $500 per year.

The minimum acreage requirement remains at 5 acres which is a plus for new farmers in the state as well as for farmers who lease multiple plots of land from property owners in order to make a go of their farming operations.

New Jersey has some of the most expensive and scarce farmland in the country and with the average age of the New Jersey farmer at 57, maintaining our state’s agricultural heritage and going farming concerns is an increasing challenge as the number of NJ farms increase while the average size of a New Jersey farm decreases.

NJ’s Farmers Markets Officially Open — They’re Not Just for Volvo Drivers and Bobos!

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher celebrated the opening of many NJ farmers markets with a stop in Toms River last Wednesday.

The Toms River Farmers Market has been in operation about seven years.

There are about 150 farmers markets throughout New Jersey many of which participate in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) which provides $20 vouchers to qualifying individuals to use throughout New Jersey’s long growing season. The senior vouchers expire on November 30th of this year. The senior farmers market program is administered through New Jersey’s Department of Health and Senior Services and run out of the various County Offices on Aging. Patterson and Jersey City administer their own programs.

The Food and Nutrition Division of New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture plays a leading role in ensuring New Jersey’s most vulnerable populations are fed and actively promotes healthy eating options throughout the state in coordination with other NJDA programs like Jersey Fresh.

New Jersey is unique in that most of it’s food and nutrition programs are run out of the the Department of Agriculture which provides excellent opportunities for coordination with farm to table programs and potential markets for new farmers, small-scale farms and even for produce, fruits and honey farmed on large estates and properties. Maintenance of these properties is an important part of maintaining New Jersey’s landbase and open spaces.

Close coordination with other New Jersey Department’s like Health and Human Services and the Department of Children and Families enables New Jersey’s Ag department to address feeding and nutrition issues as they emerge and target assistance to vulnerable populations as quickly as possible. It’s the smallest of New Jersey’s state agencies and has quite possibly the widest scope of any agency.

Farmers Market Week is a great opportunity for us to remember why New Jersey is nicknamed the Garden State and to realize that fresh food, open spaces and small markets are all interconnected and beneficial for everyone.

Cross posted at Pocket Farms; Keeping Jersey Fresh!”

Former NJ AG John Farmer on RutRow: What’s at Stake is the Vision of NJ Itself

Rowan-Rutgers merger puts local political interests ahead of the state

The title is quite mild compared to the whole opinion piece.

AG Farmer’s Key Quote:

“What’s at stake is nothing less than the vision of New Jersey as a state that underlay both the designation of Rutgers as the state university and the 1947 constitution itself.

No less than the creation of a strong governor and attorney general and a centralized and independent judiciary, the designation of Rutgers as the state university of New Jersey was intended to create an institution powerful enough to counter the centrifugal forces of local and regional interests that, for most of New Jersey’s history, had frustrated every effort to achieve greatness as a state. The governor, the attorney general and the judiciary were to provide the power; Rutgers was to assist in providing the vision.

For decades, this strategy seemed to work. A succession of great governors from both parties was able to advance New Jersey’s interest as a state, often overcoming the opposition of local and regional bosses that might well have stymied similar efforts under prior versions of the constitution, under which the Legislature was supreme. “

Former AG Farmer is a Republican who served under Governors Whitman and DiFrancisco and clerked for NJ Supreme Court Justice Alan Handler.

Farmer also served as General Counsel of the 9/11 Commission under former Governor Kean and Congressman Lee Hamilton.

While Farmer is currently Dean of the Rutgers Law School in Newark, his undergrad and law degrees are from Georgetown.

AG Farmer’s take on the RutRow debacle is very wise, too few people have taken a historic perspective in this debate.  

Rut-Row Compromise Reached, Goal to Destroy NJ Higher Ed Met

The “secret” working group meeting behind closed doors on the Rut-Row merger has come up with a“conceptual plan” that bastardizes the Rutgers name and allows an opening for undue political influence in New Jersey’s flagship public university research system.

In what is essentially an end-run around the 1956 Rutgers Act, which establishes Rutgers as the state university of New Jersey while maintaining an independent Rutgers Board of Trustees to oversee Rutgers assets and historic ties to the Royal Charter of 1766 creating Rutgers, the proposed “compromise” creates a new independent board to oversee the combined Rut-Row operations in South Jersey. The kicker is that the newly combined entity would be allowed to retain the Rutgers name in some fashion.

What’s being asked of Rutgers is unconscionable and unheard of in American Higher Education. Rutgers is essentially being coerced into licensing it’s name and almost 250 year legacy as a colonial college and land grant institution to a former teachers college that has held university status for less than 20 years.

The Purdue/Indiana University merger example they use to justify this blatant attempt to hijack the Rutgers brand is so far-fetched it defies the imagination.

This proposal would be more like merging East Stroudsburg University with Penn State and allowing East Stroudsburg to use the Penn State name with no oversight from the central administration and governing boards in State College Pa, then it is the existing Purdue–Indiana University alliance in Fort Wayne Indiana.

It defies logic and lays clear a lack of knowledge about higher education and the role of public AAU research universities among New Jersey’s political leaders.

Unfortunately, this may be the death knell for New Jersey’s ability to innovate and compete in the 21st century. By so politicizing higher education and diluting New Jersey’s flagship public university, ranked 81st in the world according to the Times of London’s 2012 WW ranking of universities, I suspect it will be very difficult to develop the critical mass and attract the top-flight talent needed for the creative class economic clusters so vital to 21st century success.