The 2006 Meadowlands Economic Conference and Summit, held at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) headquarters in Lyndhurst, provided an opportunity for policymakers and proponents of capitalism to come together to find ways to encourage the continued economic maturation of the Meadowlands region.
Susan Bass Levin, chairwoman of the NJMC and commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, set the tone for the summit in her keynote remarks.
"The economic agenda of the Meadowlands now is certainly different from the economic agenda of 20 years ago," she said. "The goal then was, 'How to do we fill in the land so that we can get the most development possible?' We know that was a mistake."
She added, "We now know that what we need is to make sure that we create an economic engine, but at the same time preserve the environmental sensitivity of this area."
Just the stats
Nancy Mantell, a Rutgers University economist, pointed out some of the unique factors that drive the Meadowlands economy.
"The Meadowlands has a really different employment structure from the rest of the state," she said. "Over half of the jobs in the Meadowlands are just three industries: wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing. Altogether, there were 80,000 jobs in the Meadowlands in 2001, which is about 1.7 percent of the jobs in the state."
Michael Lahr, another Rutgers economist, spoke about the ongoing economic growth in the Meadowlands.
"Jobs should increase by 70 percent over the next few years, and by 3.6 percent annually, which is a magnificent growth rate," he said. "Housing units will way more than double. Even more importantly, local industry will begin to decouple from the ports of Newark and Elizabeth, which is not bad because imports and exports are growing here."
Port Authority chairman speaks out
Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, provided a wider, macroeconomic perspective for the summit's attendees when looking at the economic future of both the Meadowlands region and the tri-state region as a whole.
"It's a very exciting time to be the chairman of the Port Authority because of the generation-defining opportunities at hand," he said. "The Port Authority has to go back to its roots. We've lost our true mission, which is to build to next regional transportation projects that will allow this region to grow. We have to return to that goal. Cities like Tokyo and Singapore are doing this, and they are planning to be the financial and commercial capital of the globe. If they succeed, guess who they have taken the title from? This is the challenge that we have to rise to."
After the summit, Coscia spoke about how the soon-to-be constructed rail link to the Meadowlands is an important part of meeting that challenge.
"We are looking to co-invest with New Jersey Transit on building a rail system that serves northern New Jersey that is efficient," he said. "Improvements that are made, including a Meadowlands rail link, bi-level rail train cars, and most importantly the Trans Hudson Express tunnel project, represent the ability over the long term to build a system that will allow people to be able to commute by train not just in and out of Manhattan but even around the region in a far more efficient way than they can today."
Economic and environmental interests converge
Eric Stiles, vice president for conversation and stewardship of the New Jersey Audubon Society, remarked about how conservationists and capitalists can work together to support each other's interests.
"The path in the Meadowlands in the 1990's was jobs versus the environment," he said. "Now, we see more and more that large businesses decide whether to stay or relocate based upon the quality of the environment in which they reside. The outdoor recreation sector in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania is a $38 billion economic sector. We want to make this a place that is more attractive to businesses. You make it attractive to businesses by improving the air quality of the region and by investing in renewable energy resources."
James Kirkos, the CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, seemed confident that events such as the economic summit could help bring the considerable economic resources of the Meadowlands to bear.
"It's really about awareness," he said. "We have to continue to unite the stakeholders and the policymakers for constructive dialogue about the issues in front of us. Instead of having too many cooks, let's agree that we'll all going to be cooks together and make a really good plan that we can make happen."