If we were casting a movie about being the governor of New Jersey, most people wouldn’t immediately look for a man or woman with a marketing background to play the governor. But serving as the Garden State’s chief executive officer is, after all, a sales position.
Just think about the pitch Gov. Chris Christie had to make to convince companies to stay in New Jersey after years of less than business-friendly policies and taxes implemented by previous administrations and legislatures. Consequently, the competition for keeping companies and getting them to expand in-state is a constant battle, with wins and losses representing thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue for the state.
That’s not even counting money from tourism, which is the number one job creator in New Jersey. The tourism sector generated $35.9 billion of state GDP in 2013, 6.9 percent of the entire state economy—with an increase projected when the 2014 figures are released.
Few understand the need for selling New Jersey better than former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who used a well known slogan to attract tourists during his time in office: “New Jersey and You: Perfect Together.” But the spirit of this advertising campaign was more about “making people proud of New Jersey,” said Gov. Kean during his presentation at CIANJ’s December Executive & Officers Series breakfast. Making people believe in New Jersey was and is the key to success, he explained.
A former governor of New Jersey (1982-1990) and president of Drew University for 15 years (1990-2005), Gov. Kean served for 10 years in the New Jersey Assembly, rising to the positions of majority leader, minority leader, and speaker. As governor, he served on the President’s Education Policy Advisory Committee and as chair of the Education Commission of the States and the National Governor’s Association Task Force on Teaching.
As governor of New Jersey, Gov. Kean’s path for enabling business success in New Jersey was finding out what companies needed and creating incentives to keep them vested in New Jersey’s success; building in urban areas to attract jobs to the cities; investing in higher education; and giving tax breaks to small businesses.
“People have to believe that New Jersey is a place to come and create jobs,” said Gov. Kean. “Perception becomes reality,” but you still have to deliver business friendly public policy—so you attract, keep and grow opportunities for businesses. “As a state, we can do this. New Jersey’s location and highly educated workforce are major benefits we can offer. At the same time, we have to realize that high taxes are counterproductive and drive people out of the state. We have to work with those that create the jobs—the governor has to be totally involved in the process, meeting with the heads of corporations and being available to travel or make phone calls to maintain good working relationships with business leaders.”
As governor, Thomas Kean did a great job improving the image of New Jersey, and backed up that perception with the right priorities— business-friendly policies and a focus on higher education. He knew the value of marketing and selling New Jersey, but also saw the wisdom of investing in its institutions.
“You have got to sell reality,” explained Gov. Kean. “You can’t substitute marketing for higher education excellence and creating incentives that make companies love New Jersey as much as we do.”
Like it or not, being the Governor of New Jersey is still a sales position. Gov. Christie must give business leaders confidence in the direction the state is heading, despite some of the economic numbers that paint a less than rosy picture.
According to an end-of-year report by Wells Fargo Securities, “New Jersey’s economy is still struggling to regain its footing. Weakness persists across much of the state, as high costs and continued consolidations in many of the state’s key industry clusters limit new business investment.”
Gov. Christie, like former Gov. Kean, must continue to use his skills and experience to inspire pride and confidence in our state, and showcase New Jersey for the great state that it is.