U.S. EDA's Matthew Erskine: "New Jersey's Recovery is the Obama Administration's First Priority"
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., January 31, 2013-"New Jersey is a great place to do business," said Matthew Erskine, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development with the U.S. Economic Development Administration. "I want to assure you tonight that President Obama and his administration will continue to make helping your recovery from superstorm Sandy our first priority.
"Commercial real estate is a crucially valuable economic engine-it creates jobs, generates incomes and significantly contributes to our economy," Erskine told attendees of NAIOP New Jersey's Annual Meeting and Economic Outlook at the Sheraton Meadowlands in East Rutherford. "We appreciate NAIOP New Jersey's advocacy on behalf of the state's business community and the commercial real estate sector."
Erskine praised Gov. Chris Christie for "the pragmatic way he has been responding to the aftermath of Sandy." He noted the positive national coverage "of the collaboration between President Obama and Governor Christie, who both know there is no room for partisanship when it comes to helping people impacted by an overwhelming event."
Touring New Jersey post-Sandy, "I came away impressed by the resourcefulness, vision and resilience I saw in the people I talked to," Erskine said. "I want to assure you tonight that President Obama and his administration are on your side."
For post-Sandy recovery, the federal government is working under the aegis of the Long-Term Disaster Working Group (LTDWG), created in 2009 as a post-Katrina effort to respond more effectively to natural disasters. "Recovery and redevelopment efforts must start immediately, and while the federal government takes a leadership role, state and local leadership must provide the local vision," Erskine explained.
Out of LTDWG came the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), which provides "a clear but flexible structure enabling those working in disaster recovery to operate in a more unified, coordinated manner. EDA serves as the lead coordinating agency, and we are working closely with state agencies in New Jersey," he said. "The aim is to rebuild this economically productive and densely populated region in a more resilient way, creating a comprehensive regional plan based on local vision.
"There is a tremendous need for the private sector to take a lead role in the development of economic and recovery strategies," Erskine continued. "Public/private partnerships are the model going forward. No one sector can do it alone today, given the constraints on resources and tremendous needs of these partnerships.
"This region has taken an incredible hit from superstorm Sandy, and it's not a stretch to say that the future of this region's economy, including the commercial real estate sector, will be determined by how all of us work together to insure the region's long-term viability," Erskine said.
PRE- AND POST-SANDY
Speakers on a subsequent panel recalled pre-Sandy confidence in their operations but conceded that lessons have since been learned. Moderator Richard Johnson of Matrix Development Group recalled post-Sandy images and provided a statistical review of the storm's impact. Asked by Johnson about preparedness and lessons learned, Lou Goetting, Gov. Christie's deputy chief of staff, cited maintaining gasoline supply and communication issues among the lessons learned.
"We will turn those lessons into better preparedness," he said. "The state also has to learn to work better with the private sector."
While noting that Verizon has worked through big storms "all the time," Jim Gerace, president of the New York region for Verizon, said that "we learn something from each event." In the case of Sandy, "which had its biggest effect on the barrier islands along the shore, we know that as we restore it, we need a more resilient infrastructure." The key: Greater use of newer technology, including fiber, more wireless, and Verizon's new VoiceLink plug-in technology.
Terming it the "perfect storm" with its combined storm surge, communication and power loss "that impacted 90 percent of our portfolio," Gil Medina, executive managing director of Cushman & Wakefield, Inc. lauded commercial real estate for "stepping up and providing the assets" for post-Sandy recovery. "Our industry did everything it could to insure the safety of tenants, their employees and contractors.
"The office market and commercial real estate in general still face challenges related to the economy, and Sandy exacerbated those challenges," Medina said.
Specific issues and lessons learned relating to operations include such basic changes as landlords moving their electronics and communications out of basements, where they were flooded, severely damaged and rendered inoperable, to the safety of higher floors, Medina noted. In general, "landlords are increasingly motivated to address continuity issues-redundancies, raising electronics and more," he said.
The annual event also marked the changing of the guard, with a new slate of officers sworn in to lead NAIOP New Jersey. Noted outgoing chapter president George Sowa of Brandywine Realty Trust, "the forecast for our industry is better now than it was two years ago. We have accomplished much, everything from jump-starting the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, to the Permit Extension Act and more.
"Another achievement is that our membership is the highest ever, increasing 14 percent to 616," he said. "We have also successfully created a Continuing Education program for our members. All of this is a tribute to the hard work of our members, our committees, and our hard-working staff, headed by Mike McGuinness."
"George has been an exceptional president," said new chapter president Michael Seeve of Mountain Development Corp. "The past couple of years have been difficult at times, but we are poised to continue our growth and successes in the years ahead. Good luck to all of us over the next two years."