TRENTON, N.J. -Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes labeled the County's Third Annual Economic Summit March 27 a success as it attracted the largest number of attendees to date who sought to get a better sense of the local economy.
Approximately 250 people-including Gov. Jon S. Corzine, Acting State Treasurer David Rousseau, members of the County's business community, local mayors, and representatives from all 13 County municipalities-gathered at The Conference Center at Mercer County Community College for the summit, which focused on what economic trends to expect in 2008. The summit's theme was "Mercer County is Open for Business."
"This year's summit, perhaps more than in the past two years, holds more importance because of the current financial climate," said Hughes as he opened the summit, which was co-sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. "It is my belief that this summit will only increase our ability to achieve a stronger local economy this year, five years from now, and 10 years from now."
Hughes introduced Corzine, who attended for the first time and spoke about Mercer County as a center of commerce that has reason to be optimistic no matter how dire the economic outlook.
"We are facing some real challenges in this state, no question, but also a bright future and none brighter than here in Mercer County," Corzine said, adding the location of five colleges and universities here a major advantage. "I'm much more optimistic than it sometimes appears because I think we in New Jersey are actually dealing with our problems."
The governor said by addressing problems in funding sources, debt load, and how the State budget is constructed, the financial burden on the average taxpayer could be relaxed.
"These (economic) issues are not just about the nation or the state or the local level, but really dig down into people's pockets," he said.
The event's keynote speaker was Robert A. Dye, Ph.D., Vice President and Senior Economist, PNC Financial Services Group, who gave attendees an analysis of his economic forecast for Mercer County, New Jersey, and the U.S. According to his credentials, Dye is a key contributor to PNC's forecast for future economic and financial trends. Dye's input is part of an international strategy, but he also provides regional industry analysis for the seven Northeastern states and major metropolitan areas within PNC's regional footprint.
Dye described a gloomy regional forecast for 2008, saying job growth in New Jersey is expected to be "very weak," the credit crunch is not expected to ease up, and the housing market will continue to drop. He said Mercer County as a region tends to follow statewide trends.
"The consumer is definitely feeling the effects of a bad economy," Dye told the audience.
Dye while a recession is expected to last at least through mid-2008, said some trends point toward growth. He said sectors like education, healthcare, leisure and hospitality, and government are all "recession resistant" and all have a heavy presence in Mercer County.
Karen Colimore, President and CEO for the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the 2008 summit showed the events are succeeding in their effort to galvanize cooperation between business and government. She noted it was the first summit in which representatives from all 13 Mercer County towns were present.
"The Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce is pleased to partner with the Mercer County Office of Economic Development & Sustainability to bring valuable and timely information to the business community," Colimore said. "The Chamber continues to provide programs and events that enhance the development of local businesses, regardless of the current economic environment."
Following the keynote address, four breakout sessions on the topics of expansion opportunities for businesses, higher education as an economic driver, how population shifts change the economy, and how sports and entertainment drive the local economy were held at The Conference Center, each well attended.
Among the other notable officials at the event were: New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism Nancy Byrne; New Jersey Commerce Commission Executive Director Kevin Brennan; New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner David Sokolow; Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo; Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein; Mercer County Freeholder Dan Benson; Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo; West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh; East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov; Lawrence Mayor Mark Holmes; and Lawrence councilwoman Pam Mount.
The major sponsor for the Economic Summit was PNC Bank and reception sponsors were NAI Fennelly, Verizon, and PSE&G. Fox Rothschild LLP, Genesis Biotechnology Campus, NAI Fennelly, PSE&G, Verizon and Wilmington Trust. The cocktail reception was sponsored by Select Greater Philadelphia, Opus East LLC, The Hamilton Partnership, and Matrix Development Group, Fox Rothschild and RWJ Hamilton. The breakout sessions were sponsored by Mack-Cali Realty, VJ Scozzari & Sons, Capital Health System, Amboy Bank, and Hopewell Valley Community Bank.