April 17, 2017
A highlight of the April 3rd Township Committee meeting was a presentation by Mark Saluk, Director of Hunterdon County Economic Development (HCED). The presentation focused on the County's Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). In addition to overall economic growth, the Strategy plans to address what it sees as both a declining and aging population of Hunterdon, key concerns for the future.
Mr. Saluk spoke about a transformative model that will maintain the quality of life that we value. This includes job creation for higher wage positions through attraction of the “Clean Tech” and “Niche Technology” industries (ie, light footprint with more highly educated employees). This would allow young professionals to stay in the area where they grew up, and we would “stop educating our kids for export”. They would buy homes and raise families to repopulate schools and maintain future growth.
Mr. Saluk also spoke about creating TIG (Targeted Industrial Growth) zones working with several municipalities in the County to attract the “Clean Tech” industry. It would be important to find ways to make starting a business more affordable (e.g., tax breaks) and easier to get up and running quickly. It is also imperative to work with local educators and schools to create awareness of the types of job opportunities these types of companies would provide. The goal is to foster an entrepreneurial spirit through incubator initiatives. Another part of his strategy is building relationships and ensuring the subject matter experts he is trying to attract are aware of Hunterdon County’s potential. He organized the “Hunterdon Hackathon” later in April to attract “techies” to gauge their interest.
There will be a branding campaign for the County CEDS and more outreach about the initiatives to attract these businesses. Finally, he spoke about trying to bring these ideas to the Merck site for future business development and the importance of promoting tourism for Hunterdon County in order to sustain the future of the County. Mr. Saluk made it clear he understands Hunterdon’s existing charms and strengths and that he embraces protecting them. He emphasized the need to work together with “all hands on deck” to bring this strategy to fruition. The slides from his presentation will be put on the township website in the future. Our Township Committee was verbally supportive of the plan for “smart growth” and recommended we participate fully in the development of TIG zones through a partnership with the HCED.
CFR is not convinced Mr. Saluk’s data on declining population is accurate for Readington, as there has been new housing built along 22 . We do support economic development that is thoughtful and strategic, and which nurtures prosperity while protecting the rural character of the town we all love. We are cautiously optimistic that, working together, the County and Township can leverage the careful planning that Readington is known for to attract desirable businesses to appropriate locations in town.