Legislation Would Create Military and Defense Economic Ombudsman, Provide Incentives for Hiring Veterans and Businesses Connected to Military Bases
To protect New Jersey’s military installations and support those businesses and workers connected to them, Assemblyman Wayne P. DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex) on Tuesday announced a legislative package to ensure the economic vitality of these bases for the coming years. The bills range from establishing the Military and Defense Economic Ombudsman, charged with sustaining and growing the state’s installations, to supporting businesses and workforce tied to the bases to create stronger ties between the New Jersey military bases and the surrounding communities.
“Our state’s military installations are huge economic engines for our state. If we do not do what is necessary to sustain them and grow the businesses and workforce connected to them, we risk a dire blow to our state’s economy,” said DeAngelo, vice-chair of the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
New Jersey’s military installations provide 45,631 direct jobs and 27,603 indirect jobs. They add $3.8 billion in gross domestic product directly and $2.7 billion in GDP indirectly to New Jersey’s economy.
“These proposals are aimed at protecting the existing military facilities while expanding the ties between them, the surrounding communities, and the businesses and workforce associated with the installations’ activities,” said DeAngelo. “We saw the impact that the closure of Fort Monmouth had on the state. We must do whatever we can to ensure that another base closure does not happen here.”
The Military and Defense Economic Ombudsman measure, which would be the anchor of the legislative package, would create a new office under the Secretary of State specifically designated as the state agency solely focused on protecting military installations and bases while strengthening the relationships between those entities and their local businesses and workforce.
Under the bill, the Ombudsman would be appointed by the Governor and would need to have expertise in defense, business and governmental affairs. Duties of the office would include: fostering productive interactions between federal, state and local governments to position New Jersey’s installation as hubs of development, innovation and economic growth; working to create defense industry clusters and opportunities for investment; and eliminating barriers to investment and growth by businesses and the defense industry.
The Ombudsman’s office also would strive to raise awareness of the vitality of the bases by organizing annual tours for the New Jersey Congressional delegation and coordinating regular meetings of commanding officers of each military installation. In addition, the Ombudsman would collaborate with the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to foster synergies between institutions of higher education and the defense industry.
“Communication is key to fortifying our bond with the military bases,” DeAngelo said. “There needs to be an open channel between the installations and bases and all agencies and levels of government necessary to ensure that the needs of everyone connected to them are being met.”
Other legislative initiatives in the package include:
- Establishing the New Jersey Military Skills Council to assess the military skills and training education of workers to prepare them for jobs with the military and supporting industries. The Council would compile an annual report on the comprehensive needs of the installations and key industries; employment barriers; opportunities for growth and deficiencies in the current workforce; alignment of curriculum and ways to enroll students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs; development of resources, benefits and outcomes; preparation of workforce development strategies; and engagement of educators, military and industry to ensure workforce alignment.
- Granting incentives for businesses associated with military installations. Businesses that are related to, supportive of, or located within a five-mile radius of a military installation would qualify for a tax credit of $500 per employee under the Grow New Jersey Assistance Program. They also would receive a lower interest rate on loans offered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) and a single point-person in the Secretary of State’s office to assist them.
- Providing preference for workforce development grants to employers who provide equipment, supplies or services to military bases and installations. The bill would give priority funding for training programs for employers contracted with the military, a STEM field or providing employee retention training to veterans.
- Requiring consideration of proximity to military bases when evaluating and ranking applications for farmland preservation and recreation and conservation purposes. Under the bill, the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) and the Green Acres program would give additional weight to the acquisition of properties for open space, farmland preservation or recreation and conservation purposes surrounding an active federal military installation to reduce the possibility of incompatible development adjacent to them.
- Facilitating coordination of land use planning between civilian and military interests to preserve viability of federal military installations within New Jersey. The bill would require that the (proposed) Military and Defense Economic Ombudsman communicate with installation commanders and representatives of the state, counties and municipalities to minimize land use conflicts between these entities and local planning units.
“The cumulative impact of these bills will raise the public’s awareness of the benefits of our state’s military installations,” said DeAngelo. “We must do everything that we can to protect the jobs that are directly on bases and indirectly linked to them. It is in the state’s best interest that we do not take the economic impact of the five military bases for granted.”
The five military installations located throughout New Jersey are: Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington and Ocean counties; Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County; United States Naval Weapons Station Earle in Monmouth County; Air National Guard 177th Fighter Wing in Atlantic County; and United States Coast Guard Training Center Cape May in Cape May County.
The bills came about from the recommendations of the New Jersey Military Installation Growth and Development Task Force report issued in July. The Task Force was created by executive order upon the urging of the New Jersey Council on Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs on which DeAngelo serves.
The package of bills will be introduced when the General Assembly reconvenes in early November.