By Trudi Gilfillian
NJ Business Action Center
December 1, 2020
The New Jersey Business Action Center (NJBAC) team knows that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restrictions designed to combat the virus, means New Jersey’s downtown shopping and dining districts look much different than they did this time last year. Masks, social distancing and capacity limits are the norm and your downtown’s small businesses have questions about everything from finding financial support to understanding how the newest executive orders affect them. The NJBAC staff works to get the answers.
The center, a government office housed in the New Jersey Department of State, prides itself on providing good customer service to businesses across the state following the lead of Executive Director Melanie Willoughby’s personal motto, “I’m from state government and I’m here to help.” Willoughby, a former lobbyist, is a longtime advocate for the Garden State’s business community and advocacy is a key function of the center.
The center consists of several offices – the Office of Small Business Advocacy, the Office of Business Advocacy and the Office of Export Promotion among them. Each unit, staffed by experts who understand small business, focuses on helping New Jersey businesses not only survive, but thrive and grow. And, because the center is a state office the services it offers come at no cost to business owners.
When your downtown’s businesses first contact the center, they will likely do so in one of two ways. The Business Helpline at 1-800-JERSEY-7 is a direct line to the team. The live chat function at the state’s business-friendly website Business.NJ.gov is the other. Both services operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and both offer English and Spanish assistance.
The website is the state’s central business resource and was developed with the NJBAC, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the state Office of Innovation. Its content is designed for both new and existing businesses. Features include starter kits for some common businesses, hundreds of answers to frequently asked questions, a licensing and certification guide and links to frequently used revenue and taxation services.
Let’s say a new executive order changes restrictions on a store’s capacity. That information will be updated on the state’s website and the NJBAC team will be ready to help find the changes applicable to your business. While the NJBAC doesn’t interpret new regulations, the staff works to make sure business owners have all the information they need to make decisions.
The Office of Small Business Advocacy does exactly what the name suggests and works with small businesses to get answers to the daily questions they face. Common questions include what new grants or loans are available, where can I get personal protective equipment (PPE), how does the quarantine affect business travel and what restrictions are in place for a specific industry.
The Office of Business Advocacy usually works with somewhat larger companies answering many of those same questions, but also serves as a go-between with various state agencies, offering site selection searches, understanding permitting and licensing needs and more.
Business Advocates serve as liaisons between companies and government agencies, often connecting the two, setting up meetings and exploring opportunities for cooperation.
The Office of Export Promotion, meanwhile, can then help businesses explore new markets outside of the country for their goods and services, and administers the New Jersey State Trade Expansion Program, often referred to as NJSTEP grants.
The grants, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, help New Jersey companies attend trade shows (virtual and in-person) to reach potential customers around the world. The Office of Export Promotion has $1 million in grants available for 2020-2021.
The export team can also help businesses establish an exporting plan and connect businesses with federal and international partners.
In addition, the NJBAC is home to several other units including the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission. Filming is permitted with COVID-19 restrictions in place and the commission helps film production companies find the right locations for shooting commercials, television shows, films and other digital media. The commission recently added a large online library documenting the locations New Jersey has to offer and downtowns, businesses and others are invited to submit locations to be included.
The services of the New Jersey Business Action Center are wide-ranging, but at its heart the NJBAC is a customer-focused office designed to help New Jersey business owners with personalized service and direct communication. The NJBAC has been in existence for many years and adapts as the business environment changes.
If a business in your downtown is in need of help, encourage them to call 1-800-JERSEY-7 or go to the live chat at Business.NJ.gov and let us serve them.