New York — Not long ago, many New Yorkers couldn't help chuckling at what they saw as their somewhat bumptious and unsophisticated neighbors next door - the folks who live in ``Joisey.'' If anyone is laughing these days, it's more likely the more than 7 million residents of New Jersey, who have seen their state enjoy the benefits of an unprecedented economic boom, as more and more businesses have either moved from Manhattan to the Garden State - or opened major satellite offices there.
But the go-go growth of the mid-1980s may be slowing, perhaps an inevitable result of October's stock market plunge, some analysts say. That, combined with somewhat high vacancy rates in northern New Jersey office sites, dimmed the investment community's enthusiasm for grandiose new building projects.
Still, the Garden State's boom continues to be evident on many fronts.
``In terms of low unemployment, high per capita income and strong business activity, the state is doing very, very well,'' says John Homestead, executive vice-president of MidLantic Corporation, in Edison, N.J., the state's largest bank-holding company.
``The `livability factor,' along with the state's unique employment opportunities,'' give New Jersey a powerful economic punch, says Stephen Kukan, general manager of area development for Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G), the state's largest utility.
With an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent in August, New Jersey was only slightly behind Massachusetts as the industrial state with the lowest jobless rate.
New Jersey is now the second-wealthiest state in the US in per capita income, passed only by Connecticut.
Between 10 and 20 percent of all nongovernment dollars spent on research and development in the US are spent in New Jersey, according to development officials. Moreover, New Jersey leads the nation in the number of PhDs working on scientific or research projects.
New businesses are arriving, while existing companies are expanding. The roster of corporate names includes Sony, Subaru, CPC International (Hellmann's, Best Foods), PaineWebber, and Continental Insurance. These have been added to the list of such longstanding New Jersey companies as Johnson & Johnson, Campbell Soup, AT&T, and Prudential Insurance. The newest air terminal built in the US was recently opened at Newark International Airport by Continental Airlines.
Newark, the state's largest city, has seen an unprecedented residential building boom, spearheaded in part by Prudential Insurance as well as such minority-led firms as Vogue Housing Connection, Inc.
Still, all has not gone as smoothly as state development officials might have liked. One recent rebuff came from NBC, when the broadcaster decided not to move its headquarters to the west bank of the Hudson. Moreover, New York continues to outpace New Jersey and Connecticut in terms of attracting new businesses, and, in New York City's case, in holding onto existing companies. Although rents along the Jersey side of the Hudson are some 20 percent lower than in similar locations in Queens and Brooklyn, the latter two boroughs have been outpacing New Jersey's northern waterfront districts so far this year.
Last year, by contrast, New Jersey's Hudson County led the tristate region in office space leased. Now, vacancy rates in the New Jersey waterfront area are believed to be slightly under 20 percent.
New Jersey developers, however, say such a slight easing of growth, after the pell-mell construction of recent years, is to be expected.
One key to New Jersey's growth during the 1980s (with a 15 percent rise in jobs, compared to roughly 10 percent nationally), has been the work of private firms, such as PSE&G.
Public Service maintains a development department known as Site-Finders. Its task: to find business sites for new or existing firms. Site-Finders uses a mainframe computer to monitor some 4,000 potential industrial sites, which it tries to match with companies.
The group handles about 4,000 inquiries a year. Last year alone Site-Finders was involved in transactions involving some 40 companies that bought or leased sites adding up to some 3 million square feet of land.
``New Jersey has always had a national image problem that doesn't match the reality of the situation,'' says Stephen Kukan, general manager of area development for PSE&G. ``But little by little that is changing.''