By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |
FORT MONMOUTH – The chairman of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) has a parting message about job creation and economic development in New Jersey: Modernize bureaucratic rules and regulations or firms will continue to take their businesses elsewhere.
James V. Gorman of Colts Neck, founder and chairman of Blue Warrior Capital LLC and one of FMERA’s three public voting members, announced his resignation on Dec. 6, effective Dec. 31. Gorman’s tenure began in 2011 as a previous public-private agency – the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Planning Authority – finished its mission to create a master reuse plan for the fort’s 1,127 acres spanning portions of Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls. Once the plan was finalized, that authority was disbanded and FMERA was created to effect implementation. In operation for almost 100 years, Fort Monmouth employed over 5,000 people, generating about $3.3 billion for the state’s economy.
FMERA officials initially expressed frustration over the cumbersome process of leasing and selling fort parcels because every transaction had to undergo an approval process through the U.S. Army. In 2016, the Monmouth County Improvement Authority guaranteed $35 million in notes and bonds to effectively “buy out” the Army’s remaining interest, eliminating federal government involvement. Once estimated to take 20 years, Fort Monmouth’s redevelopment is now projected for 10.
Gorman was appointed to the unpaid chairman post by Gov. Chris Christie. He has since overseen the sale of 11 properties, with another 17 under contract or in active negotiations. Gorman said the transfer of properties could and should accelerate.
“New Jersey is 49th out of 50th as a good place to do business,” he said. “We had substantial corporations and large employers come in, take one look, see the amount of red tape and go someplace else. Amazon’s plan to seek a new headquarters is a good example.” (Fort Monmouth was eliminated from consideration for Amazon’s new headquarters in favor of Newark. A decision is expected next year.)
“It takes up to 30 months for a winning bidder to get shovels in the ground,” Gorman continued. “That’s too long. These rules and regulations need to be revisited and streamlined for today’s conditions, not 1985’s. Well-intentioned laws and regulations were put in place to control growth at a time when New Jersey was rapidly developing. The state is pretty much developed now. These regulations can be an impediment to growth.”
Before assuming FMERA’s chairmanship, the insurance industry veteran and “serial entrepreneur” accumulated 25 years’ experience as a chief executive officer with several regulated companies.
“I found pleasantly surprising, and appreciated, how little politics played a role in the fort’s redevelopment,” he said. “Everyone understood and was supportive of the mission.” With a new administration headed by Governor-elect Philip Murphy beginning next month, Gorman decided it was time to leave FMERA.
“As a Christie appointee in a Murphy administration, with two new state senators also coming in, and because all is going so strong in the redevelopment, I don’t want to be viewed as a Christie holdover threatening the momentum,” Gorman said. “Also, seven years is enough. New blood can come in. My resignation will take the issue of politics out of it.” Gorman said he’s had no indication of whether he would be replaced by the incoming governor.
Gorman appointed Fair Haven resident Robert Lucky to serve as vice chairman through FMERA’s next annual reorganization in September 2018. Lucky and Monmouth County Freeholder Director Lillian Burry are the only FMERA members who also served on the original planning authority. Lucky, Burry and Gorman comprise FMERA’s three public voting members. An engineer, inventor and author who worked at the former Bell Labs in Holmdel and won a Marconi Prize, Lucky “will ensure there is no interruption of the momentum we have achieved,” Gorman said, adding, “Bob’s heart is in exactly the right place.”
“I think we’ve done a very good job of implementing the reuse plan,” Gorman reflected. “Eatontown’s parcels are mostly spoken for, Tinton Falls is well on its way and Oceanport is coming along next.”
Highlights cited by Gorman include the opening of data-security firm Commvault’s corporate headquarters and the reuse of Fort Monmouth’s former Child Development Center as Trinity Hall High School – both in Tinton Falls – and the rebirth of the former Patterson Army Clinic as AcuteCare in Oceanport.
“CommVault is a very significant marquee firm, a crown jewel of the fort’s redevelopment and a top quality employer,” said Gorman, who also cited the new exit ramp at Exit 105 on the Garden State Parkway as a major achievement. His advice to the next chairman: “Try to keep politics out of it.”
“Jim Gorman provided exceptional, very professional leadership,” Freeholder Burry said. “He brought his business acumen, which was necessary to go the next mile. He wanted to get things done. I hope the new governor realizes how critical that position is to our success.”
“Chairman Gorman has been a strong advocate for fast-tracking the fort’s redevelopment,” said Timothy Lizura, New Jersey Economic Development Authority president and chief operating officer. “His dedication has been paramount to its success.”
Gorman said he agreed to join FMERA to “pay back to the Garden State which has been so good to me and my family,” adding, “The economic damage to Monmouth County from the fort’s closure is still being felt. We have not nearly recovered from the hit we took. I hope those long-term, high-paying jobs can be replicated and the mission of redevelopment achieved. Some of that is already happening.”
In 1996 the NAACP awarded Gorman a Certification and Award for Employment Practices. Since 1997, he has served as chairman of IEP Youth Services, a Freehold-based charitable organization serving abused children.
This article was first published in the Dec. 14-21, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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