To the Editor:
I am cautiously optimistic with Joe Molineaux, as the county’s new economic development coordinator. He has the goods.
What remains to be seen is whether his arrival can upset the status quo. Cape May County has not been serious about economic development for a long time, and our economy has suffered from an obsession with easy money.
Tourism is easy money - like having the fish jump into your boat. It requires little effort to attract people to the shore. County planners realized this in the 1950s and acted accordingly. Since then, tourism has been our raison d’etre.
Our little peninsula used to have a diverse economy. We had multiple canneries, factories, and shipyards. We even had a cranberry bog, but, as explained by Richard Perniciaro, in 2011, manufacturing couldn’t compete with the “lower-wage” service industries. That is still true.
Workers in the tourism industry make less than any other labor group in Cape May County. In 2018, the median reported income for these employees was $20,570 (approximately half of New Jersey’s median income).
As a result, our population has been slowly hollowed out. For over 20 years, there has been an unbroken exodus of young people – ambitious people who want 12 months of full employment.
Yet, it’s not just the disappearance of our best and brightest; our addiction to easy money also exposes us to greater upheaval in the wake of disaster.
Following the 2008 recession, several studies found that local economies with a diverse array of industries were far more resilient than mono-economies.
I thought of this when County Commissioner Director Thornton announced 15% of our local businesses will not reopen due to the pandemic, and I imagine most of these closures were little shops on the boardwalk and other businesses who put too much faith in summer windfalls.
The departure of young, local talent and a vulnerable economy are logical results of the county government’s disregard for any development unrelated to tourism.
The “tech village” at the airport makes for a nice press release, but the economic impact of this project is negligible. There is little overlap between the skills possessed by local workers and the skills required by these tech companies.
Instead, those jobs will attract new workers from other counties; thus, preserving the unhealthy influence that seasonal employers have over the current labor market.
This perception of an economy tailor-made for specific interests is only reinforced when the county commissioner who oversees economic development is also the president and chief executive officer of Morey’s Piers.
Sadly, there is no quick fix or magic pill for what ails us. The age of “shovel-ready jobs” is over.
We live in a fast-changing, post-industrial world where economic growth requires hard work and dedication over the long term. For that reason, I wish Molineaux the best of luck, and I urge the Cape May County Herald to engage with him on a regular and substantive basis.
Cape May County desperately needs a vision for its economic future because easy money doesn’t last forever.