Politicos and Business Owners Share Spotlight at State of Black NJ Conference

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Bruce More than 100 people attended the State of Black New Jersey 2015
Conference last week, hosted by the African American Chamber
of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ), at the Hyatt Regency Hotel
in Princeton, New Jersey.

During his address, A. Bruce Crawley,
founder of the Af-Am Chamber of Commerce of Philadelphia, advocated the
notion of buying Black and
supporting minority and women owned business enterprises (M/WBE’s) in
the community. Current president and CEO of Millennium 3 Mgmt, Inc, Crawley was the keynote speaker.

The event featured two lively panel discussions, including an afternoon session that featured several of New Jersey’s most powerful politicos, including Stephen Sweeney, State Senate President and Thomas Kean Jr., son of the former Republican governor of New Jersey and an outspoken critic of the Christie Administration. State Senate Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce and legislature Joe Pennacchio rounded out the panel that addressed how some existing and former public policies impact minority and women owned business enterprises (M/WBE’s) across the state. Additionally, education reforms and the high rate of prison recidivism were hot button topics.

“There are more than 40,000 jobs available in New Jersey and there are not enough people to fill them due in large part to a lack of educational credentials or unsuccessful or felonious background checks,” Sweeney said. He and several other politicos were staunch advocates of the successful implementation of ‘ban the box’ legislation. Among other things, the mandate requires employers with 15 or more employees to remove any questions on job applications that refer to or inquire about an applicant’s illicit background—prison records, arrests, etc. Sweeney added that frequently not having some of the most basic elements—such as a valid driver’s license—disqualifies thousands of people from getting and keeping a job. “I was an iron worker for many years and being able to get from one job to another, on time, was essential to keeping a job.”

Critics contend that since New Jersey is one of the most expensive states in the nation to live and frequently ranks at the top of the scale when it comes to drivers paying the highest automobile insurance premiums and other  transportation costs, can incapacitate even the most resourceful and dutiful employee. Add to the mix that some employers, including small businesses, are precluded from hiring ex-offenders as part of a contractual agreement with a client. “My contract states that I cannot hire someone with a prison record to work for my company – whether it’s subcontract work or vendor services with outside clients,” said Michael Dennis, CEO of the Big Green Group—a telecommunications company based in Chester, N.J. Dennis added that even if he attempted to hire ex-offenders to work at his business and perhaps utilize some of the tax break incentives offered by state municipalities and other entities to employers that hire ex-offenders, he could not.

Lastly, John Harmon, president and CEO of the AACCNJ, lauded the participation of the politicos, business owners and others in the State of Black New Jersey conference—the 5th anniversary of the event. “We are more than just a networking organization, we want to bring people together to create and change policies that affect New Jerseyans and make doing business in the state a win-situation for everyone.”