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NJBIA – 110 Years of Helping Businesses

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association marks its anniversary milestone by doing what it has always done best: assist businesses throughout historic ‘new normals.’

It seems fitting that the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s (NJBIA) latest milestone would come in the middle of a global pandemic. Being 110 years old this year means that NJBIA has been helping businesses adjust to the “new normal” through historic tough times for much of its existence – World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the 1970s gas crisis, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Great Recession, and, of course, Superstorm Sandy. 

In fact, the association was created in response to one of those changes impacting the business community – enactment of New Jersey’s workers’ compensation law. The then-Manufacturers Association of New Jersey was created in 1910 with the idea of providing mandatory insurance coverage to its members through what became New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company (NJM). 

That move established a core value for the association that is alive and well today – providing member companies with the information and services they need to be successful. 

“I think the amazing thing about NJBIA is how well it has reacted to change over the last century plus,” says NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka. “From the services it offers to its advocacy on behalf of the business community, NJBIA has had to reinvent itself more than once, and we’re continuing that tradition today.” 

The current coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example of how NJBIA adapts to what its members need most. In a matter of a couple of weeks, New Jersey’s economy went from one of record-breaking growth and a chronic shortage of skilled labor to having a majority of businesses closed and record-breaking unemployment. 

NJBIA pivoted to almost exclusively remote work, and began gathering and disseminating information on programs to help businesses as well as working with individual employers to help them solve their individual problems. NJBIA’s Government Affairs team helped convince the Murphy administration to keep manufacturing listed as essential during the shutdown, and continues to pursue legislation to protect businesses from frivolous coronavirus lawsuits and push for a more aggressive approach to reopening. 

However, NJBIA was already changing the way it operates before the pandemic hit. 

“The nature of business has changed so much,” says Alice Gens, NJBIA’s COO and CFO. “The gig economy and automation and other technological advances have made it easier for small businesses to operate on a larger level than ever before, so we have been rethinking our services in terms of what the new generation of business needs.” 

Health insurance is at the top of that list, so NJBIA partnered with Association Master Trust to offer what amounts to large group health insurance for businesses of any size through what’s known as a Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement (MEWA). NJBIA also began offering new services through its affiliates, including Primepoint HRMS & Payroll, which offers comprehensive payroll management services, and HR legal services through the Connell Foley law firm. 

Today, that list includes companies that are top-notch and provide NJBIA member companies with deep discounts on credit-card processing, office supplies, energy, shipping, disability insurance, and prescription drugs. NJBIA also partnered with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to offer NJBIA members a listing in its national database listing at 80% off the regular price and started a member-to-member discount program, where NJBIA members can market discounted goods and services to other member companies. 

As issues like gender equity became prominent, NJBIA responded with the creation of the Women Business Leaders Council (WBLC) to bring women business owners and operators together to discuss the challenges they face as entrepreneurs and share ideas on managing their careers, culminating in the annual Women Business Leaders Forum in September. Ultimately, the goal is to get more women on the boards and in the C-suite of New Jersey corporations. 

“The Forum is a perfect example of how things have changed for us as well as our members,” Siekerka says. “In the last couple of years, the event has attracted 500 attendees and featured incredible keynote speakers. Because of the ‘new normal’ we now live in, this year’s event will be completely virtual, last almost a full week, and feature two keynote speakers.” 

(Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall and bestselling author and Bloomberg TV Anchor and Executive Producer Emily Chang will be keynotes at NJBIA’s 6th Annual Women Business Leaders Forum, Sept. 8-11.) 

At the beginning of the year, NJBIA launched two additional councils based on the WBLC model – one dedicated to diversity and inclusion, and the other on nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations. 

The Diversity and Inclusion Council is designed to share best practices for making workplaces more inclusive for minorities, the disabled, women and the LGBTQ community, while the Not-for-Profit Council helps address issues for this unique segment of NJBIA’s membership. 

Then, there’s the association’s Government Affairs Department. Led by Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas, the association’s advocacy is recognized as the leader among business associations and among the best of all lobbying organizations in any policy area. 

“I think what sets our efforts apart is how our staff is able to present alternatives that will allow the state to accomplish its goals, but with a better outcome for the business community,” Buteas says. “New Jersey businesses operate in a difficult environment when it comes to competing against companies in other states, and NJBIA is there to remind lawmakers of that fact whenever issues impacting business arise.” 

All of this change over 110 years illustrates an important point about the founding of NJBIA: It wasn’t just about workers’ compensation. The new insurance law may have been the trigger, but the eight industrialists who created the Manufacturers Association made it clear that they recognized a need for a common voice for business issues in general. 

Hence, the association was built for change from the beginning. A perfect example is the name change. By the mid-1970s, the association’s membership had diversified tremendously. In 1976, 60% of members were from nonmanufacturing industries, and government had become much more involved in business issues, prompting a name change to the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. But service is still the focus. 

“An NJBIA membership isn’t about getting a plaque and a listing in a directory, though we have those too,” Siekerka says. “NJBIA members have a partner committed to doing everything it can to help its member companies succeed by identifying the problems and challenges that hold them back, and finding ways to help members overcome them.” 

To access more business news, visit NJB News Now.

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