Statewide business groups will begin this weekend to survey the needs of local merchants seeking to recover and rebuild after superstorm Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie said Friday afternoon.
The formation of the Business Impact Assessment group was announced at a news conference at the Sea Bright firehouse, which until recently had served as a "Food City" center for provisions for the local responders and residents in this devastated oceanfront community.
Local and state officials joined residents to hear the governor describe the value of small businesses, especially those at the Shore.
"The heartbeat of the economy and the fabric of the culture are all these small businesses," he said. Small businesses are the "backbone of the Garden State economy."
The Business Impact Assessment Group will enable merchants to recover more quickly by guiding the "administration and industry leaders... to help understand how to address the needs," Christie said.
"We're going to come to you" to assess "what you need to get running." Communities can expect representatives of the Business Impact Assessment Group to start surveying merchants this weekend, Christie said.
Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon, R-13, told Patch after the news conference that the group will be instrumental toward streamlining the recovery process.
"One of the biggest things we need to do is cover the gaps," he said, describing businesses who are stuck weighing the pros and cons of assistance, insurance or facing the decision of whether to rebuild at all.
"The assessment group will help start the process," O'Scanlon said. Businesses have been "waiting for something like this.
"It's a big step in the right direction," the assemblyman said.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a former Monmouth County sheriff, said before the conference that businesses are anxious and proactive but need some help understanding how to responsibily rebuild. The "best thing the state can do" is help those businesses recover, Guadagno said.
"New Jersey will only recover when our businesses recover," Christie said.
Christie said rebuilding decisions are best made locally but stressed that the state will do all it can to assist municipalities. Similarly, he said the state won't interfere in decisions towns will make once FEMA publishes its base flood elevation guidelines (expected Saturday) but expects the state to have a role in the process.
"You don't want to be a dictator," he said. "It has to be a true partnership. I hope to come to collaborative and cooperative decisions."
Christie lauded the efforts of his hosts in Sea Bright to recover after Sandy essentially shut down the small borough and caused enough damage to require the vast majority of businesses to eventually be razed. Despite the hardships, Sea Bright worked with nearby municipalities to host community forums and worked with restaurateur Chris Wood, owner of Woody's Ocean Grille, to set up the aforementioned "Food City" at the firehouse.
"You all are incredibly inspirational," Christie said. "Under (Mayor Dina Long's) leadership Sea Bright has been a model" of responsible recovery.
"The progress we've made so far has been a group effort," Long said. "We need to maintain that unity."
Christie acknowledged that New Jersey faces a long recovery.
"This is not going to happen overnight," he said. "We're going to work at this. We're going to try to get it right the first time.
"Sea Bright is rising. So is New Jersey."