Atlantic County is prepared to confront new economic challenges and opportunities as the state and region begin to transition to a new, post-pandemic normal.
Dennis Levinson, Atlantic County Executive, stated that the county is assessing economic recovery needs so that as the response to the COVID 19 outbreak transitions from a public health emergency to economic recovery, the county will be able to respond quickly and comprehensively.
“The current pandemic was unforeseeable at the local level,” Levinson stated. “We have some difficult times ahead, but we are prepared at our level to do what needs to be done with the resources at our disposal, and do it quickly.”
According to Levinson, the COVID 19 pandemic interrupted a growing and strengthening local economy.
“Casino gaming revenues were increasing, employers were hiring, property values were rising, the tax base was stabilizing and our efforts to diversify the local economy were well underway. All of this was set back overnight.”
Levinson noted that Atlantic and Cape May counties were particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak due largely to the number of local businesses in the hospitality and entertainment sectors.
“The pain of mandatory stay at home orders is not limited to our area but is being felt nationwide,” Levinson said. “According to a recent report by the Brookings Institute, Ocean City, N.J.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Las Vegas and Orlando, FL, home to Disney Theme Parks; have also been severely impacted.”
Levinson said that the setback in our gaming and hospitality sector highlights the importance of the county’s economic diversification efforts and that opportunities to build up a local aviation industry are stronger than ever.
“Our aviation assets are unequaled,” he stated, and went on to note that they include:
- The Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center, the nation’s leading and largest aviation research laboratory;
- Atlantic City International Airport, an uncongested facility already designated as an aviation research testbed;
- The National Aviation Research and Technology Park, an aviation research technology park with partners including the National Institute of Aerospace, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Rowan University, Stockton University, and Atlantic Cape Community College;
- Partnership with Cape May County and its Unmanned Aerial Systems programs at the Cape May County Airport;
- The Smart Airport and Aviation Partnership located at the National Aviation Research and Technology Park and administered by the National Institute of Aerospace to accelerate the development of Smart Airport and Unmanned Air System Technologies.
According to Levinson, the county is working closely with the Atlantic County Economic Alliance to develop the legislative support needed to incorporate funding for local aviation purposes into any new federal stimulus funding. An immediate step would be to free up $10 million in emergency federal funding from an existing agency or aviation industry program in the CARES Act to establish research and development activity for a system of Health Smart Airports and Air Travel. Congress can, and should, appropriate additional resources later.
Levinson expressed his support for certain state initiatives that could strengthen Atlantic County’s Aviation Innovation Hub. These include:
· Designating the New Jersey Aviation Innovation Hub as a Center of Excellence for Post-Pandemic research.
· Directing the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which operates Atlantic City International Airport, to implement a capital spending strategy to support air cargo operations at Atlantic City International Airport.. Air cargo is a vital component of E-commerce and a critical supply lifeline during a pandemic.
· Establishing the New Jersey COVID-19 Task Force to leverage funding in the CARES Act and advocate for additional resources in future stimulus packages expected from Congress.
“Atlantic County has taken several steps since the 2008 recession, such as developing an aggressive program for economic diversification and establishing the Atlantic County Economic Alliance to coordinate these regional efforts, that put us in a much better position to withstand the challenges that may lay ahead,” he concluded.