30 and Counting

In December 1986, it’s announced that New Jersey will get a new terminal for imported cars—just the latest sign of the state’s declining role as a manufacturing powerhouse.

In December 1986, it’s announced that New Jersey will get a new terminal for imported cars—just the latest sign of the state’s declining role as a manufacturing powerhouse.

The 30-second brief  The last three decades see intensifying hand-wringing as manufacturing jobs free-fall from a high of 892,500 in 1969—about one in three jobs—to today’s 315,000 (one in 12.5). Once flush with lucrative industries making everything from appliances and beer to elevators and soap, the state embarks on a transition to high-tech and service occupations while capitalizing on its ports, roads, and air-transport facilities. It’s a wrenching transition, throwing hundreds of thousands of workers into uncertainty about their future.

Why here?  A pro-labor rep gives New Jersey enviable per-capita income figures in the 1970s and 1980s, yet puts off manufacturers who can find low-wage employees in southern and western states—not to mention Mexico and overseas. In addition, corporations shed outmoded plants. Outsourcing becomes a buzzword. So does environmental hazard, as fallow tracts give up their secrets.

Camden = Campbell’s Soup  Many towns and cities are closely identified with the facilities within their borders. Singer sewing machines embody Elizabeth; Western Electric means Kearny; Hoboken Shipyards represent Hoboken. Similarly, there’s Colgate-Palmolive in Jersey City, Johns-Manville in Manville, Maxwell House in Hoboken, Ciba-Geigy in Toms River, Unisys in Flemington, Westinghouse in Bloomfield, Lockheed Martin in East Windsor, Ingersoll-Rand in Phillipsburg; and a raft of auto plants in many other communities.

Unemployment is Example One  Estimates of the state’s annual losses through the closing of the Ford assembly plant in Mahwah, Bergen County’s then-largest employer, come to nine figures: $53 million in plant purchases plus $85 million in payroll. On top of this is the effect of these spending losses on thousands of other jobs. The manager of Mahwah’s Burger King, for instance, estimates plant workers account for 10 to 15 percent of his restaurant’s total sales.

Keeping in the Game  The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey votes in December 1986 to build a $31 million auto-import facility in Jersey City and Bayonne to help relieve overburdened Port Newark and Port Elizabeth. If New Jersey is no longer making cars, the thinking goes, at least such a project can protect the area’s 15 percent share of U.S. auto imports.

Two Words: High-Tech  In the early 1980s, the state spearheads an aggressive shift toward biomedicine, electronics, computers, pharmacology, finance—anything to stanch manufacturing losses. The state enlists business and educational support to train (and retrain) the workforce and establishes a handful of advanced technology centers, such as the biotechnology center shared by Rutgers University and UMDNJ.

Route 1, Economic Backbone  The New Brunswick/Princeton/Trenton stretch transforms during the 1980s and beyond into a milk-and-honey land of office parks, corporate hubs, scientific hotbeds, and biotech incubators.

Where We Are Now  Despite reduced worker numbers, manufacturing generated $44 million, or 11.2 percent of the gross state product, in 2003.

Automakers, R.I.P.  The state’s last auto assembly line, a General Motors plant making Blazer light trucks in Linden, closes in April 2005, 14 months after the mammoth Ford plant in Edison.

Small Is In  In 2002, 99.4 percent of manufacturers have 500 or fewer employees.

Where We’re Headed  Manufacturing jobs are expected to decline to 278,300 by 2014, down 18 percent from 2004. Meanwhile, big increases will be seen in nearly every other sector, led by health care and social assistance (575,000, up 25 percent), professional and business services (692,300, up 18 percent), and leisure and hospitality (379,800, up 17 percent).


More December Events

Dec. 3, 1988: David Friedland, a onetime state senator from Hudson County who feigned his own scuba-diving death in September 1985 and lived abroad for two years before his capture, is sentenced to fifteen years in U.S. District Court for planning to steal $20 million from a union pension fund.

Dec. 3, 1986: Developer Arthur E. Imperatore does his part to counter growing commuter traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel by inaugurating scheduled ferry service from Weehawken to 38th Street in Manhattan, the first such transport crossing the Hudson River in 29 years.

Dec. 7, 2001: Criminal contempt charges against more than 200 striking Middletown teachers, the first to be incarcerated in the state in more than twenty years, are dropped after the teachers agree to join about 800 of their colleagues in working while union officials continue bargaining.

Dec. 8, 2003: Licensed hunters fanning out across the Highlands shoot more than 70 bears on the initial day of a six-day hunt, the state’s first in 33 years and a magnet for animal-rights protesters.

Dec. 9, 1981: Gov. Brendan Byrne signs a bill requiring state motorists below age 60 to have a driver’s license bearing their color photograph by January 1, 1984.

Dec. 10, 1982: About 100 yards of the Atlantic City Steel Pier, roughly one-third of its length, are destroyed in a blaze that rages out of control for nine hours.

Dec. 10, 1994: Public relations executive Thomas J. Mosser is killed when a package police believe was sent from California explodes when he opens it in his North Caldwell home.

Dec. 11, 1990: In predawn arrests around the state, sheriff’s deputies pick up more than 500 people, mostly fathers but a few mothers as well, in a “Grinch roundup” of individuals who owe anywhere from $81 to more than $56,000 in child-support payments.

Dec. 11, 1992: A so-called storm of the century, with hurricane-force winds and slashing rain, destroys sections of boardwalk along the Shore and severely damages beaches, leaves large areas flooded and hundreds of thousands of inland homes without power; damage estimates are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Dec. 13, 1982: The state Assembly votes 48–26 to increase the legal drinking age by two years to 21, grandfathering nineteen- and twenty-year-olds who had already surpassed the earlier limit.

Dec. 14, 1993: The Environmental Protection Agency declares as completed the cleanup of the 2.2-acre site of the defunct Chemical Control Corp. in Elizabeth, a project that required more than 13 years and cost $41 million, more than 60 percent of which came from state taxpayers.

Dec. 15, 1997: In the first veto override suffered by Gov. Christine Whitman, the state Senate votes 27–13, barely above the two-thirds required, to enact the state’s first limitation on Roe v. Wade by making illegal a specific abortion procedure. A federal judge strikes down the provision on December 8, 1998.

Dec. 16, 2005: New Jersey becomes the first state in the nation to provide public funding for stem-cell research, giving a total of $5 million to seventeen scientists working on fourteen projects at various corporate, nonprofit, and university labs.

Dec. 17, 1997: The state removes regulations preventing homosexual couples from adopting children, making New Jersey the first state to place gay and lesbian couples on equal footing with heterosexual couples in adoption procedures.

Dec. 18, 2001: A six-year, $10 million study into abnormally high childhood leukemia rates in Toms River outlines an unprecedented connection between the disease’s concentration and chemical contamination in the vicinity.

Dec. 22, 1977: As part of its enforcement of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the Environmental Protection Agency orders chemical companies and oil refiners, 400 of which are based in New Jersey, to begin reporting the compounds they manufacture and their quantities.

Dec. 22, 1997: Merck & Co. releases word that it will market Propecia, a prescription drug that may help balding men and women regrow hair or retard the rate of loss, as an alternative to Rogaine ointment.

Dec. 22, 2000: Christine Whitman accepts George W. Bush’s offer to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency, thus becoming the sixth New Jersey governor to leave office early.

Dec. 24, 1984: In one of the largest thefts in state history, $3 million to $5 million in cash collected from busy retail stores is stolen from a first-floor vault of an armored car company in Perth Amboy.

“It’s time to work together to continue to reform this university, to right whatever is wrong.” —Acting Gov. Richard Codey, December 29, 2005, after the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey cedes control of its day-to-day operations to federal monitor Herbert J. Stern, a former federal prosecutor.

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