New Jersey's top business leaders are optimistic about the national economy and the direction it's headed in this year.

But they remain cautious about New Jersey's immediate economic future as the state elects a new governor this November.

The results of a new survey released by Rutgers University's Real Estate and Policy Research Consortium shows 80 percent of respondents rate the U.S. economy as "good or excellent."

But Rutgers University professor James Hughes says New Jersey's percentage was half that — only 40 percent rated the state's economy as "good or excellent."

He says there is the same disparity looking forward as well. The positive responses regarding the national economy six months out doubled compared to New Jersey.

When asked how the respondents would rate New Jersey as a place of doing business, the business leaders rated it below one third for several reasons. Hughes says it's related to " the cost of living in New Jersey, the cost of housing in New Jersey, government regulation, congestion and high labor cost."

Hughes says the national economy performs better than in New Jersey because of its sustained job growth. Job growth is much more modest in the Garden State.

But Hughes does go on to say the key business leaders surveyed did like New Jersey because of its location.

"We have a great geography in terms of the northeastern markets. We have a highly educated workforce that they are satisfied with, although they don't like the cost of the workforce," says Hughes.

They also like the business and customer markets that exist in New Jersey and they really like the communities that they live in. They rate the communities higher than they rate the state as a place to live, he adds.

There were some bright spots in the survey, says Hughes. More than half of the executives surveyed said they plan to hire more employees and nearly 80 percent said they expect revenues to increase over the next 12 months.

As far as the business leaders' sentiment goes in regards to the New Jersey gubernatorial election, Hughes says, "I think they are probably looking forward to a change in administration. Their actual rating about whether the state government is uncaring actually increased."

Hughes says the business leaders surveyed would like the candidates for New Jersey governor to focus on taxation. He says they are afraid of reinstating the millionaire's tax or the so-called half-millionaire's tax. Hughes adds they are also worried about state government interfering with businesses and they are concerned with regulation.

What's interesting, says Hughes, is that the consortium survey was done ten years ago in 2007, at the peak of the last business cycle. Now, we are closing in on the peak of the current business cycle and "the responses in 2017 were very similar to those of 2007." He says basic attitudes toward the state of New Jersey have not changed much.

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