MURRAY HILL – Gov. Phil Murphy’s first public event Thursday after returning from vacation was focused on the economy, with a tour of Nokia Bell Labs following by a panel discussion at a Propelify Innovation Summit.

In advance of the event, Murphy signed two noncontroversial economy-related bills into law. One establishes an Innovation District Designation Program. The other creates a Blockchain Initiative Task Force that will have until next May at the latest to study the secure, paperless recordkeeping.

“We have enormous opportunities in the innovation economy, but we have to go to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been,” Murphy said. “And we are committed to that.”

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Middlesex, said blockchain technology moves records into blocks that are connected and decentralized, which can better protect them and could revolutionize the keeping of medical, election, corporate and government records.

“Blockchain has the potential to be a paradigm shift when it comes to digital records and this idea of decentralizing how we keep our records,” Zwicker said.

“Other states have been moving in this area, and we need to make sure that we not behind. And that’s what this task force will do,” he said.

Murphy said the second new law helps by creating a new program within the Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology that will designate districts for redevelopment in ways that encourage collaboration between government, colleges and private businesses.

“And that is a better way not to put more money to work but to market innovation as a particular weapon in underserved communities,” Murphy said.

The event Murphy attended took place on the corporate campus of Nokia Bell Labs, where work on things such as 5G technology is done. It included a drone demonstration; a robot that’s used to deliver packages rode by, at one point to bring a trophy to the state that was delivered to the governor.

“We talk about the halcyon days of technology and telecommunications in this state as if they were some chapter in the history book, and that’s just not the case,” Murphy said.

There were 24,400 jobs in the telecommunications industry in New Jersey in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number used to exceed 60,000 and has dropped by half since 2002.

In late July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data for the first quarter of 2019 that showed New Jersey’s gross domestic product grew by 1.8%, which was slower than any state except Hawaii.

Asked about that Thursday, Murphy turned instead to June’s jobs numbers in New Jersey, which found the unemployment rate in New Jersey at 3.5%, the lowest rate since state-level records began in 1976.

“We had the best month-over-month employment result, May to June, in the state’s history, and I believe our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s ever been and lower than the national average,” said Murphy.

“I’m not spiking the football. We have a ways to go, let there be no doubt about it,” he said. “You walk out of this place and you look at the amount of innovation and promise in this state, particularly in the innovation economy, I’m a bull.”

The state’s economy added just 500 private-sector jobs in the four months spanning from February to May, though that was bookmarked by big gains totaling 25,500 in January and June.

Murphy also reiterated that he will not sign a temporary renewal of the business tax incentive law that expired at the end of June.

“The evidence is overwhelming the current system ain’t getting it done,” said Murphy, citing data that shows the state ranks near the bottom in wage growth and job growth over the last decade. “… It’s clear that extending that regime is unacceptable, and I won’t do it.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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