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 Experience Article in View From the Edge Magazine

Building a Better New Jersey Since 1974 Through Collaboration and Innovation

Even during a pandemic as chaotic and catastrophic as COVID-19, the New Jersey Alliance for Action coordinates projects and helps their members navigate the disruptions while adhering to Governor Murphy’s stay-at-home orders. The Alliance for Action is also advocating for a construction stimulus package to help the state’s economy regain prosperity once movement becomes less restricted post-COVID-19. This timely and salient example aligns perfectly with the Alliance for Action’s mission to continuously find ways to improve New Jersey’s economy through the promotion of capital construction and infrastructure investment. For the past 46 years, the nonprofit organization has looked for opportunities to energize the state’s economy.

“In 1974, the Alliance for Action was created in almost an identical situation with what we’re dealing with today, in terms of the economic disruption caused by the COVID crisis,” said Philip Beachem, President of Alliance for Action. “Back in ’74, there wasn’t work, whether you were an engineer, architect, contractor, material supplier, etc. As a result, the unemployment numbers were double digit, and there wasn’t a source of money at the state level for capital construction. The only way you’d receive money from the state was if the state voters cast a general obligation bond issue.” From this setting, Alliance for Action became a gathering point for numerous organizations to represent the individual contractors, engineers, and architects to focus on the importance of the construction industry in the overall New Jersey economy. “When our organization was created, this concept was unique. For the first time, an organization combined the business community with the building trades and labor community in an effort to promote capital construction and an infrastructure investment program,” Beachem said. “The concept is simple—the construction economy will lead New Jersey’s ability to recover from any type of downturn.”

Another goal Alliance for Action established early on was to never become political, which meant the group wouldn’t endorse or contribute to specific candidates or parties. The staff was also given a limited agenda, which focused on capital construction and healthcare issues. Over the course of nearly five decades, the Alliance for Action has been involved in everything from bond issues to higher education and projects ranging from dredging the harbor for the maritime community, putting sand on the beaches to replenish the tourist economy, and helping with water, sewer, and utility upgrades. ”While our agenda is fairly broad, in the sense that we have a lot of constituents, we have a very specific agenda where capital construction is concerned,” Beachem said. “Without question, these measures will all be enacted during this current environment.”

A Long History of Helping New Jersey Grow

Based on the Alliance for Action’s long-standing history in the state, organizations and groups trust their expertise. Beachem said his former predecessor would remind him, “Our job is to bake the pie and then figuring out how to divide the pie is everybody else’s job.” Beachem has seen this come to fruition throughout the years.

In the mid-1980s, Beachem said there was a higher education bond issue on the ballot, allowing higher education institutions to receive capital money for the first time. During the same election, there was also a ballot question regarding transportation funding. “The expectation was the higher education bond would pass and the transportation funding wouldn’t pass, which was our project,” he said. “When everything was all done, just the opposite occurred. The transportation bond issue was approved and the higher education bond issue was defeated.”

As a result of the defeat, Don Edwards, the vice president of Rutgers University at the time, called the Alliance for Action and asked what his group did “wrong.” Not a group to resist a challenge in the face of adversity, Alliance for Action met with the institution and later coordinated the new 1988 bond issue. Alliance for Action subsequently secured the support of the AT&T CEO, while also gaining the support of the labor and contracting communities to help run the campaign. The bond passed because of the collaboration between multiple parties. “As a result of the successful collaboration, we have been involved in every bond issue, and we’re currently working on another bond issue with several college presidents,” he said. The lesson learned? “Collaboration is the key to success,” explained Beachem.

When the Alliance for Action calls others for help or works to get approvals on a certain issue, the nonprofit is looked at as a bipartisan organization. “We are looked at as a group that has been in the trenches in the past and always works to get developments approved for not only the short-term economic impact, but also the long-term,” added Jerry Keenan, Executive Vice President. “We look at how a decision will affect New Jersey’s economy, environment, and quality of life for years to come.”

The strong leadership of Alliance for Action has created a trustworthy reputation throughout the state. They’re known as an organization not interested in headlines, but a group dedicated to achieving specific goals to advance the prosperity of the state. Keenan also believes Alliance for Action’s longevity in leadership has played a major impact in successful economic development in New Jersey. Beachem has been with the organization for over 30 years, while Keenan has served for over 23 years. Vice President Christian Hartman joined six years ago and has played a crucial role in connecting organizations and guiding the organization through current and upcoming trends. “We have a tremendous batting average on getting approvals for projects,” Keenan said. “We’re able to get people who don’t necessarily always see eye to eye, but realized that when these projects move forward, the outcome is best for everyone—businesses, quality of life, and the environment in New Jersey.”

Hartman has taken Alliance for Action’s numerous positive qualities and extended those attributes into the digital era. In some circumstances, social media could become a place for discord, but people working with Alliance for Action know blasting each other behind the scenes isn’t acceptable. “We’re not going to take to digital media to be critical or disruptive. We’ve been able to keep integrity in relationships even with the way media has changed social interactions.”

President Philip Beachem

Philip has served in a leadership role at Alliance for Action since 1987, holding the position of Vice President until 1996 and has served as President ever since. Beachem has also worked under eight Governors from both political parties, promoting economic growth and environmental quality initiatives, including dredging, green acres programs, shore protection, telecommunications, and transportation. A University of Connecticut graduate, Beachem has an MBA in Finance from Rutgers University and is currently a trustee of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). In 1988, President George W. Bush appointed Mr. Beachem as one of 33 members of the EPA’s Environmental Finance Advisory Board, and he has served on numerous State Boards by appointment of New Jersey Governors.

Executive Vice President Jerry Keenan

Jerry has a love for communications, initially beginning his career at a small radio and cable TV station called WSUS TV and WSUS FM in Sussex County. From 1994-1997, Keenan worked for the New Jersey’s Secretary of State’s office in the communication’s office. During this time, Keenan had an opportunity to work with Philip Beachem and the Alliance’s former President Ellis Vieser on a project. This link drew Keenan towards Alliance for Action.

Now, for the past 23 years, Keenan has served as one of Alliance’s communicators, facilitating and sharing the nonprofit’s message towards the state and the surrounding areas. He began has an assistant vice president, then was promoted to vice president and is now the executive vice president.

Vice President Christian Hartman

Graduating from New Jersey Institute of Technology with a degree in computer engineering in 2004, Hartman immediately began working in the private sector.

Hartman was introduced to Alliance for Action through Keenan’s brother, and he’s been a part of the organization for the past six years. Currently a vice president, Hartman represents the Alliance at public meetings, furthers the agenda of economic growth in New Jersey, grows the Alliance membership and the development of new conferences. Responsibilities also include management of the County Chapters of the Alliance, which are the local affiliates of the main statewide NJ Alliance for Action.

As a Jersey resident, Harman loves to promote his state, and he wants to see the state continue to move forward.

The Heart of Economic Development

Public infrastructure is at the heart of economic development, advancement, and future innovations. Since the organization’s beginnings, the group has recognized the need for road improvements and dredging—obvious areas of improvement for any state across the nation. “Through the years, there are certain things that don’t change,” Beachem said. “However, flash forward to the modern day and there are new things like 5G and cybersecurity; items that had never crossed our minds 10, 20, 30 years ago.” Beachem shared a humorous antidote from years ago, when a speaker talked about how everything would be in this little black box; the man was explaining a future cell phone. Beachem thought the man was nuts and didn’t understand what he was talking about. “Many years later, everything he said has absolutely come true,” he said.

Infrastructure improvements aren’t isolated to roads, bridges, water, and electric. Future-forward technologies that embrace environmental considerations are starting to see traction statewide. Keenan said engineers, contractors, and labor groups are leading the charge in these areas, working to make sure New Jersey’s construction industry is run in a sensible manner. The Alliance for Action is one of the state’s leading organizations working to promote wind and solar energy as one of the available industries and mechanisms to provide power to residents and businesses. “The need for infrastructure hasn’t changed,” he shared. “The real game-changers are the types of infrastructure, technologies, and emerging infrastructures evolving right before our eyes as innovation alternatives actively take shape.”

Another area where advancement has taken place is smart growth, wherein smart regions, cities, and transportation have converged with innovative technologies. Hartman said smart cities allow for a particular technology where cities can better utilize services ranging from emergency resources and water resources to parking enforcement and even trash pickup. To ensure a successful marriage of technology and the running of cities or regions, infrastructure planning is vital to ensure measured growth and development. “I believe smart growth and related types of initiatives are definitely one of the biggest areas of infrastructure advancement I’ve seen over the last couple of years while I’ve been at Alliance,” he shared.

Cyberinfrastructure Advancement

For continued digital advancement, cyberinfrastructure also has to increase to positively impact economic development. The Alliance for Action has been collaborating with Edge regarding cyberinfrastructure planning and development, as well as the advancement of digital transformation in New Jersey and the region.

The result? When the Alliance for Action and Edge join forces, the partnership helps higher education institutions and hospitals. Hartman said this affiliation is vital during the world’s current pandemic, as universities and hospitals are in a race to find a vaccine for COVID-19. These facilities need access to high speed internet and other necessary resources in order to communicate with researchers around the world, which can lead to future research jobs in New Jersey. For instance, Hackensack Meridian and Hackensack University in Bergen County are in the middle of large research projects, which require a huge amount of infrastructure and broadband. “The Hackensack example demonstrates another area in which Alliance for Action can work with Edge—in conjunction with different design and construction companies in New Jersey—who will be building the physical infrastructure for 5G,” Hartman said.

The Alliance team believes New Jersey can become a national leader in regards to the combination of 5G and broadband, similar to how they helped the pharmaceutical industry in decades past. The organization believes a proper 5G rollout requires the cooperation of all of the municipalities and sub government entities. “We need a major educational objective to get everyone to cooperate so we don’t become the tail wagging the dog on 5G and broadband,” Beachem said. 5G technologies will enable wireless in new buildings and retrofit old buildings. Engineers will be using CAD programs at the job site, guiding workers and companies with data in real-time with live reproductions and schematics, blueprints, and design. At the same time, these companies need cybersecurity protection in place. “We need to make sure these construction companies are protected moving forward, so nobody can hit them with ransomware or something equally as nefarious,” Hartman added. He then noted, “Edge is, quite obviously, the conduit by which cybersecurity will reach these companies as they ramp up their efforts.” Cybersecurity is also a concern in regards to basic infrastructure like traffic light systems or the transportation network. “There are a number of different ways a hack can take place, which means there is a tremendous opportunity for the infrastructure community to address this issue and protect all of us,” Keenan said.

A Hub of Innovation and Commerce

New Jersey is uniquely positioned to continue to be a hub of innovation and commerce in the northeast region of the United States. Located between New York and Philadelphia and close to Washington D.C., New Jersey has large amounts of scientific and educational academic brainpower situated around the state. Beachem believes the state is perfectly situated to continue to be a leader in different industries, but especially in the wind energy industry. The winds off the coast of New Jersey produce speeds better than other areas with a coastline. Governor Murphy and the legislature have worked numerous years and committed to 7,500 megawatts of power being developed by wind energy by 2035. “I believe wind energy is going to be a billion dollar industry and New Jersey is right in the middle of the wind revolution,” he said.

Amidst the COVID-19 situation, the landscape has changed in a fairly significant manner, due to the fact federal stimulus money is being distributed throughout the country to prevent a recession. Keenan indicated that a lot of economic stimulus money would be directed specifically to the construction industry. “The stimulus funds are not only advantageous to this industry, but for all of the economy because everyone is affected by what the construction industry does, whether the projects involve building schools, better roads, buildings, rail lines, or more efficient energy systems,” he explained.

Looking a bit further down the road, the Alliance for Action shared details on a unique project: Urban Air Mobility. With Urban Air Mobility, commuters in the future will be able to take taxis that fly from building to building. “Commuters will go on top of a building and on the roof, and these urban air mobility vehicles will safely transport them to another location,” Keenan added. “They will need new infrastructure for this, building takeoff and landing sites.” He continued, “Concepts such as Urban Air Mobility are within closer reach than most people imagine. The Alliance for Action looks forward to being at the forefront of this visionary concept—and others—as we collectively bring these technological innovations to fruition.”

Dedicated to improving the local economy and helping foster networking opportunities, Alliance for Action will continue to ensure the spirit of collaboration is alive and well at all levels of the planning process throughout New Jersey and beyond.

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