Did you ever wonder why Presidents Reagan and Kennedy are so beloved to this day? Could it be both men transcended party politics, rising above the rhetoric, putting people before party in order to accomplish great things? The common thread of their leadership is illustrated by President John F. Kennedy when he said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer” and by President Ronald Reagan when he said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

At a time when American families are being divided by politicians who put party before people, being more concerned about winning political points than solving problems, we need to take advantage of the opportunity we have right here in Atlantic County for Republicans and Democrats to join hands and work together to pass the Garden State Growth Zone bill to diversify the local economy and bring badly needed local jobs for working families.

This opportunity is especially important to Atlantic County middle class families because, sadly, Atlantic County leads the nation in foreclosures and has an unemployment rate persistently above the state average.

That’s why I am calling on my colleagues in both parties to support, pass and implement the Garden State Growth Zone legislation proposed by the late Sen. Jim Whelan.

Growing up on Absecon Island, I was fortunate to have a unique relationship with Jim Whelan, which began in the early 1970s when he worked for my father on the Atlantic City Beach Patrol. Later, we shared a lifeguard stand together on States Avenue, which was fondly referred to at the time as “The House of Champions” because, in part, of Whelan’s legendary swimming ability.

With our 40-year friendship as our foundation, when Whelan first discussed with me in the halls of Trenton about crafting the Garden State Growth Zone legislation to help guide the economic recovery of Atlantic County, I happily shared my ideas for the bill and how we could work together to make it a reality.

When Whelan’s bill stalled for months in committee and looked as though it was going to die, I proposed a slightly different version more focused on Atlantic County in an effort to keep the conversation relevant and move the ball downfield. Now that we are headed back to Trenton, we have an opportunity to accomplish something productive during the lame duck session before the end of the year, which is why I am abandoning my version of the bill and asking all of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to come together and honor the memory of the late Sen. Jim Whelan and pass this bill.

This legislation establishes a Garden State Growth Zone around the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center, the Stockton Aviation Research Park and Atlantic City International Airport.

The FAA Technical Center is the nation’s leading laboratory for research, development, testing, evaluation and in-service management for air transportation systems and has an overall economic impact of $700 million annually. Many of the nation’s leading corporations like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Battelle have contracts with the technical center. Let’s get them to invest further and make them part of the Atlantic County community.

Major sites in Atlantic City and surrounding the technical center are development ready, have excellent access and are fully served by utilities. The one missing element to attract new companies to these locations is incentives like those currently being offered by the state in the city of Camden. Whelan’s bill will provide such incentives.

The passage of this legislation will allow the region to leverage its strengths — the excellent quality of life, beautiful beaches, iconic Boardwalk, the new Stockton University campus and the FAA Technical Center. Further, since our transportation system is built for growth with the excess capacity at the Atlantic City International Airport, the Atlantic City Rail Service, the Atlantic City Expressway and the Garden State Parkway, we can easily accommodate business and new job investment.

I believe the time is now to rise above partisan politics on behalf of working families by rolling up our sleeves and reaching across our respective aisles to pursue the right answer for the local economy and sharing the credit to benefit Atlantic County’s working families while honoring Jim Whelan’s legacy.

Assemblyman and Sen.-elect Chris Brown, of Ventnor, is a Republican representing the 2nd District (nearly all of Atlantic County).

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