PRINCETON: Officials taking more active approach on economic development

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By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Princeton officials said this week they want to take a “more active” approach to spurring economic development within the community, motivated to bring in businesses to lower the property tax burden on residents.
Mayor Liz Lempert and two other councilmen are part of task force examining what the town government can do to attract businesses, a role the town has never taken on before. She said Wednesday that the group is in a “fact-finding” stage that will end with it issuing a report to the full council later this year, a document that could include policy recommendations for the government to take.
“We’re not making recommendations at this point, we’re collecting information,” she said in a phone interview.
Mayor Lempert said the task force is looking at what programs other communities in New Jersey have and is assessing what the needs of Princeton are.
She pointed to vacant corporate office space as a point of concern. One such location is on Bunn Drive, the former headquarters of Church & Dwight that is mostly empty except for some research offices the company left there before moving its headquarters to Ewing a few years ago.
Earlier in the day Wednesday, the task force met with representatives of the state Economic Development Authority to understand better what types of programs are available to the town to bring businesses here, Mayor Lempert said. It was one of about half dozen meetings the group has had since it was formed in January.
The main motivation to recruiting businesses is to help alleviate the high property tax burden residents carry, said Councilman Bernard P. Miller, a member of the task force along with Councilman Patrick Simon.
“We depend very heavily on property taxes to fund the municipal government,” Mayor Lempert said. “We want to take pressure off residential property taxpayers by ensuring that our commercial sector is healthy and vibrant.”
In terms of policy, Mayor Lempert said she does not support giving businesses tax abatements to induce them to relocate to Princeton. And Mr. Miller said it was “premature” to discuss whether the town would hire an economic development director to do that kind of work full time.
Mayor Lempert, who does not have a background in business recruitment, said she sees it as her role to be involved in economic development given, that as mayor, she is often a point of contact.
She touted some of the qualities that make Princeton attractive for businesses to move here. The town, she said, is home to a world-class research university, has a highly educated population and “provides a high quality of life.”
“Princeton is a unique community,” she said.