Historically Significant, Presently Outstanding

Middlesex County, NJ
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Rich in history and bursting with potential, Middlesex County, New Jersey has something for everyone.
Visionary leaders, sound decision making, and a collaboration between the public and private sectors have enabled the County to find balance in its development, paying homage to its storied past with one foot in the future, and poised to take full advantage of all opportunities that present themselves.

With a burgeoning economy and a vibrant community, the history of Middlesex County dates back to the first inhabitants of the region, the Lenni Lenape, who are credited with establishing an extensive system of trails that would later become wagon roads. Today, an expansive, well- connected transportation system is a highlight of the area, one of the largest transportation networks in the United States.

The region has played an important role throughout U.S. history, serving as a trading hub for early colonists and as a camp for both sides during the American Revolution. Its strategic location along the Raritan River and the Atlantic Coast has served it well as it has remained a vital port and logistical hub throughout the Industrial Revolution, and into the present.

Middlesex County’s past endures to some degree today, with Johnson & Johnson having established their headquarters there in 1886 and still remaining an active community partner, supporting a number of County educational and recreational initiatives. Home of the Band Aid and Duct Tape, and of course, Thomas Edison, many innovations have come out of Middlesex County.

As Freeholder Director, Ronald Rios explained, “It’s an attractive place to invest largely based upon its location. We’re between New York and Philadelphia; we have a robust transportation and strong infrastructure.” He continued, “We have a vibrant community, a vibrant business community, and it continues to experience growth.”

Middlesex County has the highest number of daily vehicular miles travelled in New Jersey per day. Residents and commuters enjoy access to Route 1, Route 9, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, Interstate 297, as well as many others, and are within close proximity to international airports and the Port of Newark in addition to the many connections provided by commercial and passenger rail and public transit systems.

The second most populous county in New Jersey, development in Middlesex County is characterized by balance, with dense development in the north, significant development occurring in the eastern and central parts of the County located closest to the transportation infrastructure, and the complement of rural tranquility, agriculture and open spaces in the south.

Middlesex County offers a strong and vibrant mix of communities, ensuring that a great quality of life is accessible to all residents. Home to the nation’s first vocational technical school in 1914, located in the city of New Brunswick, Middlesex County’s vocational schools have become nationally recognized, winning a number of awards for these efforts.

“What’s important about that is that we’re providing an education for our students to be ready for the next available jobs, whatever those may be to come,” shared Rios, “So this way we’re competitive whether we stay competitive with the rest of New Jersey or the rest of the world.”

The population of Middlesex County is highly educated, with over 40 percent of the population 25 years and older having a Bachelor Degree, Professional Degree, Graduate Degree or higher. Residents of Middlesex County are representative of a highly skilled, knowledgeable workforce, boasting the highest number of workers in the state for all counties – 443,825 workers in 42,863 businesses.

This dynamic profile is supported by a number of industry sectors. The economic landscape in Middlesex County is comprised of strong retail and service offerings, manufacturing, technology, transportation and logistics, finance, real estate, insurance, and construction, for which the County is a leader in the state. Driving construction in Middlesex County are recent expansions to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Rutgers’ new student housing complex. Much of the County’s economic and community development success originates in partnerships being created between the public and private sectors to support business development.

“We brainstorm with our municipalities and our other private sector partners such as non-profits, chambers of commerce, Rutgers, and the State Business Action Center,” explained Kathaleen Shaw, Head of the Department of Business Development and Education with Middlesex County. “We work with a network of small business centers and other collaborators.”

Indicative of this network’s success, median household income in Middlesex County in $77,990, compared to $53,217 for all U.S. households. Current household average income on the other hand is $100,598, compared to a national average of $74,699, averages that are projected to increase. Middlesex County also enjoys AAA bond rating.

Middlesex County officials have targeted 88 redevelopment areas throughout the 25 municipalities in the County, with many site-specific incentives being offered to potential investors, including brownfield development areas, special improvement districts, foreign trade zone areas, urban transit hubs, transit villages, urban enterprise zones, and other initiatives that encourage business activity in the County. One of the most important initiatives, paramount to the continued economic success of the County, is the Middlesex County Business Portal which provides dynamic data and makes it available on the County’s website, showcasing the business resources being offered to the public and private sector.

The Middlesex County Office of Economic and Business Development liaises between business, government and other organizations and stakeholders to provide direct technical assistance for those interested in expanding in or relocating to Middlesex County, including a comprehensive inventory of available commercial properties, connecting businesses to available resources. Investors have access to information regarding site selection, transportation analytics, demographics, retail opportunities, proximity to infrastructure, and other pertinent information when looking to expand or relocate, helping to streamline processes; these services are provided in a GIS format. Local amenities and services are showcased, in addition to local areas of historical value and interest.

“Local amenities are really a quality of life element for companies’ employees, which are our future customer base,” described Shaw. “The collaboration with our 25 municipalities, promoting their economic development opportunities through the portal, enables business attraction and retention in partnership with our public and private economic development partners – not just a gain for the County.”

Speaking further to the Business Portal, she explained, “It’s really a dynamic tool that helps existing businesses and attracts new businesses, which is quite powerful – and you can get to it right from the County website.” A mobile version of the Business Portal has been launched, making the resource even more efficient, with the ability to access real time data from anywhere in the world.

Middlesex County is home to six colleges and universities, world class health care and research facilities, and a variety of entertainment, recreation, arts, cultural and historical offerings, offerings that are as diverse as their population, “one of the most diverse populations in the nation, and a vibrant arts and cultural community that celebrates it,” said Rios.

With economic vitality as well as a great quality of life, there are many draws for residents and visitors alike, from the Tony-award winning Crossroads Theatre to the State Theatre, the George Street Playhouse, and the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, to name a few. Around such attractions a vibrant, culturally diverse culinary scene has also emerged.

The County has established a Cultural And Arts Trust Fund, using history, art and culture as a means for economic growth, supporting research and the maintenance of historic sites, administering resources and programs, preserving history and improving the overall quality of life and community culture being fostered.

In addition, the County has an established and vibrant Arts and History Program. “Our Arts and History Program offerings create place-making in our central business districts and that helps regional economies generate jobs… it’s a dynamic group of activities that can really make a difference,” said Shaw. Indeed, in 2015, Middlesex County recorded 384,596 participants in 105 programs and 85 non-profits across the 25 participating municipalities. Historic programming such as the East Jersey Old Town Village in Johnson Park in Piscataway brings a taste of the 18th century to the present, with reconstructed and replica buildings and demonstrations highlighting what it was like to live in the early colonial days of Middlesex County, offering a glimpse at the County’s agricultural and manufacturing past.

As well, Rutgers and Princeton’s Plainsboro Campus are located in Middlesex County. “In 1869 Rutgers and Princeton played the first intercollegiate football game in the U.S. right here in New Brunswick,” shared Rios. “The college football experience lives on today at the newly expanded High Point Solutions Stadium which attracts more than 50,000 fans each game day.”

Athletics and recreation are prioritized throughout the County, with 7 conservation areas, open space preservation covering more than 7,600 acres of preserved open space, and 18 active recreation parks covering a total of nearly 14,000 acres, with soccer fields, baseball fields, playgrounds, jogging paths, a trail system, a family skating rink and an outdoor amphitheater that is home to the County’s summer concert series and a number of Broadway caliber performances.

With expansions to the Bayonne Bridge and the Panama Canal, Middlesex County anticipates an increase in international cargo being moved through the port into the County. In addition to the Business Portal, in preparation for an influx of new business, the County is working in partnership with existing businesses to explore new international business opportunities in this regard.

“As a gateway for exporting around the world, the County boasts five FTZ areas offering incentives for companies generating final product exports out of the U.S.,” explained Shaw. The County has developed partnerships with the Business Action Center as well as New Jersey State Trade and Export Promotion Program (NJ STEP) to maximize the benefit of these international opportunities.

“We’re in a very important and great position geographically, and we’ve made ourselves available, whether to residential or commercial types of business to come here and live. It’s a great place to live, work and play,” Rios shared enthusiastically.

He explained, “Our County has a rich and storied past and it is very likely that something that occurred here or originated in Middlesex County has touched the life of almost every person on our planet. While only 318 square miles in size, the County has left a huge footprint in history.”



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