New Jersey 101.5 video

As we wind down the end of 2016 and get set to ring in a brand new year, New Jersey faces a number of significant challenges.

The state’s leading business group is setting its sights on stopping the out-migration of millennials — young adults under age 35 — as a top priority in 2017.

Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, points out Garden State taxpayers spend a small fortune on K-12 education, and yet many of our best and brightest students leave New Jersey to go to college and never return.

“When we’re making significant investment in our great K-12 education here in the state of New Jersey — [on average] $19,000 per year per pupil times 13 years — to let those students walk out of the state, we’re losing our pipeline, we can’t let that happen anymore,” she said.

To change things, Siekerka said, we have to look at issues of affordability.

“Housing costs for millennials are in the $1,600 a month range, which is simply too high. A student graduating from college can’t afford that off the bat. Energy costs, costs of insurance in the state of New Jersey, they’re simply too high,” she said.

Siekerka pointed out another huge problem is the cost of higher education.

“We have gotten expensive. We’re the 4th most expensive in the country on state tuition when you include fees and room and board, so that’s a challenge. Students aren’t choosing our own state schools,” she said.

To address the issue, she said we must look for ways to increase financial assistance.

“If we do that, the $25,000 tuition is now only $15,000. But we don’t have the stream of funds in New Jersey to cover that gap, and that’s another reason why higher ed is expensive,” she said.

Siekerka believes all of these issues are connected.

“We must do something in the state of New Jersey about how we fund our education, because property tax is all about funding our education, our K to 12 education,” she said.

“We need to have that discussion, it’s a discussion that must be had.”

It's not just millennials who are leaving. Earlier this year, the organization found that the state has lost almost $21 billion dollars in adjusted gross income over the past 11 years to so-called out-migration.

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.