The COVID-19 crisis has caused an unprecedented disruption in our lives, fundamentally changing the way we do our jobs while causing companies to re-think how they operate.

According to Rutgers University economist James Hughes, about half of the 720,000 jobs lost during the first two months of the COVID emergency in New Jersey have come back. But many face-to-face employment positions, including those in the restaurant and hospitality sectors have not.

However, Hughes said as the COVID vaccine rollout continues to accelerate “what we’re going to see probably is a two to three-year period to fully recapture all the lost jobs, to get the economy running at full speed again.

He said out of necessity, many Garden State companies have become more nimble and creative in the way they function, and this will ultimately create new employment opportunities moving forward.

“One of the difficulties in forecasting is trying to anticipate what those new jobs are going to be,” he said. “This suggests a period of re-training people whose old jobs are permanently lost.”

He said the dramatic shift to remote work in Jersey has accelerated a trend that was already underway before the pandemic began.

“We’re not really in year 2021 right now,” he said. “We’re actually in year 2025. It just happened to occur five years earlier than anticipated.”

Hughes explained what companies have realized is “work is not simply a place, work is an activity and it is not place-bound."

“One of the real uncertainties is going back to the home office versus working from home, and there’s arguments on both sides of the equation but we’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle," he said.

He believes we will see a permanent transformation that incorporates technology and person-to-person interaction into a new hybrid type of model.

In the shorter term, Hughes said we could see a massive boom of restaurants and hospitality jobs starting later this summer because we have “huge pent up consumer demand."

Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, said over the past 12 months, the EDA has directly supported almost 55,000 small businesses with grants totaling more than $250 million.

He said the funds that have been provided “in so many circumstances has been the difference between staying open and being closed, laying people off or keeping their staff.”

Sullivan explained plans are in the works for the EDA to distribute later this year “more than $150 million across a few different programs to directly support small business recovery.”

“Even when the pandemic ends there will be a lot of healing to be done in lots of different areas, but specifically small business and Main Street,” he said.

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