THROUGHOUT its history, New Jersey has found itself the target of jokes. A sliver of a territory - the fifth-smallest state in the Union - New Jersey is squeezed between two much larger states, New York and Pennsylvania.
Late-night television comedians love to make jokes about "Joisey" (as a local accent says it) - in large part because of the state's past reputation as a dumping ground for chemical companies and local residents' fondness for the region's ubiquitous diners.
Yet change is clearly evident. New immigrants, many of them Asian and Hispanic, are pouring into the Garden State, pushing the population toward 8 million. Many of the scenic towns, located far from the exhaust fumes and roar of the New Jersey Turnpike, rival New England villages for charm and beauty. A science center for children and adults (one of the largest learning centers of its type in the country), opened this year in Jersey City.
History abounds: The first organized baseball game was played at Hoboken in 1846. George Washington crossed the Delaware River and took Trenton back from Hessian/British soldiers in the American Revolution in 1776. Inventors Samuel F. B. Morse (the electric telegraph), Thomas Edison (the light bulb), and John Holland, (the submarine), created major breakthroughs here.
A major East Coast agricultural producer, New Jersey boasts a 130-mile coastline that includes numerous golden beaches and vacation playgrounds such as Atlantic City and Cape May. The state also has the second highest income level in the United States (after Connecticut) and "more scientists and engineers than any other state on a per capita basis," says George Nagle, director of economic research for the state's department of commerce and economic development.
New Jersey is the center of the US pharmaceutical industry. In addition, the state is home to major financial and insurance companies (such as Prudential), national retailers (The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company), and communications labs (AT&T).
The state is "fourth in the nation," behind California, New York, and Michigan, in its high-tech employment base, Mr. Nagle adds.
But like many states along the eastern seaboard, New Jersey has been hit hard by the recent economic downturn. Home prices plummeted. Earlier this year the state predicted 2.5 to 3 percent growth. Given national economic sluggishness, the state will do well to make that forecast, Nagle says. Current minimal growth will mean employment gains of only 1 to 1.5 percent, he predicts. That is of little comfort. Unemployment shot from 8.3 percent in March to 9.1 percent in April, the worst among the industrial states.
New Jersey's main region for growth is in the south, Nagle says. Southern Jersey relies on service industries and tourism, both showing continued gains. The north, by contrast, is more linked to manufacturing.
"An economically weak New York City," as at present, "tends to have a negative impact on northern Jersey," Nagle says.