An innovative collaboration between state government, the private sector and higher education has opened a virtual window into the economic health of New Jersey. The New Jersey Business Resource Center is an online cache of data created to market the state's business assets and help corporate decision-makers considering strategic moves in the marketplace.

Brought online in April after two years of planning and development, the Business Resource Center is the result of a joint venture between the New Jersey Commerce and Economic Growth Commission, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Prosperity New Jersey, a 60-member collection of public and private entities whose goal is to promote, retain, expand and attract business in the state.

The site features more than 60 pages offering data ranging from population demographics and the economy to education and industry. Users can check the state's employment by industry and occupation and download information on business incentives, tax credits and financing.

A comprehensive "Top Business" section contains more than 50 lists of the state's largest companies covering nearly a dozen major industries. From the largest venture-capital firms and top-10 law firms to the 26 Fortune 500 companies that call New Jersey home, the page offers something for all economic development professionals.

Marketing Tool

The initial framework of the Business Resource Center (BRC) grew out of the mission of Prosperity New Jersey, created in 1995 by executive order of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. The nonprofit, public/private partnership, financed by tax-deductible, private-sector funds, counts corporate heavyweights AT&T, Continental Airlines and Johnson & Johnson among its advisory board members. The BRC serves as one of the vehicles helping the organization execute its prime directive of maximizing corporate job retention, expansion and creation in the nation's eighth-largest economy.

Web sites like the BRC are becoming popular with state and local government agencies, as competition between them tightens to lure businesses to their jurisdictions. New Jersey's site is unique, state officials said, because it is the first state economic development Web site that doesn't require the user to register or fill out online surveys to access the data.

"The New Jersey Business Resource Center has enabled us to increase the velocity of our marketing efforts," said Gualberto "Gil" Medina, secretary of the New Jersey Commerce and Economic Growth Commission. "The faster we furnish information about New Jersey to the business community, the faster they'll see that New Jersey has exactly the features they need."

As commission officials have learned from experience, the ease with which a corporation can retrieve decision-critical data is often the deciding factor in its choice to relocate to one region over another.

"In the past, New Jersey would lose out because it would take months to get interested companies the information they were seeking, where other states where turning it around in hours or days," said Andrew Samson, the commission's webmaster. "This led to the rationale of providing some resource that would allow companies to get access to this key information at any time."

In its first two months of operation, the site received nearly 37,500 hits. Using Web-trending software to track user statistics, commission officials were pleasantly surprised to find hits from as far away as England, as well as a high volume of users from other states, most notably New Jersey's neighbors and regional competitors. Statistics show that the site is popular with corporate relocation consultants, commercial real-estate brokers and local chambers of commerce.

Data Freshness

The BRC has evolved from its initial offering of simple charts and graphs that could be downloaded for use in standard PC application software. Programmers, recognizing that accuracy is their site's selling point, now rely on more sophisticated Web links and employ third-party software that automatically detects when linked databases change and updates the site with the new