Tourism is a major component to N.J's economy. It is the second largest industry in the state, accounting for extensive revenue and tourism related jobs.West Milford, N.J is well positioned to take advantage of a significant tourism market. The Highlands Region, located within this market, is within a days drive of over 20 million people.
Part 8 of the Highlands Act focuses on Sustainable Economic Development. Under Part 8, the Highlands Act establishes natural resource protection as well as recognizes that development, redevelopment and economic growth in certain appropriate areas of the region are in the best interest of all the citizens of the State. In the Highlands Region, economic development plans can be developed for municipalities that choose to grow and those that choose not to; individual economic development activities will vary based on local conditions but all will contribute to achieving regional economic vitality. In some areas, the sustainable use of the natural resources of the region, such as agriculture, forestry, and tourism will remain a critical local economic initiative, while other areas may be well suited for technology dependent enterprises ranging from homes to corporate headquarters. Main street or downtown revitalization and business retention efforts may be the primary economic initiative for some municipalities. Economic development must be sustainable over time and will depend heavily on renewal and improvement of economic output without continual development of undeveloped lands.
Part 8: Sustainable Economic Development Section Overview
The Highlands Region is characterized by a dynamic economy that exhibits it's strength relative to the State as a whole. A challenge facing many communities in the Highlands Region is determining how best to balance resource protection requirements while maintaining and enhancing a vibrant community and a sustainable local and regional economy. The Highlands Act establishes water and natural resource protection as the fundamental goal for the region, but also recognizes the many social, cultural and economic benefits associated with development, redevelopment and approaches, improved land use efficiency, transit oriented development and shared services are encouraged in the region, while scattered sprawl type development is recognized as an inefficient use of land and an impediment to achieving a more sustainable regional economy.
Economic development can be broadly described as any effort or activity that improves general economic health. It may involve a range of activities aimed at increasing the local tax base and providing employment opportunities, including both land development and non-development approaches. Efforts can range in scale from local to regional, and individual economic activities will depend upon local conditions. In areas characterized by high natural resource values, economic activity may be in the form of agriculture and forestry, redevelopment of brownfield and grayfield sites and existing developed areas, and the expansion of recreation and tourism opportunities. Agricultural areas will benefit from a sustainable agricultural approach that includes agri-tourism and the reduction of the potential for conflicting land uses through clustering and redevelopment of existing developed lands.
Sound land use planning is important to ensure economic vitality in the region. Conforming municipalities are required where appropriate to develop, or update, an economic plan element that provides strategies for achieving sustainable economic development appropriate for the municipality and consistent with the policies and objectives of the RMP. The economic plan should also include a discussion of fiscal sustainability. These plans will vary considerably in scope, depending on the size and composition of a municipality, its current economic conditions and whether it chooses to grow or not. Any development, redevelopment and brownfield opportunities should be identified in the economic plan. Economic plans should strive to maximize potential economic effects when locating future homes, commercial and industrial facilities through development, redevelopment and public facilities.
Existing land uses and the transportation system provide a foundation for sustainable economic growth. Economic activity that involves land development should be concentrated around transportation corridors and in local and regional centers, which in turn protects sensitive natural and farming areas from conflicting uses. In sensitive natural and farming areas zoning can permit agri and eco tourism uses while implementing RMP resource standards to prevent the development regulation that permit the Establishment of home occupations, entrepreneurial and other small business activities to increase economic viability while reducing transportation costs.
Tourism is a major component of New Jersey's economy. It is the second largest industry in the State and continues to be a significant revenue source for the state in terms of billions of dollars annually and provides approximately 500,000 tourism related jobs statewide. The region's historic, cultural, recreational and scenic locations should be recognized not just as a tourism resource but as economic assets which can be managed and enhanced in a sustainable manner adding much benefit to local economies. Tourism initiatives should focus on increasing visitors to the region by linking attractions to restaurants and accommodations. Transit oriented recreation and tourism connections should be encouraged where possible. From an economic perspective, the terms agri, eco and heritage tourism refer to the business opportunities related to farm operations, other than the traditional sale of agricultural goods, natural and heritage resources that do not involve the modification or consumption of the resource. The program component includes coordination with the NJ Division of Travel and Tourism to promote eco tourism activities to support the farm economy by allowing farmers to benefit from additional sources of income; coordination with historic preservation, open space, and recreation efforts as a means to link agricultural preservation/retention efforts; and the development of economic development incentives that include flexible land use regulations to support the expansion of food and farm related businesses.
Economic activities should support both the local communities and the larger region. The Highlands offers residents and visitors a variety of recreational and tourism opportunities within a landscape that reflects history, exhibits scenic beauty, and provides outdoor recreational activities. The extensive and varied recreational, agricultural cultural, historical and scenic resources contained with the Highlands Region represents a substantial foundation for a regional tourism economy. It also serves the local population with many active and passive recreational facilities close to home.
Outdoor recreation and the tourism associated with it involve the interaction of people with an outdoor environment during their travel and leisure time. Outdoor recreation consists of active pursuits such as sports and games, as well as less active, more leisurely activities such as walking in the woods or bird watching. Outdoor resources accommodate two types of recreation activity: resource based recreation and facility based recreation. A community should have a mix of resource and facility based recreation opportunities for its residents. Enjoyment of resource based recreation activities is directly linked to the health of the outdoor environment. Hikers, canoeist, cross country skies and campers all enjoy their experiences if the environment is clean and healthful. Facility based recreation is accommodated through a built facility. Typical facility based recreation activities include indoor ice skating, pools and indoor sports requiring a court such as basketball. Generally the location of these facilities is less dependent of the natural surroundings than other forms of recreation.
Heritage tourism is a fast growing segment of the tourism market that is oriented toward a cultural heritage experience. It involves visiting historic and cultural places and artifacts and engaging in activities associated with the people and places of the past. The overall purpose is to gain an appreciation for the stories and the people that had a part in forming history. Heritage tourism uses resources that already exist and in the way is a sustainable activity. Additionally, with the proper planning heritage tourism can help support the preservation of these resources.