County Executive Brian M. Hughes has acted on numerous issues since taking office and has focused on addressing those that are key in making Mercer County a great place to do business, raise a family and to visit. He has done it by creating opportunities to build on the region’s skilled workforce and by creating jobs through smart economic development. Quality of life is important in Mercer County, and Executive Hughes makes it a priority by delivering award-winning parks, recreation and libraries; by strengthening our airport and infrastructure; and by celebrating this county's colorful diversity. With the belief that a community prospers only when everyone has opportunity, the Hughes Administration has proudly aided people in their time of need, including our older adults, children and economically disadvantaged.
INITIATIVES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Mercer at Play. In July 2016, Hughes announced a second round of matching grants for the highly successful “Mercer at Play” program. Mercer at Play offers municipal governments an innovative way to promote active recreation in their communities. Through this program, the county subsidizes a variety of new recreational resources in the county’s 12 municipalities to help people improve their health while enjoying themselves outdoors. Projects funded under the program have been diverse and innovative, ranging from bocce courts in Robbinsville to a skate park in Princeton to a four-town project to redevelop 51 acres of the former Twin Pines Airport in Lawrence into athletic fields. Ewing and Lawrence have completed Mercer at Play projects under the second round of funding, and several other municipalities have projects under way.
"Direct Hire" agreement. The Hughes administration and the Mercer County Buildings & Construction Trades Council entered into an agreement in 2018 that allows the county to tap qualified men and women of the local union trades for specific projects or construction work on a temporary basis. Under the agreement, Mercer County will reach out to the Trades Council to provide from its ranks the works for a particular project, such as painters, plumbers or carpenters. Mercer County will temporarily hire the recommended workers to work in concert with the county's full- and part-time staff. Once the project is completed, the temporary hires will either be reassigned or terminated if that skill set is no longer needed. Among the terms and conditions of employment, wages are to be paid by the county and would be consistent with the most recent collective bargaining agreement for the trade in question.
Homelessness Reduction. Hughes announced during his 2018 State of the County address that every chronically homeless person the county and its partners identified in 2016 had a place to call home by 2017. In November 2016, the National Alliance to End Homelessness honored Hughes as a Champion of Change at its annual awards ceremony, "When a Child Has a Home," which spotlighted Mercer County's successes in ending child and family homelessness, and recognized Mercer as a model for other communities that are looking for proven ways to help some of our most vulnerable neighbors achieve better lives. Hughes credits Mercer's success to its partners: the City of Trenton, Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, Mercer County Board of Social Services and Catholic Charities. The Housing First and Rapid Rehousing programs have helped reduce family and long-term homelessness by about 70 percent since 2007.
Set-Aside Program. To provide small businesses with more opportunities to successfully participate in the county’s procurement processes, Hughes submitted to the Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2018 an ordinance establishing a Qualified Minority-, Women-, Veteran-owned Business or Small Business Set-Aside Program, which reserves 10 percent of the dollar value of all the county’s goods, professional services and construction contracts to be utilized for qualified businesses. Of that 10 percent, 30 percent is allocated for qualified minority businesses; 30 percent for qualified women-owned businesses; 30 percent for qualified veteran-owned businesses; and 10 percent for small businesses. The ordinance was adopted by the board in July 2018 and took effect immediately. The new Set-Aside Program makes it easier for qualified businesses to contract with the county, as it provides access to $70 million in procurement. An estimated $7 million worth of contracts will be available to eligible businesses as part of the new program.
Countywide vote-by-mail initiative. In the November 2018 election, more than 17,000 Mercer County voters submitted mail-in ballots, 16 months after the County Clerk’s Office announced a new vote-by-mail initiative aimed at encouraging voter participation by making voting more accessible and convenient. The program calls for vote-by-mail applications to be sent out with return postage to all registered Mercer County voters who have not already signed up to receive November General Election vote-by-mail ballots. Voters have the option of using the application to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot or to vote at their assigned poll. Participation in the program is free and completely optional.
Open space. The Hughes administration has been involved in preserving more than 5,000 acres of open space and farmland since 2004. Twenty percent of the County’s land area is now preserved.
Trenton-Mercer Airport. Trenton-Mercer Airport continues to serve residents of Mercer County and beyond as a center of transportation and economic growth. The success of Frontier Airlines since 2012 is emblematic of the airport’s unrelenting prominence as a regional powerhouse. Passenger growth increased 30.6 percent in 2017 over 2016, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). To meet the demand, the airport has created a development plan to build a new passenger terminal that will accommodate existing passenger capacity, provide modern amenities and support future passenger growth. An Environmental Assessment (EA) and preliminary design for a new terminal -- a process governed by the FAA -- is under way.
Stigma Free Mercer. In May 2018, Hughes marked Mental Health Awareness Month by announcing a yearlong campaign by his administration to combat stigma associated with mental illness and addiction, and to support those who are impacted. Hughes invited the public to join the campaign by filling out a pledge form posted on the Mercer County website, and encouraged the county’s 12 municipalities to adopt resolutions declaring their commitment to increasing awareness and understanding of mental illness and reducing stigma and discrimination. By April 2019, the governing bodies of every Mercer County municipality had done so through a resolution or proclamation.
Valley Road Bridge. The rehabilitated historical truss superstructure from the Old Bear Tavern Road Bridge – also known as the Jacobs Creek Bridge – found a new home atop a bridge carrying Valley Road over Moore’s Creek in Hopewell Township. The truss was restored as part of the Mercer County Department of Transportation and Infrastructure’s $1.4 million contract with State Line Construction Co. of Newark to rehabilitate the Valley Road Bridge, located near the Howell Living History Farm. The bridge was completed and opened to traffic in November 2018.
Property Information Portal. A Mercer County initiative to create a Property Information Portal -– a Web application that gives citizens and government staff one place to find and view property records kept by different county departments -– was announced by Hughes in March 2016 at the annual Mercer County Economic & Technology Summit held at Rider University. The portal has a map search for records that are tightly tied to tax parcels, but also a text search function for documents that cannot be located on a map.
Economic Summit. Approximately 120 people registered for 13th annual Economic Summit in March 2018 that was presented in partnership with the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. The annual summit spotlights business opportunities in all 12 Mercer municipalities and provides a forum for discussion on building public-private partnerships. The 2018 event, held at The Boathouse at Mercer Lake, included the second annual Mercer County Economic Impact Awards recognizing outstanding businesses in the county -- and, for the first time, an outstanding nonprofit. The winners were Mercer Management and Development, NAI Fennelly and UIH Family Partners.
Job creation. Small-business loans and One-Stop Career Center are putting people back to work or re-training workers with new skills. Over the next 10 years, Mercer County is projected to add about 19,000 jobs, or about 7 percent of all new jobs statewide. A total of 19 of the top 21 occupational groups in the county are reported as growing or stable. Mercer County ranked fifth in New Jersey for highest weekly wages based on figures from the second quarter of 2018.
Veterans Services. Since 2004, Mercer County has received for veteran services more than $15 million from the federal government and has served nearly 1,600 clients. This money goes directly back to veterans who have filed claims with the Veterans Administration. The county sponsors an annual donation drive for holiday meals that has averaged more than $11,000 per year, equaling more than 1,000 meals for veterans and their families. Mercer County was honored at the November 2016 Veterans Day ceremony with a special presentation from the State of New Jersey Order of the Purple Heart as a veteran-friendly county -- the first county in New Jersey to receive the honor.
The Mercer County Library System. The top-shelf library system earned another prestigious five-star rating from the monthly publication Library Journal in 2018. It was the 10th five-star rating for the Mercer County Library System, which ranked among the nation’s best libraries for the 11th consecutive year. MCLS was the only public library in New Jersey to receive a five-star designation within its budget category, where it placed seventh out of 30 libraries nationwide. Five measures of the service libraries deliver to their communities were used to determine this year's ratings: overall circulation, circulation of electronic materials, library visits, program attendance and public Internet use. From January through November 2018, more than 1.2 million people visited the Library System's nine branches. Adult programs were attended by more than 23,000 people and youth programs by more than 142,000.
Small Business Development Center. Mercer County partners with the Small Business Development Center at The College of New Jersey to provide year-round business counseling programs in both English and Spanish. In 2017-2018, the SBDC English program organized 41 events that were attended by 724 business owners/managers; counseled 812 individuals; assisted in adding 70 businesses to the Mercer County bid list; helped create 59 start-up businesses; and helped with more than $15 million in capital infusion. For the Latino program, the county has contracted with the SBDC over the last five years to assist in the growth and economic development of the Latino small-business community. In 2017-2018, the SBDC’s Latino Business Center held 37 workshops with 337 attendees; counseled 238 individuals; and conducted 14 walking tours that visited and introduced SBDC and small-business services to more than 400 businesses at their locations. In addition, the SBDC counseled more than 150 high-growth clients (over $1 million in revenue and/or over 10 employees). In the spring of 2017, the center launched NJEMPRESARIO.com for online small-business start-up training in Spanish with videos, lesson modules, PowerPoints and handouts.
Mercer County Buy Local. The county has worked to support and promote “Buy Local” campaigns throughout the region. The county advertised on behalf of local independent businesses and created several web pages to offer information on the importance of shopping local.
Mercer County Loan Fund. Administered by the Regional Business Assistance Center in Hamilton (NJ), the Loan Fund provides up to $250,000 to start or expand a business. Since the Loan Fund’s inception in 2000, 886 Mercer County jobs have been created or retained and 71 percent of those businesses were either women- or minority-owned.
Tourism. Studies have shown that tourism has been an economic asset for this region and has the potential to be an even greater economic driver. Tourism expenditures in Mercer County and the region have continued to trend upward. In January 2018, the Freeholder Board approved a two-year, $30,000 contract with the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce that focuses on leveraging and promoting Mercer County's tourism assets in an effort to realize its full economic potential. PRCC previously had this contract from 2015-2017. This tourism campaign, done in conjunction with the Mercer County Office of Economic Development, has included signage, billboards, promotional spots at Princeton University athletic events and a new website, www.visitmercercounty.com.
Mosquito Control. The Mosquito Control Unit performed more than 500 inspections in 2018, applying larvicide treatments countywide on 372 acres of land. Adulticide treatments covered approximately 2,600 acres of land and 18 applications were conducted throughout the county. The Mosquito Control Unit completed 78 water management projects throughout the county in 2018, including deconstructing beaver dams, and unclogging ditches and detention basins. The unit collected more than 350 tires from abandoned piles, residents needing assistance and routine inspections.
Shelter supply trailers. In February 2018, the Freeholder Board approved a resolution authorizing an agreement to allow Lawrence Township to receive shelter a supply trailer that the Mercer County Office of Emergency Management purchased using Homeland Security grant money. Shelter supply trailers, each of which contains 180 cots and blankets, previously were provided to Ewing and Hamilton and 2016; and Princeton, Robbinsville and Trenton in 2017. The trailers will boost local municipalities' ability to provide shelter for their residents during large-scale emergencies. These municipalities were selected to receive the trailers based on recommendations by the Mass Care Committee, which was established following Superstorm Sandy in 2012 to help the county and its communities be better prepared for future emergencies.
Interoperability Project. In 2015, additional Homeland Security grant funds were used to upgrade and enhance the new countywide interoperable radio system that was completed in August 2014. The interoperable system allows allow emergency services (police, fire, EMS, sheriff, local hospital emergency operations and all colleges) to communicate with one another on the same radio channels. The radio system is a regional communications “backbone” for first responders in Mercer County. The new system will save tax dollars and could save lives. Initially, more than $1 million of federal Homeland Security grant funds went toward this project. The final cost for the trunked radio system came in at $5,891,857, which was $185,742 under budget.
MERCER COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE
University Center. In November 2018, Mercer County Community College held a groundbreaking ceremony for its University Center project. The $8.4 million, 15,000-square-foot University Center will be an extension of the existing Fine Arts Building. The facility will be occupied by MCCC's five University Center partners -- William Paterson, Rutgers, Felician, Fairleigh Dickinson and Wilmington universities -- and will offer four-year bachelor's degrees on the MCCC campus. The project was made possible through funding from the Mercer County Freeholder Board and the Office of County Executive Brian M. Hughes. This project will help meet the goals established by the Mercer County Partnership for Educational Attainment and increase the percentage of Mercer County residents who have attained a college degree.
Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory. In October 2017, MCCC cut the ribbon on a $1.2 million Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory on the West Windsor Campus that will integrate cutting-edge technology with hands-on experience in a growing field. This was the first major construction project on the West Windsor Campus since the West Windsor Welcome Center was built in 2009. Funding was made possible through the Building Our Future Bond Act, which was approved by voters in 2012.
Trenton Hall Annex. In April 2017, MCCC officially opened the Trenton Hall Annex, a modern, three-story building focusing on high-tech career opportunities at the college's James Kerney Campus in downtown Trenton. The Trenton Hall Annex feature state-of-the-art technology, with classrooms to provide instruction for the new Security Systems Technology and Cyber Security programs, as well as space for existing programs for the Certified Nurse Assistant, Phlebotomy and EKG Technician prep. The building is connected to the recently renovated Trenton Hall, which opened in 2012.
Route 130 Connection. In August 2016, the Route 130 Connection bus line was expanded to provide access to MCCC’s West Windsor Campus from the East Windsor/Hightstown area. The collaborative effort by the college, Mercer County and the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association (TMA) aims to increase opportunities for students to participate in higher education.
Service to student veterans. In December 2016, MCCC was named the No. 1 military-friendly school among all two -year colleges in the nation by Victory Media, a provider of informational resource material to U.S. active duty military personnel, veterans and spouses. During the college's 2016 Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony, the New Jersey Military Order of the Purple Heart presented MCCC with a proclamation in recognition of being named a Purple Heart Community College -- the first two-year college in New Jersey to receive the designation.
Mercer County Fire Academy. The Fire Academy, which is directed by MCCC at Dempster Fire Service Training School in Lawrence, held a dedication ceremony in June 2017 to celebrate recent upgrades to the residential burn building and drill tower, and the installation of a 40-foot hazmat tanker prop and eight additional propane-fueled props that allow firefighters to train on fire suppression strategy and tactics. .
MERCER COUNTY IMPROVEMENT AUTHORITY
Wire Rope redevelopment project (Block 3). In October 2017, HHG cut a ribbon to officially open Roebling Lofts, which is Phase 1 of the mixed-use development encompassing the entire 6.8-acre Roebling Center site, bound by Route 129, Hamilton Avenue, Clark Street and Elmer Street. Roebling Lofts is a four-story building that offers 138 one- and two-bedroom lofts, ranging from 759 square feet to 1,553 square feet. The Roebling Center development will consist of six buildings with 190 lofts, 200,000-plus square feet of creative class office space, and four restaurants.
NJ Realtors project. NJ Realtors in September 2016 cut the ribbon on its new headquarters directly across from the Cure Insurance Arena at the corner of South Broad Street and Hamilton Avenue. The NJR headquarters had been in Edison for the past 30 years, but the association relocated its 18 full-time staffers to the state capital so they can more effectively influence regulation and legislation related to their industry. NJR purchased the county-owned plot and built a 20,000-square-foot building to house its headquarters and a retail space.
HONORS AND AWARDS
MCCC Presidential Award. In April 2017, Mercer County Community College presented Hughes and his father, the late Gov. Richard Hughes, with a Presidential Award in honor of MCCC's 50th anniversary. The award reflects Hughes' strong support for the college and the 50-year legacy of his father in creating the community college system.
Champion of Change Award. In November 2016, the National Alliance to End Homelessness honored Hughes at its annual awards ceremony, “When a Child Has a Home,” which spotlighted Mercer County's successes in ending child and family homelessness and recognized Mercer as a model for other communities that are looking for proven ways to help some of our most vulnerable neighbors achieve better lives. Hughes credits Mercer's success to its partners, the City of Trenton, Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, Mercer County Board of Social Services and Catholic Charities.
County Executives of America. In June 2016, Hughes was elected to a two-year term as President of the County Executives of America (CEA), a national, non-partisan organization representing chief elected county officials across the United States. His term began July 1, 2016. The Washington, D.C.-based CEA consists of more than 700 county or city-county governments across the nation and is tasked with representing the county executive form of government before the U.S. Congress, the White House and the departments of the Federal Government. CEA also works with private sector business leaders to create economic opportunities for its members’ local communities.
Government Champion. In May 2016, Hughes, along with Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, was honored as a Government Champion by the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness for his commitment to ending veteran homelessness. Responding to First Lady Michelle Obama’s challenge to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, Mercer County had become the first county in New Jersey to find shelter for every veteran on the street.
Trailblazer Award. In October 2015, Hughes received the third annual Trailblazer Award from the Lawrence Hopewell Trail Corporation for his long-standing commitment to the development and viability of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail.
Dress for Success. In October 2015, Dress for Success Mercer County honored Hughes for his steadfast support of the organization, which provides workforce counseling, professional attire, a network of support, and career development tools to help disadvantaged women thrive in work and in life. Other 2015 honorees were Dress for Success board member William Harla; Lorraine Holcombe, VP and CFO, Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce; and Ernst & Young, LLP.
Lord High Admiral Award. Hughes received the Lord High Admiral Award from the Delaware & Raritan Greenway in June 2015 for his leadership in creating the Tulpehaking Nature Center at Abbott Marshlands in Hamilton, which opened in October 2014. The event took place at the Watson Woods picnic area and was part of the eight-day Delaware River Sojourn. The title of Lord High Admiral has been awarded by the Sojourn since 1997 to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to protect the health of the Delaware River and its environs.
Distinguished Community College Spirit Award. Hughes received the Distinguished Community College Spirit Award from the New Jersey Council of County Colleges in June 2015 for embodying the community college spirit: perseverance, dedication and excellence, and for his statewide advocacy efforts in support of New Jersey’s community colleges.
NJAC Conference Workshop. In May 2015, Hughes led a professional development workshop on ending homelessness during the final day of the New Jersey Association of Counties’ (NJAC) 65th annual conference in Atlantic City. Hughes was part of a four-person panel discussing the topic “Ending Homelessness While Saving Money: Models from Mercer, Bergen and Atlantic Counties.” He spoke about Mercer County’s recent success in reducing family homelessness, for which the county has received national recognition.
Rebovich Leadership Award. Hughes received the Rebovich Leadership Award at a March 2015 gala hosted by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur and Michele Siekerka, president of the NJ Business and Industry Association also received awards. Proceeds from the gala support scholarships for students in unpaid political internships and civic programming at Rider.
Grand Marshal. Hughes embraced his own proud Irish heritage by serving as Grand Marshal in the Jersey City One Block Parade on St. Patrick’s Day 2015. The parade honors a Jersey City police detective who was killed in the line of duty.
Engineering Project of the Year. In February 2016, the Engineering Division was honored by the Professional Engineers Society of Mercer County with its Project of the Year Award for the Bear Tavern Road and Jacobs Creek Road bridge replacements, which were completed simultaneously in September 2014, restoring mobility and continuity to the area. Also, the dual project received an Honor Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies at the organization’s annual Engineering Excellence Awards Banquet in March 2015 in Monroe, and a National Recognition Award at ACEC’s 2015 Engineering Excellence Awards Gala in April 2015 in Washington, D.C.