Let’s Talk About the Real New Jersey, Minus the Housewives

July 20, 2009

Meet Lauren Olney, our Holy Cross intern this year.  Although Ms. Olney is well travelled and has lived in world-class cities as London, Toronto, and Rome, like S&A co-founder Jackie Condie she takes great pride in being – ahem — a Jersey Girl.   Ms. Olney believes the much maligned Garden State unfairly gets a bad rap and argues there is much more to New Jersey than storage tanks, strip malls, and nail salons. Here is Ms. Olney’s recommended PR positioning for the Garden State (We decided to let it slide that she chose to attend a college in Massachusetts). — S&A Staff


“New Jersey.”

What pops into mind when you see or hear the name? A vision less than flattering I bet… including smog and big poofy hair perhaps?

Now, imagine living there and telling out-of-staters. Imagine seeing their expression turn sour. Imagine meeting a man in Rome – who first asked if the state of Seattle was above New York – knowing people “no like New Jersey.”

Trust me, it’s not easy.

People have poor opinions of New Jersey, as the media often captures the dramatic, not qualifying, aspects of the state. Thus, the general public is left with several common misconceptions, leaving a lot to be desired of New Jersey’s reputation management skills.

Myth #1: “What people see in Newark is what the rest of NJ looks like”

New Jersey is not just factories and roads, but few people venture beyond the Turnpike or airport to see aspects like the twenty percent of Jersey’s productive farmland. Does the average American know that NJ ranks 2nd in blueberry production, 3rd in spinach, and 4th in bell peppers among many? Or that the state has the most horses per square mile? I once visited Central Jersey, and with open fields and large farms, and at first I had to ask if we were in the same state. Houses were modest, clothing choices were understated. Certainly, “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” featured nothing of the sort.

Myth #2: “New Jersey has the worst drivers in the country”

Despite what some people may think, New Jersey residents are tested the same as other states, and aren’t really the worst (sorry, New York.) New Jersey has the highest population density per square mile, thirteen times higher than the national average. That means everywhere, including roads, are more crowded. How does anyone expect us to be docile or forgiving on the road? To endure such a dense setting, one must anticipate and use survival-of-the-fittest maneuvering tactics. Hence explaining outbursts of aggression?

Myth #3: “Everyone from NJ is like The Soprano’s, or the Real Housewives”

“Joisey” accents, sprawling Vegas-like mansions, Italian-American family life, and criminal organizations are what these shows make New Jersey seem like. I (despite my dreams of being Italian) am a combination of Irish and Slovak heritage. My neighborhood also is very diverse, which isn’t unusual given that New Jersey ranks among the highest religiously and ethnically diverse states. There always has been a broad Italian base in Jersey, but the Asian-American population currently is the fastest growing in the state (and they aren’t in the Sopranos…?)

Myth #4: “Nobody from New Jersey is very smart”

Many people think that New Jersey residents are unintelligent. But it may be a surprising fact that NJ is tied for second with Massachusetts for the highest number of high school graduates that go to college, and placed sixth for percentage of residents who completed a Bachelor’s degree. With the statistics as back up, New Jersey is one of the smartest states.

Myth #5: “Nothing good ever happened in New Jersey”

New Jersey was once known as “the Crossroads of the Revolution” as it housed more battles than any colony during the Revolutionary War. Princeton became the nation’s capital for four months, and New Jersey became the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights. Among other New Jersey accomplishments, are the first drive in movie theater, Miss America pageant, brewery, can of condensed soup, submarine, boardwalk, and the first solid body electric guitar. Our state housed the first organized baseball game, first professional basketball game, and the first intercollegiate football game. Famous names such as Thomas Edison, Clara Barton, Grover Cleveland, Frank Sinatra, Stephen Crane, Paul Simon, Chelsea Handler, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and Derek Jeter were all from the state. Nothing good? The facts beg to differ.

So, please, the next time we tell you we’re from New Jersey, hold back the urge to give us the same, distinctive response. Our reputation needs to be improved by shedding more light on our positive attributes, because proudly, we have many. And, even though nobody likes us, there’s a reason why we have one of the lowest depression rates.

Instead, perhaps an old New Jersey state slogan says it best: “come see for yourself.”