EAST RUTHERFORD - The recently enacted Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 (EO13) provides powerful tools for attracting companies to the Garden State, but how do we convince the talented young professionals, which employers seek, to choose New Jersey?
"As New Jersey continues to struggle with the changes necessitated by superstorm Sandy and our aging infrastructure, we are also faced with a major demographic shift - a rising tide of millennials that will soon dominate the economic and planning decisions we make," said Michael G. McGuinness, CEO of NAIOP New Jersey, the commercial real estate development association. "Their wants and needs are very different as to where and how they want to work and live.
"Our panelists tonight are already surfing those waves of change, taking a fresh approach to developing places, buildings and companies where people want to be."
Responding to a question from discussion leader Jonathan Kushner of The KRE Group (which is known for office, industrial and multi-family development) on what drew them to New Jersey to begin with, "the ability to attract people from Bell Labs," responded Don Katz, CEO of Audible, who holds the patent for the downloadable audiobook. "That, and the fact that so many companies in New York's Silicon Alley were going belly-up - we wanted to stay away from that."
Based in Newark, "to which we're totally committed," his company has 11 other locations, but continues to grow in New Jersey. He noted his company's social commitment to Newark, including "engaging inner city kids as interns."
For Nick Chasinov, CEO of Teknicks, a Bay Head, N.J.-based interactive enhancement agency (mobile, search engine optimization, social media marketing, etc.), his Central New Jersey location may have made it more difficult to attract experienced talent, but it also provided the opportunity to "do things outside the box," including employee benefits that have won the company "best place to work" honors. "We're getting new resumes every day," he said.
For Mayor Steven Fulop of Jersey City, incentives are just part of the task. "We have to get over the stigma of Jersey City, and we are making things easier." He noted that his city is launching a $1 million marketing program. The target: 60- to 100-employee firms in New York City that are "under the city's radar."
Enter the millennials. With a New Jersey workforce that's aging, "how do you attract young talent?" Kushner asked panelists. According to Katz, most job creation now is technology-oriented and "too many jobs are going across the river." New Jersey advantages include lower rents, and the fact that "Broad Street in Newark is closer to Manhattan" than say, Brooklyn. While admitting that "employees don't want to live in Newark just yet, that could change because a lot of good stuff is happening." Step one: "We are attracting a lot of talented employees from outside Newark."
Teknicks' approach, according to Chasinov: "We are working directly with colleges and New Jersey's schools offering career counseling. We are looking for persona to fit our culture, and we are seeing a good pipeline of candidates."
In the wake of EO13, "what can ‘Trenton' do," asked Kushner.
"For the next four to five years, put the emphasis on attracting early-stage businesses and create the environment to accomplish that," responded Chasinov.
"Create incentives to bring companies back into the state-seek reinvestment by those who have left," said Katz. "Trenton should also stop this well-meaning idea of moving companies from one place in New Jersey to another while creating no new jobs. We need to invest at the beginning of the cycle like the Japanese do by creating a culture to fund start-ups. "
"Trenton should focus on transportation and a lot of ‘little' things, like offering film credits," said Fulop. "How the urban centers fare is indicative of how well the state will do, and mass transportation is especially important. It is something the state has neglected."
More emphasis needs to be placed on education, said Katz, who said that "the charter school experiments in Newark are a national example. The result is highly educated kids from the streets of Newark - and we have to keep them in Newark."
For Fulop, the impact of government can't be understated. "One bad administration can do massive damage to progress, and a good administration will take much longer to rebuild," he concluded.
The program also included a briefing by attorney Kevin Moore of Sills Cummis & Gross on the recent decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court upholding the Appellate Division's decision overturning the Third Round Rules of COAH and invalidating the non-residential and residential growth share methodology of those rules.
"For now, there will be no residential or non-residential growth share, but the Court left open the option for the legislature to amend the Fair Housing Act to permit some form of growth share approach," said Moore. "For now, the rules are gone, but could come back if the legislature passes such legislation and the governor approves it."
"We will continue working with the legislature and the governor to reform the way New Jersey funds affordable housing to ensure that it is sustainable and does not tax jobs and kill projects," said McGuinness.