May 2016: Economic Enterprise and Community Development

Perspectives from the Field, Part III
Throughout the 2016 seminar year, the LNJ staff  will ask two class members to reflect on their experiences following the monthly two-day seminars. The perspectives will change each month to include a wide spectrum of view points and expertise.

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2016-05-05 14.05.09(GCT- Bayonne Terminal)

LeadNJ 2016 Economic Enterprise and Community Development Seminar
May 5
-6, 2016
Jersey City, NJ 
By: Meishka L. Mitchell, AICP, PP

“We are not New York!” I wouldn’t call it a lightbulb moment, but this declaration is the first statement that I remember from our two-day seminar on Economic Enterprise and Community Development.

I wouldn’t call it a light bulb moment, but this declaration is the first statement that I remember from our two-day seminar on Economic Enterprise and Community Development.  As soon as it was uttered I knew exactly why it resonated with me.  It was because in Camden, the focus of my community development efforts, a similar disclaimer is often made—“We are not Philadelphia!”  And I immediately wondered whether New Yorkers or Philadelphians made similar disclaimers.  Or whether AS New Yorkers and Philadelphians they were secure enough to not have to compare themselves to anyone.

In New Jersey our identity as a state is more often built on what “we are not” than on the unique and special characteristics that make us “who we are”.

We are not North Jersey.”

We are not South Jersey.”

We are not like the rest.”

But in our differentiation, have we created an identity crisis?  An identity crisis that has left New Jersey with the richest town and poorest city in the country?  An identity crisis that pits small businesses against large corporations?  While I’m not sure that that question can ever be fully answered, it seems that New Jersey is always teetering on “crisis mode.”  As a state, New Jersey can take a lesson from economic enterprise, and attempt to provide an optimal environment (politically, economically, and socially) in a sea of competitive choices.

The Economic Enterprise and Community Development seminar covered a plethora of topics in an effort to understand how New Jersey is and should be evolving in this current era of dramatic change.  Perhaps now is the time for New Jersey to make its own identity.  An identity that is not hinged to another state, a negative set of misconceptions, or “Bridgegate”.  How can we (and how should we) take the lessons of economic enterprise and apply them to New Jersey?  How can we inspire a generation of innovative thinkers, provide them with the tools and capacity to succeed AND get them to stay?  To achieve this we need not only the tools discussed in Economic Enterprise and Community Development in New Jersey, but all of our seminars to date—education, diversity, inclusion, economic policy, government.  This seminar helped to weave some of the ideas of the former seminars into a more vivid image that I am sure we will continue to add to over the next few weeks.  Economic Enterprise and Community Development is a complex social phenomenon that requires a solutions-oriented systems approach that is much more that just numbers.

Despite all of the presentations, conversations, and discussion of this seminar, just like all of the preceding seminars, l left with more questions than answers. Will it soon be New Jersey’s time to be a state of “choice”?  Or will we continue to have to CONVINCE or citizens to stay?


IMG_3691.JPG(LNJ ’16 at the Liberty Science Center located in Jersey City, New Jersey)

Lead NJ –  Economic Enterprise and Community Development Seminar
April 2016
By: Jeremy Grunin

On May 5 and 6, the class of Lead NJ 2016 gathered in a Jersey City foreign to many of us.  For anyone that had not been to the city in a few years, the economic impacts of massive job growth in NYC since 2005 coupled with rising prices in neighboring Hoboken have clearly benefited Jersey City in a resurgence unparalleled in New Jersey.  The beautiful New Jersey City University School of Business Skyline Room presented the perfect venue to further discuss this revival as well as other economic issues throughout the state.

Jersey City Deputy Mayor Vivian Brady-Phillips welcomed the group and helped highlight for us just how this growth has taken hold.  As the fastest growing metro area in the state and the leader in housing starts, Jersey City will overtake Newark as the largest municipality in New Jersey in the not too distant future.  Jersey City has also become a leader within the state on other fronts including a raise of minimum wage to $15.00 for all municipal workers.  Perhaps, most interestingly, Jersey City is one of the three most diverse cities in the nation presenting an opportunity for a compelling study on urban redevelopment.

Jersey City Deputy Mayor Marcos Vigil got a bit more granular in a deeper dive around what makes the city tick.  72 different languages punctuate the city’s diversity with 52% of all households speaking a different language at home.  4.1% unemployment in the city further explains the 7000 residential units under construction as of last year.  City planning has been nimble enough to eliminate some residential in favor of commercial zoning especially in blighted areas with the help of state funding to incent growth in tough neighborhoods.  As a result, 300 new small businesses have opened in the last year.

James Hughes from the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and Lori Matheus (whose daughter I used to coach in soccer by the way!), Senior Vice President of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority gave us some of the raw data around growth in general around the state including 267,000 jobs being added over the last five years.  This comes at a time when New York City is also adding jobs at a rapid rate.  Lori in particular discussed the bevvy of services available to spur economic activity across the state making it clear that our current job growth is no accident.  One of course could always debate the quality of that job growth as only on quarter of our four million jobs are high paying, high skilled and white collar.

Our tour of the GCT-Bayonne Terminal and discussion of the economic impact of ports on New Jersey business illustrated one of the largest job sectors in the state…..manufacturing.  Not only are we running one of the largest ports in the country, but that translates to massive warehousing across the state.  The sheer volume of the port was on display as we looked at lots and lots of big boxes being moved around with equally big equipment.  I personally harkened back to my days of Legos, gone now for at least the last six months (maybe less).

Day 2 is where we really got down to brass tacks.  Building small business was the order of the morning as Doug Forrester and his son, Alex discussed what it takes to be successful and some of the mechanisms in place to help.  This includes a Jersey City non-profit called Rising Tide Capital which Alex runs with his wife (Dad is chairman of the Board).  Rising Tide had an interesting take on helping change economics of an urban neighborhood by giving micro-grants to local folks with big ideas, helping them build boutique businesses that often can elevate folks out of the cycle of poverty.

A great biotech discussion followed as Kamran Hashmi from the NJEDA went through a laundry list of grants and tax breaks available for emerging biotech companies while Marco Taglietti, President of Scynexis explained why he picked up and moved his biotech business from North Carolina to New Jersey.  Marco was the first speaker to really tackle the opportunities for improvement that New Jersey faces if we hope to flip the script on an exodus of business out of the state and in to more economically advantageous situations.

Dennis Bone, Director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State was joined by Mukesh Patel, the founder of JuiceTank.  JuiceTank is an incubator in Somerset New Jersey that is working hard to help identify and grow technology companies here in New Jersey.  Mukesh went through a blinding array of facts and statistics about the emergence of tech companies throughout the world and gave us a glimpse in to what might be on the horizon.

Our last speaker, Dr. Yana Rodgers from Rutgers University, had a little fun with us as we had a fact or fiction quiz on what we really knew about the minimum wage (hats off to Carmen Tierno and Michael Schmid who awed me with their voluminous knowledge on the topic).  This exercise helped dispel some of the myths about a rising minimum wage although no suburban area has had to endure yet a $15.00 an hour rate.

Overall, as always, the sessions were informative, thought provoking and at times, controversial.  Jersey City provided a shining example of what could be, but, most cities do not have the luxury of having the NYC skyline across the water.  So, what is the plan to replicate the growth of Jersey City across the state?  How do we build more incubators like JuiceTank, thereby keeping our smartest kids in the state building businesses and attracting others from outside the area?  How do we get companies like Scynexis to leave what is generally perceived as a more economically friendly climate out of state and instead call New Jersey home?

As my good friend Steve Ramiza so eloquently put it last month, I left Jersey City with “more questions than I came with”.  That being said, I was excited to see a resurgent Jersey City and felt some satisfaction that we were on the road to ultimately taking another city off the list of those that are distressed in our great state.  Now about Atlantic City…….


One thought on “May 2016: Economic Enterprise and Community Development

  1. Really enjoyed reading the commentaries because they echoed the need for the work we do every day in Einstein’s Alley. That work includes telling those who need to hear it around the world and in New Jersey about what a terrific place New Jersey is to do business especially for science/technology based companies.


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