May 2018: Economic Enterprise and Community Development

2018 Perspectives from the Field
Throughout the 2018 seminar year, the LNJ staff will ask 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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Photo May 10, 11 58 26 AM
LNJ 2018 at Rutgers Business School in Newark for the Economic Enterprise and Community Development Seminar.

Lead NJ –  Economic Enterprise and Community Development Seminar
May 10 – 11, 2018
By: Heather Barberi

An hour ride on the train, a quick trip on the light rail, a short walk around the block and I had arrived at Rutgers School of Business in Newark for our fifth installment of the Lead NJ curriculum.  At first glance it might seem odd that we would descend on Newark for a seminar on economic enterprise and community development, historically, one of the nation’s most distressed cities.  However, New Jersey’s most populous city is beginning to see a resurgence.  A Whole Foods has moved into town, companies like Audible call Newark home, city parks are undergoing multimillion-dollar renovations, there’s a buzzing arts community, and it has made the top 20 list for Amazon’s next headquarters.  However, with all the flurry of activity, poverty in Newark still remains at a rate well above the national average and only 18 percent of the people who hold jobs in Newark actually live there.  How can a city that has such plans for growth uplift the people of Newark without moving or displacing them?  How can they create equitable development?

Par for the course, so many more questions emerged over our two days together.  Why do we make it so incredibly hard to start a company in NJ? We’re ranked 50th for places to begin a start-up, really? Year after year NJ has the worst tax climate for business in the US, what changes are coming? Why don’t we have more incubators?  Common themes from previous seminars also bubbled to the surface.  As Mukesh Patel, founder of JuiceTank pointed out, “As an old state, we continue to add layers to process and policies, instead of replacing them.”  Hmmm…this sounds familiar? I think Steve Wilkins said it best. “The conversation feels like déjà vu.  Déjà vu of our conversation on education.  Déjà vu of our conversation on budget and with the legislators.  How much pain do we have to endure before we actually make a change here in New Jersey.” Steve, I apologize for my scant paraphrasing attempt – but I have to say I was thinking the same thing.  When is it enough?

While I don’t want to gloss over the incredibly important topics we discussed or the remarkable speakers we had over the two-day time period, I’m limited to my 400-500 words.  Yes, I have to admit, I’m totally a rule follower and my introduction already took up close to 500 words (sorry, Jen!).  Therefore, I want to focus the rest of my word count on something I am incredibly passionate about – the arts.  Day two of the seminar opened up at NJPAC with a panel that included David Rodriquez, EVP & Executive Producer at NJPAC, Deborah Kasindorf, Interim Co-Director of Newark Museum, and Jeremy Johnson, Executive Director of Newark Arts.  While we learned about the impressive work of each of these organizations, the discussion really drilled down to how the arts are driving community development, economic development, and accessibility in the city of Newark.

According to Newark Arts, Newark’s nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $178,328,298 in annual economic activity, supports nearly 5,000 full-time equivalent jobs and creates an additional $15 million in local and state government revenues.  The two anchor institutions on the panel, NJPAC and the Newark Museum, surely are large contributors to this pot.  But beyond ticket sales and memberships, these organizations are doing much more to support and engage the community and drive inclusive economic development.  Wide-scale arts education programs (NJPAC spends over $10 million on arts education alone!), college prep programs, hosting of business events, film festivals, music festivals, cultural ambassadors, free memberships to the museum for Newark residents – the list goes on and on.  I was impressed with the inclusiveness of their programs and their desire to make art accessible to all Newark residents.  In addition, NJPAC is also a sponsor in the development of One Theater Square, a mixed-use residential and retail project.  You couldn’t miss the construction of the massive 22-story building as you walked into the theater.

Newark Arts, the umbrella organization for the arts community, really piqued my interest.  They’re bringing over 60 arts organizations to the table, large and small, along with community organizations, government, economic development groups, and Newark residents to drive change.  Jeremy discussed the ripple effect of the arts, and how as leaders in New Jersey that ripple effect is so important.  Investing in the arts leads to incredible change – communities and businesses thrive, residents are more engaged, and it creates an overall healthier community.  There are so many cases across the United States where cities are using the arts to help drive revitalization – Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Denver, St. Paul, Miami, and of course, the city of Newark.  A Princeton University working paper, on the impact of arts on the community, explains “The arts revitalize neighborhoods and promote economic prosperity. Participation in the arts improves physical and psychological well-being. The arts provide a catalyst for the creation of social capital and the attainment of important community goals.”

As one of the top 10 most vibrant arts cities in the United States, Newark is onto something.  Could the arts be the key to the complete resurgence of Newark?  Only time will tell, but what I can clearly see is that the arts is strengthening Newark’s community, driving the economy, and providing innovative and creative experiences for the masses.  Now, who’s in for an arts tour?



6 thoughts on “May 2018: Economic Enterprise and Community Development

  1. Excellent observations, Heather, and I fully agree! Recognition of the economic impact of the arts is long overdue in our society and it looks like Newark is getting it right! I’m also looking forward to the discussion next week that was proposed by Steven on how we can cut through the barriers that hold NJ back. See you all then!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great piece Heather! A wonderful summary of the seminar with an optimistic and exciting conclusion on how the arts can continue to drive much of the successful economic redevelopment of Newark.

    Liked by 1 person

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