From agritourism to brownfield restoration and transit-oriented development, New Jersey’s eight northern counties are pursuing a wide range of economic development approaches.
According to census data, Hudson County was New Jersey’s fastest growing county from July 1, 2014 to July 1, 2015, with a 0.8 percent growth in population, followed by Bergen County (0.6 percent) and Union County (0.5 percent). On the flip side, Sussex County saw its population drop more than any other county statewide (3.0 percent). Bergen remains the state’s most populous county, with nearly 1 million residents.
Widespread transportation connectivity in many of the state’s northern counties has helped spur new residential and commercial development. In fact, the hottest trend of all – mixed-use construction – combines the best of both worlds, with downtown revitalization efforts linked to transit-oriented development creating new residential units, businesses, jobs and ratables that contribute to desirable communities in which to live, work and invest. The many older cities of the state’s northern counties are benefiting from just that scenario. Here’s an overview of what’s new in development in Northern New Jersey.
Bergen may be the state’s most populous county, but it’s the steady stream of shoppers from throughout the region heading to local retailers that have helped make the county’s Borough of Paramus one of the top zip codes nationwide for retail sales. “07652” generates more than $5 billion in sales each year, an impressive feat considering Paramus retailers are closed on Sundays due to the county’s restrictive blue laws.
Beyond Bergen’s malls, the county is home to Mondelez International in Fair Lawn, maker of the world’s most popular cookie, the Oreo. Local soft drink favorite Yoo-hoo, created by the Olivieri family in Garfield, is currently made and bottled at the Yoo-hoo Chocolate Beverage Corporation in Carlstadt.
There’s more than shopping and sugar, however, that fuels Bergen County’s economy. A highly skilled workforce, outstanding colleges and universities, respected hospitals and medical centers, and close proximity to New York City are major attractions for marquee corporations like BD, Jaguar, Unilever, Samsung, Quest Diagnostics, Volvo, Sharp, Konica Minolta, LG Electronics and others that call the county home.
Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco notes the importance of public-private partnerships behind economic development efforts. “Bringing together the resources and talent of government, business and non-profit organizations benefits all of us,” Tedesco points out. “We are encouraging creative partnerships between our administration, private industry and the Bergen County Division of Economic Development (BCDED).”
The American Dream Meadowlands (formerly Xanadu) in East Rutherford has earned its share of headlines, good and bad, since construction began on the project in 2004. Current owner, Triple Five Group, best known for Minnesota’s Mall of America and the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada – the largest shopping complex in North America – is now moving ahead with a refocused effort prioritizing construction of retail components of the development (hundreds of retailers have already been confirmed) over the entertainment components.
Approximately 250,000 businesses are based in Bergen, and BCDED Director Joan Cimiluca does not take that for granted. Her goal is to have ongoing conversations with corporate CEOs, mayors, business administrators, site selectors and commercial real estate brokers each week. “What we want is to be part of a company’s or town’s growth, and to have a hand in it,” she states. “Their success is ours, too. We’ll do everything in our power to help them prosper.”
In a March interview published on law.com, Rockefeller Group Senior Vice President and Regional Development Officer Clark F. Machemer noted the importance of innovation and thinking outside the box when it comes to revitalizing New Jersey’s surplus of suburban office complexes. That focus has helped make the Rockefeller Group’s The Green at Florham Park, on the site of the 500-acre former Exxon/Mobil corporate campus in Florham Park, one of Morris County’s hottest properties.
A diverse group of neighbors includes the headquarters and training facilities of the NFL’s New York Jets. German chemical giant BASF relocated its headquarters to the property. Summit Medical Group is in the process of relocating to 100,000 square feet of space there as well.
Global pharmaceutical company Novartis, one of the county’s largest employers, has planned a $300-million investment to expand its campus on Route 10 in East Hanover. Further west, a new vision for the Ledgewood Mall in Roxbury will transform the property that served the heart of Morris County for more than 40 years. The formerly enclosed mall with interior corridors will be converted to The Shops at Ledgewood Commons, in what JV Partnership, the property’s current owner, has described as an “open air power center.”
The opening of the ShopRite of Greater Morristown on East Hanover Avenue in Cedar Knolls helped spur redevelopment of this commercial area from its former days of industrial and manufacturing businesses to today’s growing mix of service and retail. The county-owned Mennen Sports Arena, also on East Hanover Avenue, has contributed to the area’s reinvention with ice skating year round.
Meghan M. Hunscher, executive director of the Morris County EDC, says redevelopment of business corridors like Route 10 and East Hanover Avenue is critically important. “Keeping Morris County growing economically is a challenge with little undeveloped commercial space,” Hunscher points out. “With constraints on the availability and cost of land, we are seeing neglected properties being redeveloped.”
In Boonton, a grant from the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) is supporting the town’s efforts to secure a Transit Village designation by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). Madison and Chatham, both linked to the transit corridor through their NJ Transit rail stations, are also developing master plans designed to capitalize on this important asset.
Morristown, the county seat, has leveraged its designation in the Transit Village program to revitalize the area around the Morristown train station.
Much of Sussex County’s economic development activity has sought to capitalize on abundant green space and natural resources. Four-season tourism is big business, with the Mountain Creek ski resort in Vernon attracting winter sports enthusiasts during cold weather months. Lakes, streams, parks and forests, as well as farm stands and markets, draw visitors year round. Agritourism, including apple and pumpkin picking, wine tasting, microbrewery tours and more, emphasizes the county’s farming tradition.
Yet, the town of Newton, the Sussex County seat, is trying to strike a balance exemplified by its marketing tagline, “City Style. Country Cool.” Historically the center of the region’s industrial and manufacturing activity, Newton has aggressively pursued new businesses and a revitalization program for its downtown to attract both residents and visitors as well as new investment.
Through the designation of redevelopment zones located throughout the town, a suite of incentives designed to attract new investment, and a cooperative and collaborative approach to working with small business owners and large developers alike, Town Manager Thomas S. Russo, Jr. believes Newton has something for everyone when it comes to economic opportunities. Russo states, “There’s been a huge increase in inquiries this year, and several standout projects are anticipated to move forward in the months ahead.”
Headquartered in Newton, Thor Labs now has offices in several states as well as countries around the world – and annual sales of approximately $200 million. The optical company has plans to build a 200,000-square-foot office building to join its 140,000-square- foot corporate office on Sparta Avenue. Thor Labs owns several additional parcels of land in Newton that could be the location of the second building as the company continues to grow, with a decision expected by year’s end.
Krogh’s, a popular brewpub located on Lake Mohawk in Sparta, is expected to complete its application this spring for a brewing facility at a former industrial property on Paterson Avenue in one of Newton’s redevelopment zones.
The former McGuire’s Auto Dealership property, near the historic Newton Square, is the site of a planned mixed-use development that town officials consider vital to the downtown turnaround. Options include a hotel, retail and a parking garage that would complement and enhance recent improvements on Spring Street that are attracting boutiques and restaurants around the busy schedule of top national acts performing at the restored Newton Theater.
Commuter rail service will return to Sussex County after an absence of many years with the restoration of the Lackawanna Cutoff. Construction is underway that will extend the line from the Port Morris rail yards in Roxbury to a planned station in Andover Township. Commuter service could eventually extend more than 30 miles through Sussex and Warren counties on an abandoned rail line to Pennsylvania, and will connect to NJ Transit’s existing Morris & Essex lines and to Mid-Town Direct service to New York in Dover.
As of July 2015, the county’s total population was 143,673. Major employers include Crystal Springs Resort, Newton Medical Center, Mount Creek Resort, Selective Insurance, Ames Rubber and Raider Express.
Like its Sussex County neighbor, Warren County has made significant investments in promoting its natural beauty and open spaces to outdoor enthusiasts from throughout the region. In addition to highlighting agritourism opportunities, the county has embarked on a unique geotourism effort with the National Park Conservation Association and National Geographic as partners.
The Scenic, Wild Delaware River Geotourism Project will create a National Geographic Society co-branded interactive website of the upper and middle Delaware River region that identifies natural, cultural and historic attractions. The Warren County Economic Development Committee is encouraging residents, visitors, community organizations, tourism stakeholders and local businesses to nominate their favorites for potential inclusion on the site. Warren County is the gateway to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Delaware River, a regional destination that hosts millions of visitors each year, and generates more than $200 million in sales annually for area businesses.
The Warren County Board of Chosen Freeholders honored the 75th birthday of a beloved confection produced locally by proclaiming March as M&M’S Brand Chocolate Candies Month in Warren County. Mars Chocolate North America has its national office and plant in Hackettstown, and Freeholder Director Jason J. Sarnoski notes it is one of Warren County’s largest job creators with 1,200 employees in Hackettstown, in addition to 1,700 at four other facilities throughout New Jersey.
The redevelopment of nearly 400 acres in Phillipsburg and Lopatcong Township, including a brownfields site on the former Ingersoll Rand property in Phillipsburg, will move forward in 2016 after Medford-based Opus Investments agreed to purchase the property for $2.5 million in September. Plans call for the construction of a series of warehouses totaling more than 3 million square feet of business space in a multi-phased effort on the site, known as Commerce Park. At the time of the Fall 2015 announcement, proponents estimated that the project could generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in economic output annually by its expected completion in 2022, and nearly $4 billion within Warren County over the next decade.
In January, Union County Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen unveiled a comprehensive series of initiatives for 2016, entitled “One County, One Community” that highlighted economic development priorities including transportation, public safety, seniors, veterans, education, parks and environmental programs.
The “Move, Connect, Grow” program addresses one of Union County’s greatest assets, its transportation infrastructure, and establishes priorities including the completion of the county’s Transportation Master Plan, the continuation of an Infrastructure Grant program to support municipal road repaving projects, the creation of new bike paths, continued advocacy for the expansion of a one-seat train ride to New York City from Union County’s suburbs, and the construction of the new Gateway Tunnel project to improve rail capacity between Manhattan and New Jersey.
While changes at Simon Property Group’s The Mills at Jersey Gardens and other activity at the Turnpike 13A business complex have been in the spotlight, Elizabeth’s economic development initiatives don’t end there. Companies like FedEx, Seafrigo (a leading provider of cold storage warehousing, sea freight imports/exports and perishable air freight delivery), Toys “R” Us and Wakefern Food Corporation (the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the US) are benefiting from and contributing to Elizabeth’s economic revitalization through a program that takes underutilized properties and re-imagines their potential as shopping and business development areas. Marriott, Extended Stay America and Renaissance have all opened new hotels in the city as well.
The 2007 designation of Elizabeth, the Union County seat, as one of the state’s Transit Villages set the stage for the redevelopment of NJ Transit’s Midtown Station. Funded by state and federal contributions totaling $55 million, the station upgrade was called an “economic generator” for Elizabeth by public officials including US Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez at the 2015 unveiling. The project has spurred new development related to the station’s improvements and benefits residents and visitors through better service and convenience.
“Transportation enhancements, such as the revitalization of the Elizabeth Midtown Train Station, are transforming our municipality,” Mayor J. Christian Bollwage says.
The Elizabeth Destination Marketing Organization (EDMO), administered through the Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce (GECC), will continue the new marketing campaign it launched in 2015, featuring a data-driven strategy, sophisticated technology, plus distinctly Elizabeth messages and images designed to create excitement and interest in what the city has to offer.
The state’s largest city, which is celebrating its 350th anniversary this year, continues to be a center for economic development activity. Projects are changing Newark’s skyline, like the new 20-story Prudential office tower on Broad Street. Other projects that have recently been announced are adding to the buzz.
In March, Mayor Ras J. Baraka and County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced an agreement between the City of Newark, the County of Essex and the Essex County Improvement Authority to sell the Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium to the Lotus Equity Group for $23.5 million. Plans call for a mixed-use development featuring residential units above retail and restaurant components.
An agreement announced in March between the City of Newark, local land owners and developers will see the long-anticipated start of construction on a 22-acre parcel of land called Triangle Park that will link the area around the Prudential Center with the nearby Ironbound District and Newark Penn Station. The project will include recreational, retail and residential components as well as a greenway across Rt. 21 from Triangle Park to the Ironbound’s Peter Francisco Park.
Emphasizing Newark’s key location as a global transportation nexus, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced a $2.3-billion redevelopment plan at Newark Liberty International Airport to replace Terminal A (actually located in Elizabeth, Union County) part of a $16-billion initiative that also includes $35 million to support planning and design for the $23.9-billion Gateway Project to construct new tunnels and double rail capacity under the Hudson River, linking Manhattan and the Garden State, including Newark Penn Station.
St. Joseph’s Healthcare System, Passaic’s largest employer, continues to expand the delivery of a wide range of medical services through its comprehensive network of healthcare facilities in the county.
More than $100 million in transit hub tax credits approved by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) in 2013 are providing the support needed to advance plans for the development of a hotel and conference center plus a parking garage and other facilities on the site.
Named among the nation’s 150 Great Places to Work in Healthcare 2016 by Becker’s Hospital Review/Becker’s ASC Review, St. Joseph’s Healthcare System opened a state-of-the-art, $120-million Critical Care Building (CCB) on the medical campus in Paterson. A new $14-million, 32,000-square-foot cancer treatment center that premiered in Wayne in 2014 is helping St. Joseph’s provide advanced cancer care conveniently close to home for residents of Wayne and surrounding communities.
An innovative example of industrial redevelopment is the unique, multi-purpose facility at the former Okonite Factory in Passaic. In December, the Einhorn family celebrated the grand opening of the first phase of the Contempo Plaza project on the city’s east side, Factory 220, with 60,000 square feet of event space envisioned for corporate meetings, galas, conferences and more.
The power of the Great Falls inspired Alexander Hamilton to make Paterson our newly formed nation’s first industrial city. Today, Great Falls National Park, which includes both National Natural Landmark and National Historic Landmark District designations, is drawing visitors to the city for its natural beauty and historical significance and interest in the surrounding commercial district from developers who see opportunity in redeveloping Paterson’s urban core in the shadow of the Great Falls’ grandeur.
Two of New Jersey’s most prominent real estate development firms, Mack-Cali and the LeFrak organization, have been joined by other developers eager to capitalize on growing interest among Millennials, Baby Boomer empty nesters and retirees looking for great places to reside, work and play in the transit-connected communities along Hudson County’s Gold Coast.
Mack-Cali, which relocated its headquarters to Jersey City in 2015, continues to refocus its Harborside development in the city with new leasing opportunities in 2016 at residential towers like the 69-story, mixed-use URL Harborside and the nearby luxury M2 at Marbella. LeFrak broke ground in December for a 43-story residential tower at Newport Center that will add a new dimension to the largest mixed-use development in the world.
Dozens of additional projects under construction and in the planning stages are transforming multiple areas of the city beyond the waterfront and downtown areas. Proximity to both the Journal Square and Grove Street PATH train stations for New York City bound commuters, plus local tax abatements and significant consumer demand have made Jersey City one of the hottest real estate markets in the metro area.
Hudson County’s total population is 652,300. Major private-sector employers include Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Liz Claiborne, UBS Finance Services, United Parcel Service, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase. Its largest municipalities are Jersey City (population 254,441), Union City (67,744), Bayonne (63,024) and North Bergen (61,960).
The eight counties that comprise Northern New Jersey are poised for exciting growth, as they offer an array of opportunities for businesses and residents alike.