When you crunch the numbers, New Jersey may not technically be at the top of the “Best Places to Do Business” list, especially with its recently enacted top-end corporate-tax rate of 11.5 percent, legislation enacted to raise the minimum wage and the state’s lofty cost of living. However, the Garden State has an array of advantages that are highly appealing to businesses, such as: state tax incentives; relatively easy access to capital; proximity to international business hub, New York City; and status as a center for the life sciences industry.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, New Jersey workers also earn higher-than-average wages – $1,262 per week, compared to the $1,109 national average. Also, the state’s highly educated workforce has become more diverse with each passing year, a notable draw for global corporations – particularly those in business/finance and information technology.
“The talent that has helped us grow so quickly came from this area, so that’s one of the reasons why we operate in New Jersey,” says Suuchi Ramesh, founder and CEO of Suuchi Inc., a B2B apparel manufacturer and technology company headquartered in North Bergen. “It’s also a key location for us because the tri-state area is key for fashion, so it provides easy access and exposure to [related] events.”
Suuchi, located in New Jersey since its founding in May 2016, has gone from a small team of five to more than 150 employees, the majority of whom are New Jersey natives. The company’s Hudson County location allows easy access to the Garment District in New York for sourcing and sample-making, as well as the network of micro-factories Suuchi partners with throughout the region. “Most importantly, it allows us to have access to a diverse talent pool,” Ramesh says. “These three advantages New Jersey provides us with have been crucial to our hyper-growth and success over the past three years.”
Mars Incorporated, which is headquartered in McLean, Virginia, opened its first New Jersey location in 1941 in Newark, where M&M’S candies were born as military rations. In 1958, the operation moved about 40 miles west to its current location in Hackettstown, where the U.S. headquarters of Mars Wrigley Confectionery remains today, with Mars Global Services headquarters opening in Mount Olive in 1980s, and the Mars Retail Group headquarters opening in Mount Arlington in the 2000s. Additionally, in 2007, Mars acquired Banfield Pet Hospitals, the largest privately owned veterinary practice in the United States with more than 800 clinics, 53 of those located across New Jersey. All told, Mars Inc. employs more than 2,900 associates at these various New Jersey-based facilities, a number that’s sure to grow when a new Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S. Market Hub office opens in Newark in 2020.
“We have found many benefits of doing business here – from access to talent through New Jersey’s large population, world class universities and network of top companies and industry leaders,” says Alison Mulligan, Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S. workplace strategy director.
Since its founding in 1875, Prudential Financial has been deeply tied to its home city of Newark, investing more than $1 billion to enhance civic infrastructure, such as the construction of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Prudential Center; boosting the economy and job market through investments in companies like AeroFarms and new startup accelerator Newark Venture Partners; and improving educational outcomes for Newark students by supporting charter schools. Prudential, whose employees now number 9,195, continues to support established sectors that benefit the community, such as affordable housing, renewable energy and agriculture.
New Jersey is also home to Audible, the world’s largest producer of downloadable audiobooks, which became part of the Amazon family of brands in 2008. The company left suburban New Jersey and moved its headquarters to Newark’s Washington Park neighborhood in 2007, “embracing the comeback of a great American city as a defining cultural principle for the company,” says Colin Newman, the company’s vice president global public policy and community affairs. In the 12 years since, Audible has expanded from 125 to almost 1,500 employees and remains committed to New Jersey – and Newark, in particular – in its many programs and expansion plans.
“It offers an educated, entrepreneurial workforce; an unparalleled location, 18 minutes by train from Midtown Manhattan and a shorter drive to Newark Liberty International Airport; 10 Gbps broadband speed; and energy generated by Newark’s more than 40,000 college students, as well as proximity to world-class universities,” Newman says.
Then there’s New Jersey’s largest employer, Wakefern Food Corp., the merchandising and distribution arm for its cooperative members and brands: ShopRite, Price Rite Marketplace, the Fresh Grocer and Dearborn Market.
Headquartered in Keasbey, Wakefern operates more than 4 million square feet of warehousing – much of it located in New Jersey – and the cooperative comprises 50 members that independently own and operate 354 supermarkets. In addition to Wakefern Food Corp.’s 3,700 associates, the cooperative members employ more than 80,000 people in their stores. Those same cooperative members and their companies often represent several generations of grocery store operators in New Jersey and the region.
“Wakefern Food Corp., which turns 73 this year, has a long history in New Jersey,” says Karen Meleta, vice president, consumer and corporate communications for Wakefern. “From a small supermarket cooperative that got its start in Newark with eight local grocery store owners, Wakefern has grown into the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the United States.”
Wakefern, Mars, Suuchi and Audible are not only firmly entrenched in New Jersey as employers, but each company has found ways to give back to the state as well as the communities in which they operate. Some examples of Wakefern’s philanthropic activities include: sponsoring the Special Olympics New Jersey Games and providing logistical and volunteer support for the annual event that attracts more than 1,800 athletes and 20,000 attendees; the ShopRite Partners In Caring program that has donated $48 million to more than 2,200 local hunger-fighting charities and regional food banks since 1999; and a title sponsorship of the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer, which has included $31 million in donations over the past 26 years to local organizations, hospitals and community groups in the state.
Wakefern also supports sustainability efforts in many of its ShopRite locations through the use of energy-efficient glass doors on refrigerator and freezer cases, conservation lighting, and low-flow faucets. Many ShopRite stores eliminate waste by composting and donating fresh food to local food banks and enlisting “Green Teams” of store associates who volunteer to help make the stores more sustainable. In addition, ShopRite conducts a community Earth Day Challenge each April, when Wakefern and ShopRite provide complimentary cleanup kits to volunteers to beautify their communities, beaches and rivers.
Prudential has a long-established tradition of helping local citizens and businesses, investing in an affordable housing project in Newark during the Great Depression, while its farm and home mortgage business helped many customers avoid foreclosure. After World War II, a newly established loan department provided financing to small- and medium-sized enterprises – many of which still exist in some form today – and Prudential continues to invest in downtown redevelopment projects, including retail businesses and affordable housing, while also supporting anchor institutions like the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and Rutgers University.
For Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S., giving back is about sponsoring the St. Patrick’s Day and Downtown Halloween parades in Hackettstown each year, and partnering with the City of Newark to host an annual Halloween celebration where free costumes and candies are provided to community members. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Mars donated $150,000 to the NJ Sandy Relief Fund, and Mars associates remain active in their communities, working through Mars volunteer programs such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Hackettstown Rotary Club, and the Joan Knechel Cancer Center.
Suuchi has had an economic impact on Hudson County, where it employs hundreds of local residents. “Through training these residents, we are equipping them with advanced manufacturing skills that they can take with them and apply to different industries,” Ramesh says. “With our current and projected growth, we will be able to continue teaching, certifying and employing hundreds more in our local communities. We are proud to provide our residents with the skills to continue growing within Suuchi Inc., or to carry throughout their various careers.”
Meanwhile, Audible has made no secret of its commitment to Newark, hiring Newark residents across the organization, running a paid internship for high school students from Newark, and encouraging employees to live, dine and attend events in the city, including through a housing stipend for any employee living in Newark. The company has also worked with 20,000 actors in the last five years in its state-of-the-art Newark studios and elsewhere.
“Audible subsidizes employees living in Newark and eating lunch at neighborhood restaurants, and provides free tickets to concerts at NJPAC and the Prudential Center, and Devils and Red Bulls games,” Newman says. “All of this is part of Audible’s ethos of working, serving, living and playing in Newark.”
Poised for Future Growth
Expansion is another way these companies are supporting New Jersey’s business community and demonstrating an ongoing commitment to the state. Suuchi received a $37-million tax credit from the state as part of the Grow New Jersey initiative, which will allow the company to move its headquarters to a larger facility over the next two-and-a-half years, creating a minimum of 500 new jobs.
Besides adding to its existing operations in Hackettstown over the next few years, Mars announced in 2017 it would invest in a new office in Newark, which “will allow Mars to keep driving growth within the state and position Mars to retain and attract talent for our continued success,” Mulligan says. The Newark office is scheduled to open in 2020.
Prudential also continues to expand its financial and social commitment to Newark and the surrounding community. In 2015, the company unveiled the new Prudential Financial tower, a 20-story, $444-million glass office building that added about 1,000 positions to its Newark-based operation. And Prudential also led a public-private partnership to redevelop Newark’s iconic Hahne & Co. building, a mixed-use property that opened in January 2017 and includes 160 apartment units, of which 65 are affordable units; a Whole Foods; and other stores and spaces.
Wakefern’s Meleta also emphasizes her company’s commitment to its “home base” of New Jersey, where it is always looking for possible new locations. In the last five years, the company has helped open 40 stores in the Northeast, as well as a new, state-of-the-art grocery warehouse in Elizabeth – one of five New Jersey-based warehouses – along with several corporate offices.
And Audible has big plans in its home city of Newark, where it is now the fastest-growing private employer. In 2015, Audible established Newark Venture Partners, a $45-million venture fund that has invested in more than 50 companies with the goal of attracting “the next dozen Audibles” to grow Newark’s tech ecosystem. The company is also significantly expanding its footprint with the renovation of a long-vacant historic church that will house 400 technologists, designers and other employees. Adds Newman, “When it reopens this year, this stunning Newark landmark will launch a new chapter in Newark’s rich history of innovation.”
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