Newark’s Collaboration During Amazon RFP Process Should Continue

The collaboration that put together the Amazon HQ2 RFP to hopefully attract 50,000 jobs to the city is what Newark needs to further advance economic development. This was the general consensus during a panel discussion at the Newark Regional Business Partnership’s annual Regional Economic Outlook, held last week at the Best Western Robert Treat Hotel.

Aisha Glover, president and CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, said that organizations and individuals threw a tremendous amount of support, time, energy and resources (money) to make sure Newark had the strongest application to submit to Amazon. “The collaborative effort was needed and it was across all sectors, and it was very diverse. We saw industries coming out of the woodwork with people saying, ‘This is where Amazon needs to be.’”

Nicole Alexander, director, professional & business development at the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLC, added that if Amazon does select Newark as its second headquarters site, an integration and collaboration of so many industries will continue to be needed. “It will be collaboration among banking, transportation, energy, legal, construction services and more,” she said. “If we forget the need for collaboration among all these industries, we are going to forget the backbone of American culture and what is sustaining us right now.”

On October 16, the state determined that Newark is the ideal location for Amazon’s second headquarters and that it would attract the company with, among other incentives, $7 billion in potential tax credits.

The NRBP event was held the day of Amazon’s RFP deadline. Melissa Orsen, CEO of the New Jersey Economic development Authority (EDA), a speaker at the event, commented that Newark is a natural fit for Amazon’s needs, with its central location in a bustling economic region. “The city is also a growing technology hub with an ecosystem that offers remarkable talent, the presence of world-class institutions of higher education, convenient  transportation options, and a multitude of cultural amenities. The fact that the city has the fastest internet connectivity in the country is a big plus. Newark is the heart and soul of the most diverse state in the US,” she said.

Speaking on the behalf of other New Jersey towns and the entire Amazon RFP process, Orsen added, “Over the last month leading up to the identification of Newark as the ideal place, the EDA has had the opportunity to work with counties and municipalities all over the state about the merits of their proposed sites. While some were clearly better a match than others in meeting the requirements for the RFP, there was one thing that stood out in all of the proposals and in all the conversations that we had … it was the tremendous pride with which each person presented the merits of their respective site.

“Whether or not Amazon chooses New Jersey, this exercise has been both an eye opener and a boost to our collective competence.  It is safe to say that state’s urban areas have a lot to be proud of in terms of development over the last several years,” she said.

Since Governor Christie took office in 2010, the EDA has supported nearly 40 projects in Newark, totaling more than $2.2 billion in private investment. This equates to “the creation of 5,000 new jobs, 11,000 construction jobs and the retention of nearly 2,000 jobs that were at risk of leaving the city,” Orsen said.

Separately, discussing the regional economy, Dr. Alexander Heil, chief economist of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, asked, “When will the next recession come?”

He said the range of GDP growth between recessions has decreased, explaining that “if you go back to the 1980s, there was much more room between the low end of [GDP] growth and zero percent growth, which would indicate recession territory. So, it won’t take that much to derail the economy. He added that the years 2019 and 2020 may be ones of concern because per capita GDP growth may be worse than the economic recovery period that led us out of the Great Depression. “In other words, by 2019 or 2020, on a per capita basis relative to the size of the recovery, we will actually be worse off than the country was in 1930,” he predicted.

The good news, according to Heil is: “We are not there yet.”

At the closing of the event, Chip Hallock, NRBP president, said the disparity between the people who have and those who don’t must be addressed. “That is what we are trying to do in Newark … bring this city along so it’s not just downtown [development]. This is something Mayor Ras Baraka has been focusing on; making sure that economic development is not just building buildings, but building people and families and making sure this happens in every ward.”

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