VOICE Summit

VOICE Summit’s Spotlight on Newark

The international VOICE Summit, which is now in its second day, continues to display not only the campus of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where the three-day event is being held from July 24-26, but the entire city of Newark, which is establishing a strong reputation as a smart city with a robust underground fiber optics network, and, according to Aisha Glover, CEO, Newark Community Economic Development Council, the largest workforce talent pool in the country.

Newark’s Transformation

At a conference panel discussion yesterday afternoon, a deep dive was taken into Newark’s transformation as a destination for business. Moderated by New Jersey Business & Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka, eight business experts with strong ties to the city discussed how Newark is evolving into a Smart City, looking at: how it got there, where it stands right now and what is needed to catapult the city to the next level.

Glover said that Newark got to where it is today the very same way it achieved hosting the VOICE Summit: “It is all about the collaboration of people, corporations, and different stakeholders.” Discussing the city making the Top 20 list as a possible location for Amazon HQ2, Glover commented, “I’d like to think we rolled out the red carpet [for Amazon] by embracing the collaborative environment and being genuine with it. We did not just put on a show for the [Amazon] visit and then pull back. This is who we are.”

On the question of how Newark businesses are recruiting and retaining a workforce, Rich Thigpen, senior vice president – corporate citizenship at Public Service Enterprise Group, responded that the city and area’s workforce is diverse and multicultural. “You have to be mindful of how you attract this population. You need to have a workplace in which they feel welcome,” he said.

Adding that PSEG is also a technology company, Thigpen said that “talent doesn’t come in one gender, it doesn’t come in one nationality, nor does it come in one color. We have to be open to pursuing talents in all types of people.” Government policy should assist in this area as well, he added.

On the same topic of training, Amy McIlvaine, business development manager, AT&T Smart Cities, said that besides helping cities implement and analyze smart data, AT&T is also providing cities with public school curricula focusing on STEM principles so students can understand the networking/data technology. She adds, “We are committed to developing the next future workforce.”

Jim Barrood, CEO of the New Jersey Technology Council, commented that schools have to keep up with the pace of change … “teach different skills and bundle them in different ways. There are amazing things going on right now and schools like NJIT are leading the way.”

Siekerka commented that the state has 44,000 vacant mid-level-skilled jobs, adding, “We talk about the high skill level of talent and how we are proud of that, but not every job requires a bachelors, a masters or a Ph.D. With certificate programs and associate degrees, people can earn while they learn.”

Tech Company News and Views

Among the various companies displaying their products and services at the VOICE Summit was Audible, Inc. (an event sponsor along with parent company Amazon). Michael Steinkrauss, senior quality assurance manager, said that in terms of voice technology, Audible is deeply involved with Amazon Alexa initiatives whenever it wants to launch into new markets. “It is important in the voice-driven space to try to lead and be a company on the forefront in making decisions in voice … to try to make it easier for someone to access their [Audible] book or library, etc.”

Audible is based in Newark, with Steinkrauss adding: “We are Newark. This is our town and we are very much part of the community!”

For Indiana-based ThickStat, a company that offers ConverSight.ai, a voice solution platform for sales oriented businesses, manufacturers and transportation industries, Mike Rossetti, sales leader, says Newark “has always been an interest place in which to be. New Jersey, overall, is a progressive state from a technological standpoint. Businesses here are more apt to move forward on [tech] issues than in other states.”

Discussing the benefits of having the Voice Summit in Newark and in New Jersey, Anthony Cicatiello, president of the Research and Development Council of New Jersey, commented, “What people are going to find out about New Jersey is that it has the infrastructure for companies to do well. The state has it all and what is here in Newark is significant.”

It is interesting to learn that Newark was chosen one of four finalists in the VOICE Summit’s nationwide RFP process. According to Modev founder and VOICE organizer Pete Erickson, the state’s large city was on the short list with New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. He tells New Jersey Business, “Newark really had the best answer. It was a community-based response that included the Mayor’s Office, the universities, the economic development corporation, the convention and visitor’s bureau and local industry.” Everyone participated, saying in a unified voice they will be the host committee for the conference.

“We knew right then and there that, wow, we have a team. And when we came for a site visit and saw the $110-million Wellness & Events Center at NJIT, we knew we had a home,” he said.

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