At conference, Panasonic and PSEG leaders talk about what it means to be a business in Newark

Anjalee Khemlani//October 17, 2015

At conference, Panasonic and PSEG leaders talk about what it means to be a business in Newark

Anjalee Khemlani//October 17, 2015

“When the applause died down, someone finally (asked) where are we going and I said Newark, and you could hear a pin drop,” said Joe Taylor, chairman and CEO of Panasonic Corporation of North America.

Taylor and Ralph Izzo, CEO and president of Public Service Enterprise Group, spoke at a panel to highlight why they chose to move their business to cities — specifically, Newark — as part of the NJ Spotlight on Cities event Friday in Newark.

Both discussed the benefits of Newark, including the public transportation options and the tax incentives from the state.

While they both agreed that the current climate of tax incentives in states around the country is absurd, Panasonic took advantage of an incentive to stay in the state, while PSEG did not.

“It’s a zero-sum game,” Izzo said, adding that what really needs to change are loopholes that allow companies to move out of the country or outsource their work.

Doing away with incentives and instead focusing on creating stronger business climates is what is needed.

When state and local government work well together, it works well for businesses. Any sort of stability — whether good or bad — can be weathered by businesses, but instability is what makes it tough for businesses to thrive, Taylor said.

It would have been a better financial decision to move out of the state, but the economic impact and community impact, along with nudges from Gov. Chris Christie and then-Mayor Cory Booker, kept Panasonic in the state, Taylor said.

But there are still a number of challenges — many of which come standard with any city — facing the companies in Newark, in particular.

Of the hundreds of thousands of residents, a significant percentage are college students, yet Newark has none of the nightlife found in most college towns and cities, Taylor said.

That is part of the challenge of truly engraining in the community, versus just embracing.

While he has seen employees begin to venture outside, including having their dry-cleaning done in the city or filling prescriptions or just taking a run around the nearby Red Bull Arena during a lunch break, being able to socialize after work is not really possible — so those dollars end up going to places like New York City, just over the river and easily accessible by public transportation.

Nighttime activity is somewhat taboo in Newark, where crime is a real concern.

Most of the crime includes robbery, especially of cell phones taken from parking lots or while employees are on the sidewalk. But there are shootings.

“People don’t understand this is an urban area and there is crime in every single urban area. This isn’t Secaucus, this is Newark, so you have to be cautious of your cell phone or purse. But downtown is safe; it’s as safe as any other downtown,” Taylor said.

He added that Newark is a small city, and doesn’t have pockets the way New York City does, so any crime is just Newark, period, versus the name of a neighborhood that could be a few miles away.

Taylor also highlighted the relationship between jobs in an area and reduction of crime — when there are more jobs available, people are more hopeful, and it acts as a deterrent to crime.

Another aspect of working in a city that is a work in progress for both companies is community impact and outreach such as dealing with the local school systems, taking advantage of mass transportation options and trying to hire city residents.

About 10 percent of the 1,700 employees at PSEG are Newark residents, Izzo said. The company feels it is its duty to look first locally to hire electricians, architects, engineers and landscapers.

Panasonic intends to be better partnered with the local schools and colleges to hire younger, local employees, Taylor said.

And while there are still the many problems, both Taylor and Izzo said they remain optimistic about growth and change in Newark.