Audible’s incentive effort aims to help businesses grow with Newark

Newark Squared looks to support emerging innovation economy, build community

Jessica Perry//August 1, 2023//

As part of Newark Squared, businesses can sublease space at 33 Washington St. from Audible. - AUDIBLE

As part of Newark Squared, businesses can sublease space at 33 Washington St. from Audible. - AUDIBLE

As part of Newark Squared, businesses can sublease space at 33 Washington St. from Audible. - AUDIBLE

As part of Newark Squared, businesses can sublease space at 33 Washington St. from Audible. - AUDIBLE

Audible’s incentive effort aims to help businesses grow with Newark

Newark Squared looks to support emerging innovation economy, build community

Jessica Perry//August 1, 2023//

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Audible moved its headquarters to Newark in 2007 to be a part of the resurgence in the state’s largest city. Now, as part of its latest effort to advance that trajectory, Newark’s fastest-growing private employer is trying to help other businesses be a part of the momentum.

On Aug. 1, Audible announced the launch of Newark Squared, a series of incentives targeting startups with at least 10 employees, at the seed or Series A stage, that are seeking to expand or relocate in Newark. In particular, companies with founders of color or female founders are encouraged to apply for the program, which offers relocation assistance, capital for new leases and stipends for employees to live – and shop – locally.

If those features sound familiar, it could be because they echo the work that Audible has been putting in in Newark since it arrived there.

According to the company’s 2019 Economic Impact report, Audible’s $530 million in direct investment in the city carries the weight of $775 million in impact.

Newark Squared launches with six participants already taking part in the program. According to Aisha Glover, vice president of urban innovation for Audible’s Global Center for Urban Development, the company has been careful with its selections.


Describing the current mix of growing innovators and highly regarded eating and entertainment options she told NJBIZ, “We’re trying to really curate this with a level of intentionality. That is geared toward folks that might otherwise normally be pushed out when a city is undergoing some level of growth and development. It’s typically smaller, locally owned and operated, women-owned, minority-owned businesses.”

Beyond that, Audible is looking for companies with room to grow.

“I would say that our focus is really around scalability and job creation,” Glover said. “So if a company just wanted to relocate and they already have 50 or 100 or 250 employees … [they’re] honestly much less of an interest than a company that maybe is at 10 or 20, and they’re saying, ‘We’re going to grow to 50 within the next year, and then here are our projections, here’s our demand.’

“We’re looking with an eye toward those companies that are scaling and are bringing job creation, because then we know that there’s going to be more opportunities for local residents,” she said.

Living local

Of Audible’s headquarters employees, 15% live in Newark. Beyond that, the company says it’s accounted for 11% of total jobs added in the city from 2015-2019. Audible offers employees a relocation stipend, which it says has helped to triple the number of employees living in the city, with about 30% of participants having lived there for five years or longer, according to the 2019 economic impact study.

Newark Squared offers that incentive to employees of other companies. The Live Local grant provides up to $500 per month for up to 12 months per full-time employee who relocates to the city as their primary residence. According to Glover, when people live in the city, individuals contribute about $41,000 annually in local spending. Across retail and dining, residents have a potential spend $91.6 million annually, while existing retail sales total $549.1 million per year.

To encourage that local spend, businesses can also apply for Audible Bucks of up to $200 per month per full-time employee for a three-month period; the cards can then be used at designated shops in the city.

“So if we are looking at ourselves as a company, as an institution, and saying how do we maximize our benefit? That’s not just in like corporate procurement spend and our own rent. That’s also in the ways in which we encourage our employees to shop and spend locally,” she explained.

Audible has been incentivizing its own employees to Live Local for six years and positive feedback from that program helped to inspire its inclusion in Newark Squared.

“We were thinking, ‘Huh, maybe this is a way to encourage companies,’ especially as they’re startups and still growing and talent is really important for them,” Glover said, adding: “And it’s also our kind of sneaky way to make sure that they’re hiring locally. Or, they’re encouraging their employees to live here. So we don’t want it to just be this inorganic growth. It also has to be organic. Who’s already here? How can we invest in them? How can we hire them and train them up?”

Working local

For businesses seeking to expand or set up in Newark, Audible is offering non-dilutive grants of up to $250,000 over two years for fit-out costs or rent/mortgage payments. Beyond building up businesses, the effort aims to keep commercial spaces occupied and address empty storefronts and offices.

33 Washington St. in Newark. - AUDIBLE
33 Washington St. in Newark. – AUDIBLE

“We wanted to be very intentional about that,” Glover said regarding addressing vacancies. “Really exploring a range of different ways that we could be maximizing what our economic and our social impact looks like in Newark. This is our headquarters city. We are here, we want to continue to really play a key role in what the city’s revitalization looks like.”

Centered on “Audible’s front yard” – Harriet Tubman Square and the new Newark Arts and Education District announced by Mayor Ras Baraka last summer – Newark Squared will facilitate leasing opportunities at buildings including 33 Washington St., 550 Broad St., 494 Broad St., 540 Broad St. and 536 Broad St.

According to Glover, keeping the focus on Audible’s local neighborhood, where it has two locations, will help to build economies of scale from a foot traffic and amenity perspective. The commitment from the city and revitalization of the park, which is seeing more events and activations since the debut of the Harriet Tubman Monument and Audible’s audio experience at the installation, brings activity and vibrancy – underscoring that sense of neighborhood. And, the institutions that surround the park – the Newark Library, Newark Museum of Art, Rutgers Business School and Berkeley College, among them – provide additional anchors for the program.

At 33 Washington, small businesses and retailers will sublease space from Audible. There, Nina Cooke John – the artist behind the Harriet Tubman monument – will lead a redesign to create an engaging mixed-use space. Citing the connection to the park, Glover said the decision to collaborate with John again “just felt like a no brainer.”

“We cannot continue to look at these projects as separate initiatives,” she said. “But for all these efforts to feel a lot more holistic and connected from event overflow, to design aesthetic, to accessibility, all of that is really critically important.”

From left, BLVD Bistro co-owner Markisha Swepson and Chef Carlos Swepson.
From left, BLVD Bistro co-owner Markisha Swepson and Chef Carlos Swepson. The pair said they were excited to open in Newark and “stand on the shoulders of culinary giants like John’s Southern Eatery and Don Pepe, who created places for the community to gather and enjoy great food.” – BLVD

Among the tenants lined up for the space is famed Harlem eatery BLVD Bistro, which will launch its second location at 33 Washington St. The soul food restaurant from from Chef Carlos Swepson and co-owner Markisha Swepson was featured in the New York Times in its first year and named best soul food in the country by Food Network.

Adding to the “play” options in the area’s emergent live-work-play ethos is Newark Squared participant Newark Culture Club, which got its start in the city and is growing there, into a space at 12 Halsey St. that will host a 2,500-square-foot cocktail bar and live entertainment venue.

The remaining companies from the announced Newark Squared cohort will occupy space at the Fidelco Realty Group owned and operated 550 Broad St.

Founded by Newark native Anthony Frasier, ABF Creative has already moved into its 2,000-square-foot space there. The multicultural kids and family podcast network and production company offers award-winning content that builds emotional and cultural connections through loveable characters and compelling narrative storytelling.

“As a native Newarker, I’m so grateful that Audible has created an initiative like this that provides access to office space and capital,” Frasier told NJBIZ in an email. “It’s exciting that companies outside of Newark are participating and that someone like me, who is from Newark, is able to successfully launch a state-of-the-art podcast studio in downtown Newark, which is a growing tech hub.”

Anthony Frasier, Newark native and founder of ABF Creative. - TAMARA FLEMING PHOTOGRAPHY
Anthony Frasier, Newark native and founder of ABF Creative. – TAMARA FLEMING PHOTOGRAPHY

In addition to SOSV’s developing HAX hard-tech startup accelerator program, Newark is home to companies including Panasonic and WebMD.

“We love our new space, which allows us to grow in Newark and create new content,” Frasier said. “ABF is an audio company, so what better neighbor to have, right down the block, than a company like Audible, who cares about their community and is working to amplify voices.”

The other three tech startups that have leased space at 550 Broad St. are:

  • Gymble: From three athletes from Charlotte, N.C., this fitness app offers an all-in-one platform that connects communities with facility rentals, personal training and fitness opportunities, helping fitness facilities and entrepreneurs market to their customers and manage their bookings more effectively.
  • co:census: A collaborative, cloud-based workspace for urban planning and design teams to learn, plan, create, analyze and work together as they conduct research projects and community engagement. According to Audible, the company’s enterprise solution is used by Ford Mobility, MIG and Habitat for Humanity to plan community engagement, create projects to collect feedback, and analyze text and voice data with patent-pending AI.
  • Fitnescity: A consumer health startup that gives consumers easy access to wellness tests, along with personal analytics, while allowing local clinics to reach more consumers. It also enables consumers to track wellness goals and outcomes over time with a user-friendly personal analytics platform that can make test results easier to understand, and in the long term, develop predictive models to inform wellness decisions.

“Fidelco and Audible’s collaboration gives startups and aspiring entrepreneurs access to world-class amenities while they start and expand their businesses in Newark at the historic 550 Broad,” said Fidelco Chairman Marc Berson in a statement. “We are proud to collaborate with Audible in this important effort.”

The effort is not just for Newark.

“This innovative pilot program is another scalable model that can be adopted by other companies seeking to make an impact in the cities they call home,” Audible founder Don Katz said of the effort.

During the pandemic the Global Center for Urban Development launched Newark Working Kitchens, a program that has delivered more than 1.5 million meals and supported over 37 restaurants in the city since its launch in April 2020. In addition to giving way to a follow-up Audible effort – NWK Delivers, to help boost business as cities adjust to remote work impacts – Newark Working Kitchens helped to inspire the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Sustain and Serve grant program. 

Speaking to the impact the pandemic had on the city, Glover said it pushed Audible to think about what it could do to be as transformative and disruptive as possible. In addition to NWK, work to advance that mission from the Global Center for Urban Development has included the Newark Artists Collaboration, which activates the city’s streets.

Glover said it’s another way the company is working to connect programming, real estate, job creation and business attraction, for the city and for the operators who need it most.

“And so that’s always the north star for us,” she said. “How can we be inventive? How can we imagine the most disruptive and innovative solutions to problems that exist all over the country in cities that look just like ours? And particularly cities that have suffered from divestment for years.”

Enter: Newark Squared.

“So, that was really one of the driving factors behind this effort to provide incentives. We wanted to be able to supplement anything that a business might traditionally find in normal incentive pools and say, ‘You know what, we’re here. How about we really make a difference?’”

More information about Newark Squared is available by contacting [email protected].

Did you know? Audible was named one of NJBIZ’s “Companies to Watch” in December 2022. See who else was on our radar here.