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An Essex County comeback

Newark’s rise has been slow but steady

Angelo J. Genova

The news that Newark made the short list of locations being considered for Amazon HQ2, the ambitious second headquarters for the giant online retailer, suggested that the city could compete with the best when it comes to attracting businesses and residents. But the status of Newark — Essex County’s largest city and the county seat — wasn’t quite so clear back around 2008, when the then-suburban law firm Genova Burns LLC moved its main office from Livingston to the Brick City.

“Even then we realized that the next generation of lawyers wanted convenient access to public transportation, rail systems, and a city vibe,” said Angelo J. Genova, the law firm’s chairman and managing partner. “Many of our potential recruits lived in Hoboken, Jersey City, downtown New York and other urban centers, and we wanted to be in a place that they could easily reach.”

A Newark location also met the firm’s business goals. “We were on a targeted expansion to get more involved with urban development and redevelopment, and that also aligned with Newark,” he added. “City leaders, like former Mayor Cory Booker and current Mayor Ras Baraka, had a lot of confidence in the city and they continue to show enthusiasm. We wanted to be part of the renaissance.”

A business backstop

“One of the biggest challenges for Newark is an outdated view that it’s not a good place to do business,” said Chip Hallock, president and CEO of the Newark Regional Business Partnership. “We sometimes have to explain that the city is vibrant and business friendly. Amazon’s Audible is expanding here, Prudential has maintained its considerable presence here, and M&M Mars moved its headquarters to Newark. For the first time in Newark’s history, downtown is a place to live, as well as a business center.”

The NRBP contributes to the activity by “being advocates and making connections with the city and state on behalf of our members,” he added. “We also keep members up to date on what’s going on, clueing them in on new developments and opportunities.”

The organization also contributes with activities like the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a six-month program that takes from 20 to 25 aspiring entrepreneurs from local middle schools and high schools, matches them with business mentors, and places them in a Shark Tank-like setting where they compete for funding in front of a panel of businesspeople.

“Today,” he said, “Newark and its residents are closer than ever to realizing their full potential.”

An emerging tech and logistics center

Genova said a wide range of companies are interested in Newark. “The city has a variety of assets, from technological to cultural and educational,” he said. “There’s high-speed broadband connectivity, and educational institutions to support the labor force. I believe that the logistics industry is an emerging area for Newark, but it’s more than just warehousing capability. We’ve got relatively easy access to the port and other transportation, which could make Newark a logistics hub; and we’ve also got the bones to be a tourism and arts center, with attractions like NJPAC (the New Jersey Performing Arts Center), the Prudential Center, and the Newark Museum.”

Genova and his law firm are deeply involved with the city. Besides owning an equity stake in their Broad Street building, Genova and other firm partners sit on the boards of charitable, educational and other foundations. Genova also sits on the board of the Newark Regional Business Partnership, which advocates for businesses and the continuing growth of Newark.

“We look forward to continuing to grow with the city; and continuing to represent businesses and other clients,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity here.”

 

Newark Venture Partners, an early stage venture capital fund that invests in technology companies, is also part of Newark’s ecosystem. “There’s a thriving tech community here, with plenty of space that’s less expensive then Brooklyn, for example,” said Tom Wisniewski, an NVP managing partner. “Plus you’ve got Fortune 500 companies here, including some that invest with the NVP, as well as educational institutions like Rutgers and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.”

He said that Newark is also a “node” or central internet hub that processes an impressive amount of internet traffic, “so there’s a tremendous amount of fiber optic cable here; it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to get a 10-gigabyte connection [compared to the 1 gigabyte or less that many internet service providers offer]. It’s like buying bandwidth wholesale from the carrier.”

Newark Venture Partners was founded by Don Katz, who launched Audible — a Newark-based audiobook company that he later sold to Amazon — and NVP backers include well-known companies like Audible, Dun & Bradstreet Inc., Horizon, and Panasonic. “Besides being investors, we can tap into these and other backers for mentoring and other advice,” Wisniewski said. Since its launch in 2015, Newark Venture Partners has invested $17.3 million across 55 companies in Newark and elsewhere, he added.

1Huddle, a Newark-based company that uses “quick-burst games” as a workforce training platform, is one of them.

“Today, corporate training and development is broken,” said Founder and CEO Sam Caucci. “The majority of workers today continue to be onboarded using outdated e-learning solutions, videos, manuals and live seminars. Using 1Huddle, companies can convert existing training like manuals, modules, and videos into quick-burst training games and deploy it to their staff. Games take less than 10 minutes to create — compared to hours to build and deploy traditional learning videos — and employees learn faster with our games as they compete against co-workers to unlock prizes.”

He said the 15-employee company left New York City for Newark at the end of 2016 — a little more than a year after it launched in SoHo — because of lower costs, and support from Newark “that has given us great access and input. And I believe I can access more talent with a more diverse set of skills from where we are in Newark. I have team members that come here from NYC and South Jersey every day.”

Fidelco finds a good bet

Back in the 1960s, when Marc Berson was in Rutgers Law School in Newark, “I used public transportation. But I’d look around and see people in their cars, stuck in traffic, and think ‘how much longer will they do this?’”

Years later, after practicing tax and securities law, he began investing in and developing real estate with the launch of Fidelco Group in Millburn. His Newark holdings mainly consisted of industrial property until 2004, when he took a chance and purchased One Washington Park, the former Verizon headquarters that was nearly vacant following the telecommunications company’s move to new digs. Today, following a massive renovation, One Washington hosts premiere tenants like Amazon’s Audible, and the Rutgers Business School-Newark.

Berson sees it as a symbol of Newark’s progress. “Companies like Audible want to be able to tap into talented employees, and in turn they want a 24-by-7 community,” he said. “Newark has rail and other transportation, and it’s a model for integrating the arts and other entertainment with a business community. Young people want to be where the action is, and they want to get in when it’s still affordable.” He sees properties like 494 Broad Street, which Fidelco renovated, as one of the anchors of the North End, and said the area is primed for further development, including mixed-use projects.

“We’re finishing 15 James St., a former Presbyterian church, and Audible will take possession of that as an adjunct to its Washington Park headquarters,” Berson added. “Our properties in the area are fully leased, and now we’re developing plans for a buildable site behind 1 Washington and another site north of it; and we’re looking at other properties. The North End will be quite active in the next round.”

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