On Friday afternoon, Gov. Phil Murphy appointed former Goldman Sachs executive Kevin Quinn as the new chairman of the embattled Economic Development Authority.
Quinn, 54 and the founder of investment firm Genki Advisory, will lead the board of an agency under scrutiny over how it awards billions of dollars in tax breaks and oversees compliance with incentive programs. Quinn’s selection was first reported April 26 by NJ.com.
“It is clear that the Economic Development Authority is in dire need of reform and I am committed to realizing Gov. Murphy’s vision of a stronger and fairer economy, and rebuilding our economy from the middle class outward,” Quinn said in a Friday statement from the governor’s office.
Murphy, who is also a Goldman alumnus, last week pushed for the resignation of five board members, but only chairman Laurence Downes, chief executive officer of New Jersey Resources, parent company of New Jersey Natural Gas, agreed to step down. The others have resisted Murphy’s call for their resignations.
“Reclaiming New Jersey’s status as an economic power requires a strong and focused EDA that will work tirelessly to implement the policies our economy needs to grow,” Murphy said. “Economic development is much more than providing tax incentives to a few big corporations, and requires investing in our diverse people, ideas, and businesses.”
The governor seemed to back off his effort to remake the board in remarks on April 25. “They made their decision, we have to respect that decision, we don’t agree with that decision,” Murphy said at an unrelated media event.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, has criticized Murphy’s attempt to remove the board members. Sweeney told NJBIZ that he plans to renominate three members, all appointed under former Gov. Chris Christie, when their terms expire this year.
Sweeney has largely supported the Grow New Jersey incentive program, which a January audit found lacked oversight to make sure businesses that were awarded tax breaks followed the program’s rules.
Friday’s move was hailed by social activists, who originally called for the entire board to step down, arguing that fraud and abuse was allowed to run rampant for years under its current membership.
“New Jersey taxpayers simply cannot afford business as usual at the Economic Development Authority,” New Jersey Policy Perspective President Brandon McKoy said in a statement. “We appreciate Gov. Murphy’s commitment to stricter oversight, more-targeted investments, and spending caps on subsidy awards and hope Kevin Quinn will embrace these guiding principles as the new EDA chairman.”
“I’m very pleased that the governor filled the position quickly, because the leadership is needed,” New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Tom Bracken said. “One of the strengths of the EDA in the past has always been the quality and integrity and stature of the chairperson.”
“I’m glad we filled it soon, and I just hope he meets the standards embedded [in the chair],” Bracken added.
Still, Downes’ resignation last week prompted outcry from the business community, fearful that Murphy’s rhetoric of the tax break programs has created a hostile environment for the state that would ultimately scare away business.
“Larry Downes is unquestionably one of the most respected business leaders we have in New Jersey… We are disappointed to lose his distinguished leadership and insight at this time when it’s absolutely critical that we grow New Jersey’s economy,” Michele Siekerka, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said in a statement last week.
Although Murphy has proposed letting Grow NJ expire in July and establishing five new programs capped at $400 million a year, Sweeney wants Grow NJ to continue in some form, arguing that the tax credits helped fuel economic booms in cities such as Camden and Newark.
A spokesperson for the Senate Democrats and Sweeney could not immediately be reached for comment on Quinn’s selection.
Quinn started at Goldman 1991 as an M&A banker, eventually becoming chief operating officer of the firm’s Global TMT Business and co-head of Global Technology Banking. He left in 2012.
This article has been updated to reflect Gov. Phil Murphy’s official appointment of Kevin Quinn as chairman of the state Economic Development Authority.