Newark says it’s the best place for Amazon HQ2

BY Rhonda Schaffler, Correspondent |

In a matter of months, Newark’s renaissance could get kicked into high gear if Amazon puts its new headquarters here. The global company is already taking advantage of what Jersey can offer: thousands of employees in seven distribution centers; access to transportation, corporations and culture; and now it has 7 billion more reasons to plant a flag in Newark. The Newark Community Economic Development Corporation‘s president and CEO Aisha Glover joins Business Correspondent Rhonda Schaffler.

Schaffler: Aisha, there’s so much, always, to talk about with Newark so we’re very happy you’re here today.

Glover: Thank you for having me.

Schaffler: We know that Gov. Christie has now given the Amazon incentive bill the green light. That was signed just a couple of days ago. There was an additional survey that came out because there was some criticism about how much is being given away to Amazon potentially. So this new survey looks at basically short-term pain with incentives with long-term gain. Tell me some of the highlights in that survey.

Glover: Absolutely. So, coming from the city’s perspective what we wanted to do, both as a municipality but then as the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, was to be able to show exactly what that return on investment would look like, what the total payback period would be in terms of years, and so we commissioned a study internally. We partnered with the Newark Alliance. I had my policy and data folks crunching numbers just to be able to look at how many years would it take before the state saw a return on its investment, and exactly what would that look like in terms of projections around job creation and the local impact on the economy. So, we were very happy, we had a really strong sense of the numbers when we first pulled together the proposal, but to able to kind of dig deeper and do a more thorough analysis and come out on the other end and confidently be able to say, look the payback period is roughly nine to 11 years. That’s spot on and exactly what we want to be looking for.

Schaffler: I think one of the most interesting aspects of that survey is we keep talking about 50,000 jobs from Amazon, but it’s potentially a lot more than that for the city of Newark when we look at these other supporting jobs.

Glover: Yes. So in total you’re looking at 70 to 110,000 jobs. These are exactly the types of jobs that we want to be creating locally. At least 50 percent of those jobs would be lower-skilled workers. Another 25 percent would be medium skilled, and then you have the remaining 25 percent as a higher skilled workforce. So, that’s precisely in our wheel house. We want to make sure that not just the jobs that are coming to Amazon, and notice I’m speaking in the affirmative, but those ancillary jobs and direct jobs are really accessible to Newarkers.

Schaffler: And it’s a very broad-based industry view. Health care, for instance, it’s not what people might think with Amazon in New Jersey and warehouse jobs.

Glover: Exactly. It’s their corporate offices. So, the types of skills and positions that would come with that, but then again the ripple effect. What do you need in order for a local economy to support an additional 50,000 workers.

Schaffler: And what other findings from the study really kind of made you feel empowered that this is moving in the right direction potentially for Newark?

Glover: Sure. I think two things are important to remember. First, to immediately answer your question, the job creation number. That is really kind of in lock step with what Mayor Baraka has been pushing for more inclusive strategy around economic development, so that it’s based upon community wealth building. We’re not thinking about economic development in a vacuum. We’re tying that in with workforce development.

Schaffler: You’re not trying to leave anyone behind, which is very important.

Glover: You got it. So, making sure that the development is equitable is definitely very much front of mind for us. Besides the payback period, because there were, as you said, a lot of questions around why would the state offer such a large incentive package really being able to tie that back to the job creation was key for us. And, then zeroing in on the exact year, so roughly what that would look like. Those are really the two buckets that we hammered home on, zeroed in on and wanted to make sure that we supported to incentivize the incentive package passage.

Schaffler: Since the Amazon race for HQ2 came out, just about everyone put out a survey on what city is most likely to get it. Quite honestly, I haven’t seen Newark on the top of any list. What do they have wrong about Newark that in your mind Amazon will look at and consider and get right?

Glover: So, recently called us one of the five dark horses in the race. Yahoo finance came out very early on in the bid process and named Newark a top contender. And then there was also a report that came out in October by Anderson Consulting that said the New York City/Metropolitan area was the top contender. So for us, I think it’s more of a question of positioning and branding and making sure that people understand that Newark is in the New York City/Metropolitan area. In many respects, it’s quicker to get here, get from Newark to New York City, than it is from Brooklyn to Manhattan or Queens to Manhattan and I can say that as a Brooklyn girl now that I am officially a transplant. But, also recognizing the fact that we are in the Gateway in Newark Penn Station. That’s an 18-minute ride. So, just tying us into the broader New York City/Metropolitan area. Oftentimes, New York City is on that list of the top contenders. If you’re zeroing down and really going to say what city within the New York City Metropolitan area, I think folks will definitely, confidently have Newark at the top of the list.

Schaffler: Moody’s just gave Newark a positive outlook, which also is good for the city overall. Any word on when you’re going to hear from Amazon? You and I spoke a couple months ago. Any further clarification on the timeline?

Glover: So, they just said 2018 in their proposal. That could be in the RFP release, that could be January or that could be in December. So, we are anticipating that they would likely be shortlisting some cities within the next month or two.

Schaffler: Fingers crossed for you.

Glover: Fingers crossed.

Schaffler: Aisha Glover, so good to have you here. Thank you.

Glover: Thank you for having me.