By David Cruz
The grand opening of the newest addition to Newark’s downtown skyline drew a full house of dignitaries and politicians, including the state’s chief executive, who got a private tour of the headquarters and was the ribbon cutter in chief.
“First and foremost it means jobs for people and we know that there’s nothing more important for a family than to have the heads of that family have a chance to get a job that helps them to support that family, that puts food on the table, pay their mortgage and give their children the kind of life that they want for them,” Gov. Chris Christie said at the opening ceremony.
The Panasonic headquarters took 13 months from groundbreaking to ribbon cutting and wouldn’t have happened without more than $100 million in economic incentives from the state Economic Development Authority and millions more in tax breaks from the city, all worth it say the men closely involved in making it all happen, because in the end, it’ll mean hundreds of workers coming to the city — if not yet living in the city — and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity.
“There’s no guarantee Newarkers will be hired, but there are commitments that Newark residents will be interviewed first and given the first opportunities once these jobs open up,” said Newark Deputy Mayor Adam Zipkin. “In addition, there were literally hundreds of construction jobs as this project was built and there was substantial participation by Newark-based contractors and Newark residents in the hours that went into building this beautiful building.”
County Executive Joe DiVincenzo says the $100 million investment was money well spent, even if the bang for the buck isn’t immediately visible.
“I was asked before coming in here, you know most of the people that work here don’t live in Essex County. Are there any Essex County residents here?” asked DiVincenzo to a smattering of applause. “There’s a few, but guess what? It doesn’t matter because you’re part of making history here.”
Councilwoman Mildred Crump said she welcomes Panasonic but seized on the county executive’s question to make a point about promises that have been made, and she says, not yet kept.
“One of the agreements that we have was that Panasonic would build its workforce around Newarkers,” noted Crump, “so if only a smattering, and I do mean a smattering of people applauded, what does that say about Newark?”
Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective questioned the wisdom of the public investment. “We really don’t have a strong belief that Panasonic was going to leave New Jersey, but we put up the $102 million none-the-less,” he said. “In fact, up in Englewood Cliffs, LG wants to locate its North American headquarters and transfer jobs from around the country to New Jersey and they’re not taking the incentives.”
Conspicuous in his absence today was Newark Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker, who talks about this Panasonic project every chance he gets. His staff said he had a scheduling conflict and would be spending the day in Washington, D.C., leaving the cheerleading and the credit taking to others.