Baraka, civic leaders say 'Newark is open for business'

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 14, 2015

Newark officials and Prudential Financial hosted a small business summit on Wednesday.

 

NEWARK — Weeks after reforming the city's main development agency, Newark mayor Ras Baraka promoted his economic development agenda before a cadre of civic and business leaders.

During a small business summit hosted by Newark and Prudential Financial at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Baraka argued that major corporations and city officials need to work together to foster the growth of small businesses.

"Small businesses is the life blood not only in this city but of the country," he said.

Baraka continued to extol the importance of helping minority and women business owners, as well as those starting businesses in local neighborhoods.

But the mayor added that sparking neighborhood development doesn't mean leaving out the city's downtown.

"Downtown is not a district it's a neighborhood," he said. "Every part of the city is a neighborhood."

Prudential Financial chairman and CEO John Strangfeld echoed similar remarks, saying the existence of Hotel Indigo, the coming Prudential office building, and the renovations at Military Park were signs that development is growing in the city.

"'I'm more optimistic today then I have every been," said Strangfeld, who has worked for Prudential for more than 30 years. "There's a lot going on. It's not concepts. it's reality."

The business summit comes as major changes are taking place at the city's main economic development agency.

Last month, NJ Advance Media reported that a highly-critical internal audit questioned the awarding of more than $3 million in loans by the Brick City Development Corporation.

In fact, 40 percent of the loans in First Movers Fund loan program were delinquent or written off while 29 percent of the Urban Enterprise Fund loans were considered delinquent or written off, according to the report.

One of the delinquent borrowers was the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, which was previously run by Baye Adofo-Wilson, the city's new economic development director.

Since then, the city has pledged reform and renamed the agency the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation.

The Corporation's new CEO, Otis Rolley, said the agency will "learn from some of the errors of the past" and avoid making decisions that are "overly risky" when there are other organizations that can provide loans.

Rolley also said the agency plans to tackle a number of new initiatives in the coming months including conducing a survey of the city's existing resources for businesses, developing a business incubator for poor areas identified by the city's model neighborhood program, and launching a multi-media campaign promoting Newark.

"From this day on we're gonna speak the truth," Rolley said. " And the truth is Newark is open for business."

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