Newark-phobic no more: Outsiders need to see city's business promise, locals say

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on May 04, 2015

Otis Rolley, the President & CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, at an event earlier this year declaring Newark open for business.

 

NEWARK — Would you open a business in Newark?

Plenty of people have said, "no." WalletHub, an finance website that creates nationwide rankings, recently named the city the worst one in the country to start a business. Earlier this year, the site said Newark was one of the worst places to find a job.

But, business owners and organizations in the city say those rankings are based on Newark's reputation – not what's actually happening downtown.

"This ranking is not just wrong, it's dead wrong," Otis Rolley, the President and CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, said in a statement to NJ Advance Media.

The Newark CEDC – a city-run agency focused on economic development – is an example of Newark's renewed focus on growing business opportunity, he said. The CEDC launched last year to replace the Brick City Development Corporation, which was previously cited for issues with its loan program.

"Newark CEDC has been revamped, restaffed and reinvigorated and is poised to help retain, attract and grow business big and small throughout Newark," he said.

"We have $2 billion in our development pipeline."

And, city government workers aren't the only ones pulling for an economic renaissance in the state's largest city. The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers has been working to foster small business growth in Newark and other urban areas across the state for the past seven years.

According to Lyneir Richardson, CUEED's executive director, about one-third of the 180 businesses the center has worked with are in Newark. Over the past five years, 80 percent of the small businesses the center has worked with are still open, and together they have hired 181 new employees in the city, he said.

"Part of the challenge of Newark is...communicating (to the masses) the good things that are happening here," Richardson said. "Walk around Newark for half a day and you can see the opportunity, (and how you) can be part of this story of revitalization. It's a comeback city."

Holly Kaplansky, a Bloomfield resident who decided to open Minuteman Press – a printing franchise – in Newark 10 years ago, admits that before she visited the city, she was convinced she'd open elsewhere.

"I was always a little Newark-phobic," Kaplansky said. But, a tour of the downtown changed her mind, and convinced her to open on Commerce Street.

"Everyone here is passionate about Newark. It's the outsiders who don't get it. My business has thrived here...and I think a lot of that is due to the fabulous location."

The praise for the city is in line with economic development plans that have been laid out by Mayor Ras Baraka, who held a summit earlier this year declaring, "Newark is open for business."

It also comes after several large companies have opened their doors in the city, and worked to spread the word about the advantages they see in "social entrepreneurship." The movement, supporters say, has a double bottom line of making money and helping generate a positive impact in society.

Skeptics have cited the city's high crime and unemployment rates as impediments to revitalizing Newark's business community. But proponents say changing the outside perception of Newark is half the battle.

"The most successful (entrepreneurs) have been the people who want to be part of an urban revitalization in Newark," Richardson said. "Businesses (can) grow with Newark, as Newark becomes stronger."

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