Newark's leading the way and other N.J. cities should follow, Murphy says

Gov. Phil Murphy came to Newark on Monday and reeled off a few phrases that could easily be new slogans for New Jersey's most populous city. 

He called it "a city clearly on the rise" and "a model for urban revitalization." 

That, Murphy explained, is largely because Newark has been bolstered by what he calls "the innovation economy" -- in which technology companies, especially startups, move in to an area and help reinvigorate it.

"Economic progress cannot be made without social progress," Murphy said in a speech to business leaders at a forum co-hosted by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and Audible, the Newark-based audiobook company, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in the city. 

"This is a city that has not ignored its roots or its people, and it is creating an entirely new energy off the recognition that those who stayed and fought for a better Newark were on to something," the Democratic governor added.

Plus, Murphy said, the state's other oft-blighted cities -- like Camden, Paterson, Trenton -- could follow a similar path. 

"The real beauty is it does not have to only be a Newark story," the governor said. "Cities once were the economic engines of our state, and they will be again."

Murphy said Newark's rejuvenation is why "no one is laughing" at the city's prospects at possibly landing Amazon's HQ2. The city is one of the Top 20 finalists for the online retail giant's new headquarters.

The governor said Newark's proximity to New York City, major highways, a major port, a major airport, and a string of colleges makes it "uniquely qualified" for what Amazon wants.

"Newark is absolutely purpose-built for a company like Amazon," Murphy said. "In particular for this notion it's got to work for the new folks, but it's got to work for the folks who fought and stayed."

Murphy has long touted the need for New Jersey to focus on technology and science to boost its economy. 

On Monday, he argued the state state should use its tax incentive programs to attract more startup businesses to the state, not just keep larger businesses from leaving.

"This state is custom-built to not only lead -- but to dominate -- the innovation economy," Murphy said. 

"We are here to be a partner in your growth and success," he added.

Audible CEO Don Katz noted how his company moved to Newark in 2007 with only 100 employees and no perks from the state. Now, he said, its payroll is up to 1,400 workers. 

Katz also said the company decided to "look past traditional resumes" and hire Newark residents.

"People whose lack of privilege and background didn't make them an obvious on paper, and we figured out how to train them to join jobs, and our customer care division just brims with all this positive energy," he added. 

What Murphy didn't mention Monday was his first state budget proposal, which includes $1.5 billion in tax hikes to help pay for more funding for education, transportation, public-worker pensions, and more.

The event's co-host, the NJBIA, has been critical of Murphy's plan to institute a new tax on millionaires.

On Monday, NJBIA president Michele Siekerka said her group shares many "priorities" with Murphy but added: "The pathway to funding those priorities has to be slow and steady -- small bites that New Jersey business and the economy can sustain in order for us to continue to grow."

"No shocks to the system," Siekerka said. "We can't shock the businesses, and we can't shock our economy."

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