Jose Lozano, President and CEO of Choose New Jersey, has had a hectic year, to say the least. When COVID-19 hit, every single aspect of the way New Jersey goes about economic development had to change, as government agencies at every level had to pivot and focus more on business survival than on business attraction and recruitment.
Keeping businesses afloat and keeping employees on the job became job one for everyone, from the Governor on down — and that is exactly what Choose New Jersey did. In the following interview, Lozano outlines the approach that his state took toward responding to the global pandemic and what means moving forward for New Jersey.
What were the three most impactful economic development projects that your state secured in 2020?
LOZANO: The COVID-19 pandemic impacted all our lives in 2020, but we are still seeing signs of positive economic activity. In the last year, we have seen dozens of companies relocate to New Jersey, creating thousands of new, good-paying jobs. Three economic development projects we have seen in New Jersey over the last year include:
What are your agency’s top three priorities for 2021?
LOZANO: In 2021, the state and nation begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely impacted our health and economic well-being. As New Jersey’s leading nonprofit economic development organization, Choose New Jersey will continue focusing on marketing the State of New Jersey as a state of innovation that is a great place to do business:
One of our primary marketing outreach efforts will continue to be focused on the countries and regions where Choose New Jersey has recently led business mission trips and opened offices — particularly India and Europe. We remain optimistic about potential new business opportunities with these key regions, especially once travel restrictions loosen.
We are also assisting businesses in New York City that are looking to relocate due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are looking for more spread-out, suburban locations. As more businesses consider leaving urban centers to relocate to suburban office parks, Choose New Jersey is showcasing everything New Jersey real estate has to offer as we enter a new COVID-19 world.
In addition, Choose New Jersey is committed to business development and increasing potential opportunities in 2021 as we rebuild our economy from this unprecedented pandemic.
How was corporate expansion project activity in New Jersey impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic?
LOZANO: There is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis has had a profound impact on our health and economic well-being as a state and nation. While numerous projects were halted in 2020 due to this unprecedented pandemic, we have seen an increase in activity since June. So far in the last year, we have seen dozens of companies relocate to New Jersey, resulting in thousands of new, good-paying jobs. We have also seen a shift toward U.S. companies making new biopharmaceutical and new cell and gene manufacturing facilities because of COVID-19. Choose New Jersey is seeing success from our India business partners in the tech sector, and we expect to see further growth in this sector once travel restrictions are lifted. Another area of improvement has been from life science companies in Europe.
When did you begin to see prospect activity pick up again?
LOZANO: We started to see prospect activity pick back up again in June, and we expect to see continued growth as we look toward 2021.
Obviously, a lot of corporate and commercial office space is vacant right now. What are you hearing from New Jersey-based companies about their plans for their office space moving forward in this new world of remote work?
LOZANO: Office consolidation is the biggest trend we are seeing from New Jersey businesses in this new COVID-19 environment. Many companies with multiple offices are ending their leases early and consolidating to one or fewer offices. Another trend we are seeing is a shift away from urban centers to the suburbs of New Jersey to accommodate their workforce that lives in New Jersey, making their commutes shorter and safer.
What are your main target industry sectors?
LOZANO: Our key industry targets align with sectors that have been a reliable resource in the past for New Jersey. These key industries include life sciences, technology, manufacturing, food and beverage, financial services, logistics, clean energy, and film and media. These industries have a strong and growing presence in our state and continue to drive success for New Jersey’s economy. We are seeing growth in Europe in the online gaming sector as well as in the offshore wind industry, which will help advance New Jersey’s goal of having 100% clean energy by 2050. We will also increase our outreach in the U.S., Europe and India in an effort to grow New Jersey’s film and media industry.
What are New Jersey’s strongest selling points as a business destination?
LOZANO: There is no better place than New Jersey for business relocation or expansion. New Jersey offers companies one of the most highly skilled, highly educated, diverse workforces in the country. We are home to the top colleges and universities around the country — as well as the highest concentration of scientists and engineers in the nation — which is attractive to businesses looking to recruit top talent. New Jersey is perfectly located with unmatched access to key consumer markets and major U.S. cities. More than 40% of the U.S. population and thousands of businesses are located within a day’s drive of our state. In addition, we are globally connected with access to world-class infrastructure. Newark Liberty International Airport and other nearby airports offer daily non-stop flights to over 340 nonstop domestic and 260 nonstop international destinations. The state’s unrivaled road and rail network includes over 2,800 miles of interstates and highways and the nation’s highest railroad density. New Jersey is home to the Port of New York and New Jersey, the East Coast’s largest seaport, making it easy to move products across the country or around the world.
What is your global brand identity as a state?
LOZANO: New Jersey is the state of innovation. New Jersey has always been a place of invention — from Thomas Edison’s light bulb to the first CAR-T cell therapy developed by Novartis. Our state has cultivated a dynamic innovation ecosystem that supports cutting-edge companies and visionary entrepreneurs. Our strategic East Coast location, concentration of top talent, and enhanced quality of life makes New Jersey the best place in the U.S. to live, work, play — and do business. In partnership with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA), Choose New Jersey will continue to make sure current and prospective businesses have the resources they need to succeed here. Our organization offers complimentary relocation and expansion services, site visits to assist in property search, and economic development connections to ensure a smooth transition to our state.
Are there any lingering misperceptions about New Jersey that you would like to address?
LOZANO: California, New York and Massachusetts are often regarded as life sciences hot spots, but the truth is that New Jersey has been a global life sciences leader for over a century. New Jersey has a highly specialized workforce to support this industry. Thirteen of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world call New Jersey home. New Jersey is also home to 12 of the world’s top companies for R&D productivity. Last year, life science companies with a New Jersey presence represented an impressive 50% of all new FDA drug and therapy approvals.
Innovation is in New Jersey’s DNA. Our State boasts a thriving tech ecosystem with industry giants like Audible, Panasonic, Verizon and Samsung. We have the top talent, top universities in the country and are close to major U.S. cities including New York City and Philadelphia. New Jersey also has access to venture capital funding and is home to a leading fiber-optic network — all with a cheaper price tag than New York City or Silicon Valley.
What do you think are your state’s three most effective incentive programs?
LOZANO: The NJEDA offers a number of incentive programs that help increase investment in our state:
More incentives and incubator programs the State of New Jersey has to offer can be found at www.njeda.com.