CEO Tim Sullivan said it was all part of doing a better job of getting the EDA into the communities it serves.
“Because we really do want to build this economy in a way that’s inclusive, in a way that provides jobs and economic opportunities in every part of New Jersey, because that’s how we move the needle and create a surplus of economic opportunities,” he said.
“If you make a list of New Jersey’s strengths and its assets, diversity is one of our strengths and assets.”
On the same day the agency announced a new focus on international relations and trade, Sullivan indicated that the EDA also is looking to play a greater role as part of the business networks in the state. That includes, he said, tapping into the relationships various immigrant and ethnic groups “have with their home countries.”
It’s another asset the state has that hasn’t been fully utilized, though there is a large presence internationally here, he said.
Especially in food and drinks, which is an area of growth for the agency, Sullivan told the crowd. It was a crowd which included members of Latin food giant Goya, which is a major supporter of the chamber.
Sullivan said another area the agency is trying to grow is in being multilingual. While there are many individuals who can communicate in Spanish, for example, he said there isn’t enough done in the language for outreach.
Sullivan went through the various financial assistance and incentive programs, the focus on startups and investors, and emphasized that the agency focuses on ways it can help businesses thrive long-term.
That includes a new pilot program to support the working space rent cost for startup companies. If all goes well, Sullivan said, the EDA is likely to scale up the program from its current $500,000 investment.
Many of the programs the EDA has are not well known, since major companies getting tax breaks or other incentives usually grabs headlines.
“Those (programs) are things we’ve had in the toolkit for some period of time, but I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of telling that story,” he said.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Westwood) was also at the event. She spoke about something the Hispanic communities are familiar with: taking loans from family and friends in the absence of qualifying for bank loans.
She warned that not following proper securities exchange rules could lead to disqualification of EDA assistance.
Sullivan said he intends to engage more with the diverse chambers and minority business groups to ensure this doesn’t happen.
“One of our most important operating principles is building partnership networks,” he said. “We are committed to being good partners (in) every part of the economy.”