Why just making Amazon’s final 20 is big win for Newark

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Regardless of whether Newark ultimately lands Amazon’s HQ2 headquarters project, site selection and relocation experts feel the city itself already has scored a big win.

For its reputation.

Being included in this group, they said, will make many others take notice when it comes to picking a new destination for their companies.

Jay Biggins, executive managing director of BLS & Co., a nationally known site selection company based in Princeton, said the achievement cannot be overstated.

“Making it onto the list of the 20 most viable candidates out of 238 proposals is extremely valuable to Newark,” Biggins said. “While the Newark renaissance is already in motion and attracting attention, making the ‘AMZ 20’ catapults Newark into a different level of attention.

“Both site selection consultants and their corporate clients will now more readily put Newark on their list of candidate locations. This will have been a big win for Newark, no matter which way the ultimate decision goes.”

Ted Zangari, the chair of the real estate department at Sills Cummis & Gross P.C. in Newark, agreed.

“Making the cut along with so many established cities puts Newark in the big league of destination locations,” he said.

Zangari, who has handled large real estate facilities in the state for Panasonic, New York Life, UPS and Goya Foods, said Amazon is at a different level.

“Sure, the Panasonic, Audible and Broadridge decisions to choose Newark as their headquarters in recent years caused real estate brokers and site selectors around the country to start paying attention to this overlooked city,” he said “But making the Amazon final 20 opens a whole new window for Newark into the corporate real estate world. This is big.”

Big enough that it’s resonating in South Carolina.

Mark M. Sweeney, the owner and senior principal of McCallum Sweeney Consulting in Greenville, agreed the announcement is good news for a city that needs it — and one that often is unfairly characterized.

“From a general business standpoint, Newark being on this list is newsworthy for Newark, an accomplishment for Newark and will have some image-building and public relations value,” he said.

Sweeney, who has been in the site selection business for more than two decades, said he knows Newark is far better than many perceive it.

“In our business in site selection, the experienced site selectors, one thing you learn is the reputation of a location rarely matches up with the actual current status of the location.

“For a place like Newark, which has surfaced from some negative images and perceptions going back to the ’60s, that concern and that reputation is hard to overcome and is probably still in some people’s minds to some degree. However, that is way behind what the Newark of today is.”

There’s no need to tell that to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who made the media rounds extolling the virtues of his city.

“Amazon’s decision to place Newark on its short list of 20 municipalities to host is new headquarters is by itself a great victory for our city,” he said in a statement. “It means that world-class corporations and organizations like Amazon have recognized the success of our administration’s efforts to build a stronger city that welcomes business, is open to innovation and at the cutting edge of technology and transportation.”

Baraka, as is his custom, does not run from the city’s past.

In fact, he feels Amazon’s announcement is more evidence that a new Newark is here.

“It also speaks to the essential strengths of the people of Newark — our resilience, our diversity, our talent, our productivity and their amazing work to transform our city and its narrative over the past 50 years,” he said. “Newark’s momentum has become unstoppable. Amazon can be a powerful partner in helping to forge our future.”

Amazon could prove to be that impetus whether it comes to the city or not, Sweeney said.

The more people hear about Newark — and potentially go to see Newark — the better it will be for the city’s already-thriving economic development.

“Part of the process in our business is getting out in the field,” he said. “So, for a place like Newark, making this list is very important. It’s going to be very beneficial to get the Amazon project team, that I suspect will be going out in the field, on the ground in Newark. It’s going to be great for Newark.

“That’s been the challenge of places that have what I call reputational baggage that may not be accurate. If you’ll just come here and look you’ll see the Newark of 2018 is not the Newark of 50 years ago.”

That reputation, however, still exists.

Shortly after the announcement, Bloomberg released a pros and cons list of each of the finalists. It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the city.

“Pros: Proximity to New York without the Big Apple’s staggering home prices. In October, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pledged to back the city’s bid to lure Amazon with as much as $7 billion in tax breaks. 

“Cons: The city might be a tough sell for workers over San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York.”

More from ROI-NJ on Newark and Amazon:

  • Newark makes Amazon’s list of 20 HQ2 finalists
  • Why tax talk could hurt Newark’s chances at HQ2
  • Officials celebrate selection of Newark (and Philly)
  • Editor’s Desk: New Brunswick learned from Amazon bid, even in defeat
  • These 20 locations are Amazon’s HQ2 finalists
  • A look back: Newark officials detail four possible landing spots for Amazon