The Amazon effect: Making a call on the impact on Newark of being an HQ2 finalist

The most interesting moments come on the phone. When the person on the other end — the one who initiated the call — is silent, trying to process the information.

“Really? Newark?” they eventually say.

“Yes, Newark,” Aisha Glover, the CEO and president of the Newark Community Economic Development Corp., says.

And, she says, she says it a lot.

If you’re looking for a way to describe the impact of Newark making the final 20 cities under consideration to land Amazon’s second headquarters, start with Glover’s phone.

It’s the first place many go when the unfamiliar are trying to figure out why (and how) Newark could have made the list.

Glover said she spends time educating them, talking about how Newark has the third-largest port in the U.S. (the biggest on the East Coast) and is the fifth-largest college town and the most ethnically diverse city in the country.

“All of these factoids, people just have no idea,” she said. “Once you peel back the concerns or misperceptions about public safety, we really fit that textbook definition of a city you want to be in. There’s definitely been a lot of shock.”

Which leads to the pause.

“People say, ‘Wow, I had no idea,’” she said.

“We came up with the campaign called, ‘Yes, Newark.’ Because everybody kept saying, ‘Really? Newark? Are you sure?’

“We just say, ‘Yes, Newark.’”

It’s a problem that’s good to have, Glover said.

Glover, speaking recently at the Newark Regional Business Partnership’s real estate event, told the audience she has been busy since the day the Amazon request for proposals was announced — Sept. 7, she’ll tell you.

And she’ll tell you it only got busier when the Top 20 finalists were announced, on Jan. 18.

“There’s just far more interest and inquiries,” she said. “I’m getting hit up all the time now for interviews. Folks just really want to have a better understanding of the momentum and what’s going on here.

“We’ve talked about this renaissance for a while without much to back it up, but the last three or four years, we’ve seen a lot of development going on. And that development, coupled with the shortlisting by Amazon, (is drawing calls).

“I’m constantly pushing brokers leads because I just can’t keep up with who has vacancies where anymore.”

It’s no different when she’s out of the office.

In fact, Glover said, the Amazon announcement has increased the popularity of the city’s story on the conference and events circuit, too.

It’s something, she told the audience, she’s taking advantage of … strategically.

“Obviously, we were shortlisted, and we feel like that’s a big win, no matter what (happens),” she said. “I think it’s up to all of us to really leverage that — the strength of what that could bring, what that could mean.

“So, we’ve been a little strategic in how we’ve been doing outreach and advertising, trade shows — really owning that we’ve been shortlisted for a reason. It wasn’t just a sympathy vote and it wasn’t because of the size of our incentives package; for the record, there were plenty of other states that had larger incentive packages that were not shortlisted.

“So, I think just selectively owning that, seeing the power of that, is really where we are right now.”

Glover said she stresses a number of keys, including tech talent, infrastructure and location. But she also said she pitches the town’s diversity and affordability — just as Newark did in its Amazon proposal.

The Amazon race eventually will end. And when it does — and if Newark is not the eventual winner — Glover doesn’t expect the calls to stop.

Newark, she believes, will still be hot.

“I’ve said from the beginning, whether or not Amazon comes, Newark is in a better place,” she said.