Amazon visits Newark: Inside Tuesday’s tour of the city

Aisha Glover, CEO and president of the Newark Community Economic Development Corp. and the point person for Newark’s bid to land the coveted Amazon HQ2 project. – Newark Community Economic Development Corp.

It’s hard to imagine that the city visit by Amazon — the next step in a process that Amazon promises will bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion worth of development to the winning town — would be routine.

But that was the case in Newark on Tuesday, when city and state officials made their face-to-face pitch to officials from the e-commerce giant.

So said Aisha Glover, the CEO and president of the Newark Community Economic Development Corp. and the point person for Newark’s bid to land the coveted Amazon HQ2 project.

“To be fully transparent, we were not off script,” she told ROI-NJ. “This is what (Deputy Mayor) Carmelo Garcia and I tag team on, marketing and promoting the city.

“We do this for retailers, developers, investors. So, it’s kind of second nature at this point. And we don’t need to go off script. Our story is our story. Our assets are our assets, no matter who we are talking to.

“The tour was not that different from what we do when other folks are trying to come into town, whether they are bringing 100 jobs, 1,000 jobs or 50,000 jobs.”

Glover said she and Garcia average giving the tour (either in person or in a virtual presentation) once or twice a week.

Of course, this wasn’t just a routine tour.

The stakes are much higher.

And that’s the biggest reason why Glover skillfully and respectfully dodged many of the questions looking for specific details.

How many people did Newark bring?

“Between the state and the city, everyone you would have expected in economic development to be there was there, including three elected officials: the senator (Cory Booker), the mayor (Ras Baraka) and the governor (Phil Murphy).”

Other sources gave ROI a few more details. For instance, the top two officials from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (CEO Tim Sullivan and Chief Operating Officer Tim Lizura) were both there, as well as Ray Chambers, the longtime Newark businessman and philanthropist who has offered financial support throughout the bid process.

Glover said the total group from the state did not exceed a dozen.

Aside from the discussing the $7 billion worth of incentives the state has said it promised in its proposal, one source said Amazon officials spent time with Booker discussing how the recently created Opportunity Zones, a program co-sponsored by Booker, could help Amazon.

A source said Amazon officials were told all of the proposed Amazon sites in Newark are in approved Opportunity Zone census tracts.

Most of the New Jersey contingent was there the entire day, although Murphy and Baraka both jumped off briefly to attend a ceremony for one of the city’s latest glamour development projects, One Rector Street.

Glover gave less information about the Amazon group, saying only that it was “more than five people.”

The total group was small enough to travel around the city in one vehicle — and spent most of the day touring the four sites Newark pitched in its proposal.

“We built in opportunities to see all the assets that we’ve been pitching,” she said. “Of course, getting them into the actual sites that we expect to host HQ2 was important. That was the bulk of the afternoon, taking them around and making sure we showed them what we put in our pitch.”

And part of that pitch was all of the development going on.

“What we’re pointing out, in terms of the major development that is underway, are the cranes in the sky,” she said. “It’s not one particular project, it’s kind of, ‘Look up.’

“There’s agreement that there’s activity and development. It doesn’t have to be the ‘Shaq Tower’ or the Ironside or L&M’s project on Broad Street, there’s enough to just say, ‘Look up and look around, this city is growing and booming.’”

And it’s not just from buildings.

“(One) thing that is so critical and always important to economic development anywhere is park development,” she said. “Being able to (show them) Mulberry Commons under development, being able to go to Riverfront Park and say, ‘We’ve completed phases 1, 2 and 3. This is going to be a two-mile long riverside park designed by a world-renowned landscape architect who did the Highline.’ That says a lot.

“Everyone knows that park development brings other development, so for us to have these two flagship parks underway makes it really easy for to close your eyes and envision what Newark is going to look like in another few years.”

What Newark looks like now was pointed out, too.

“We know that are strongest asset is our people,” she said. “It’s what makes us the city authentic, it’s what makes it dynamic, it’s what makes it a cultural destination. We are certainly leading with the people and the talent that’s here in the city.”

Glover wouldn’t say whether or not there was one moment for the group when all of what Newark has to offer turns on a proverbial light bulb.

But she said her experiences have taught her to believe Newark’s assets are more impressive in total.

“I’m not going to comment on the reactions of the people from Amazon, verbal or non-verbal,” she said. “In general, I don’t think there ever is one moment where people are like, ‘A-ha.’

“I just think people take it all in and see this perfect storm and perfect recipe of different key ingredients that are making Newark what it is becoming. I think once the case is laid out for people, they are generally surprised.

“I won’t speak to Amazon specifically, but, in general, whenever we make our pitch, folks are generally pleasantly surprised by what’s going on here.”

Residents in Newark, who happened to cross with the tour, were not surprised.

The city went out of its way to hide the day of the event from the public. But on Tuesday, any public contact that did happen, happened without fanfare.

The reason, Glover said, is simple.

Newark’s growth has been so spectacular in recent years, residents have come to expect tour groups coming through the town. No one gave a second look to the Amazon group.

“It’s not uncommon for folks to see any of us leading a tour around the city and looking at sites,” Glover said.

Glover would not give any details of next steps. She said she’ll just wait to hear from Amazon.

But she did say she was pleased with how the day went.

“We just stayed focused on Newark,” she said. “We just came with our ‘A’ game and showed off the city the best we could.”

Booker speaks on Amazon visit

U.S. Sen. and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker discussed Amazon’s tour of Newark on Tuesday as part of the e-commerce giant’s bid to select a location for a second headquarters.

Newark is one of 20 finalists for the HQ2 project. Amazon said the headquarters will bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion worth of development to the winning city.

Booker’s statement:

“Newark boasts a highly-educated workforce, robust transportation systems and thriving technology networks that provide many strategic benefits to companies that call our city home.

“Our meetings earlier this week with Amazon leadership brought these and many other advantages Newark offers to light. Newark continues to enjoy unprecedented growth, and Amazon now has a unique opportunity to help supercharge the boom we’re experiencing.

“A Newark HQ2 would create tens of thousands of local jobs, boost our regional economy and spur economic development throughout our great city and the entire region. It would also create a larger consumer base that would help local small businesses flourish.

“As a former mayor and current resident of Newark, I am so proud of how far our city has come, and was grateful to participate with Mayor (Ras) Baraka, Gov. (Phil) Murphy and business and community leaders in showing Amazon all our city has to offer.”

— Anjalee Khemlani