Jay Biggins knows firsthand how much Newark gained by being one of Amazon’s 20 finalists in its search for a second headquarters. And he knows how everything is in place for the city to capitalize on the notoriety and become a national destination for companies.
He also knows that opportunity will not last forever.
Biggins, the executive managing director of Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., the national relocation company based in Princeton, said cities are not hurt by their losses — but they need wins to keep their momentum going.
That’s the situation Newark faces now — now that Amazon has officially announced it will split its HQ2 project between Long Island City, Queens, and Crystal City, Virginia.
“This has been a really amazing opportunity for Newark to present its assets and its potential and to be taken seriously by other large employers,” he said. “It was an invaluable kind of branding opportunity and gave Newark opportunities to show what it can do.
“Newark can now leverage its presence in a major metro, offering cost-competitive advantages within that major metro. But the halo doesn’t extend that far unless you’re earning additional halos along the way.
“You’ve got to sustain the promise with actual wins.”
Biggins said Amazon’s decision to recognize Newark proves that point.
“Look at Panasonic, Prudential and Audible,” he said. “These are major players who could kind of decide to put what they put in Newark anywhere. It took some conviction to decide to do it in Newark, and they built that first couple of layers of foundation.
“I don’t think Newark makes the final 20 without those moves. Those, in some ways, were the trailblazers for this particular leg of potential growth. It enabled Amazon to come along and reinforce and confirm that judgment about what Newark can be and now in the next year or two or three years.
“Newark needs to capitalize on that leverage of their brand and put some additional deals in place.”
Biggins said Newark is ready.
“You can think about what’s going on in Newark as an archer’s target,” he said. “In the middle, you’ve got what’s going on in Newark and the things that can go on there because of its ability to grow and build and supply both office space and housing and amenities all within the same city.”
He also said companies already are looking. And have been even more since the Amazon Top 20 announcement.
“Newark comes up more, which we believe is at least indirectly related to the fact that it landed on the list of 20,” he said. “And there is a certain amount of assumed due diligence — that is, the presumption that this is a high-quality market where a company would consider locating a very large number of jobs.”
Biggins feels converting that interest to relocation is a role will fall on Newark officials, more than the other state economic development agencies or the Governor’s Office.
“It is a team effort, but only the mayor’s office has Newark’s interests as its first priority,” he said. “Even in a small state, all of the statewide economic development organizations have to take a balanced approach to which parts of the state that they’re promoting.”
Biggins said the mayor’s office must find a way to step up its marketing — taking advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
“Newark has to capitalize on the halo that it’s enjoying now, and that means a stepped-up effort of outreach and marketing to corporate site selection people, to real estate advisers, to C-suites,” he said. “They need to all of the relationship networking opportunities that they have.
“Their mission has to be to convert other companies’ decisions from merely looking to actually deciding to come here. They need to put some wins up on the board.
“If they do that, then they can take and really capitalize on this. That will make the next win easier because it starts becoming a really sensible and forward-looking decision to come to Newark.”