JBIZ panel: Can global commerce help reconnect fractured world?

Mathews, Harmon, Bracken among group that tackled issue at Atlantic City event

From left: Wesley Mathews president Choose New Jersey; Edward Mermelstein, commissioner NYC International Affairs; Thomas Bracken president of New Jersey Chamber of Commerce; John Crisafulli, vice president / senior business development officer at First Commerce Bank; Linda Lindner, ROI-NJ Managing Editor; Michael MacIntyre, head of Citizens Business Banking Sales-Expansion Markets; John Harmon, Sr., president of African American Chamber of Commerce.

At a time when hate and division around the country and around the world has never been greater, the annual JBIZ Expo by the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce offered an alternative: a celebration of diversity.

Duvi Honig, the founder and CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, said the event Tuesday at Harrah’s in Atlantic City was aimed at showing how commerce can bring together a world of distrust.

That’s why his event had trade and commerce representatives from countries around the world — and across the region.

One of the main events was a panel on doing business in New Jersey and New York — because so many businesses have offices in both states, Honig said.

“The Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce is a global umbrella of businesses — national and international,” he told the crowd.

Honig said the chamber uses the strength of commerce to be able to influence policy, empower and connect small minority business and big businesses — on both sides of the river.

The panel, moderated by John Crisafulli, a vice president and senior business development officer at First Commerce Bank, featured Wes Mathews, the head of Choose New Jersey, as well as influential chamber leaders Tom Bracken, head of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, and John Harmon, head of the African American Chamber of Commerce of both New Jersey and New York.

It also included Michael Macintyre (the head of Business Banking sales – expansion at Citizens), Edward Mermelstein (the New York City commissioner for international affairs) and Linda Lindner (managing editor at ROI-NJ).

Mathews, who has been involved in world commerce for decades, both as a diplomat for the U.S. and as head of Choose New Jersey, said he feels the future is bright in New Jersey and around the region.

“I think state government has created a blueprint for future economies that plays exactly to our state’s strengths and advantages,” he said. “The recent momentum that the state has had, especially in the last five years in terms of our economics and mentors is incredible.”

Mathews has made two international trips in recent months, going both to East Asia (Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) and South Asia (India). He said he’s seen firsthand the power of the New Jersey brand.

“New Jersey is one of the most improved states, with multiple credit rating increases,” he said. “Our leadership has created a blueprint, not just for growth now or a year from now, but for decades to come.”

Mermelstein said he feels the same way about post-pandemic New York City.

“Job participation is at an all-time high,” he said. “We have more people working in New York City than we have ever had in its history. Economic output is on fire as well, all the numbers are heading in the right direction, including hotel occupancy.

“About 10% of the Fortune 500 companies are in New York City. We are a very unique place, and we are continuing to grow by leaps and bounds.”

Yes, it is a time of optimism. But one of caution, too, Macintyre said. Making sure businesses are set up properly is key.

“Making sure that the customer has an understanding of what traditional banking is here in the U.S. can be daunting,” he said. “We have worked very closely to make sure the customer has not only a great bank adviser, attorney adviser, a good CPA firm, but we work very closely with organizations like (economic development corporations), and the different SBA groups across the metro market (community development financial institutions), to make sure that the most important thing the customer needs is credit.

“Credit is the oxygen for starting up a new business. We really counsel with that thought leadership and make sure we could plug and play not just the traditional banking service, but also the other peripheral services that small businesses require here in the in the market.”

That type of talk works for Harmon, he said. He pitched the state of New Jersey — and the attitude that comes with it.

“The people in New Jersey are the ones who really make the world go ’round, and one thing about New Jerseyans — you’re going to get straight talk,” he said. “People call it the way they see it.”

It’s part of the state’s DNA, he said.

“We have that competitive mindset that everyone knows — New Jersey’s about winning,” he said. “Notwithstanding, if you feel as though you have that kind of underdog position, you still feel as though you can win; and that mindset is infectious. If you possess that mindset, others want to gravitate to that strong, diverse workforce, which will ultimately lead to innovation, cultural experiences and efficiency.”

The geography certainly helps. The Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest on the East Coast and one of the largest in the world, enabling a company in Central Jersey to serve millions within a two- to three-hour drive.

Then, there’s the brainpower.

“We have the most educated workforce,” Bracken said. “We have unbelievable talent at our fingertips. We have higher education institutions that are second to none in the country that can provide very well-educated individuals to work in business as a junior team, especially in the growing tech economy. The upside potential is enormous.”

It’s why Nokia Bell Labs announced earlier this week that it is staying in New Jersey. It’s why Netflix announced earlier this fall it is coming to New Jersey.

It’s why Gov. Phil Murphy and Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber earlier this week announced an artificial intelligence hub at the school that will serve the East Coast, Bracken said.

Of course, all this goes back to the opening point of the panel: The area’s diverse commercial interests can help bring together a fractured world.

Harmon certainly sees it that way.

“The level of diversity and people of color from different backgrounds and experiences is vast,” he said. “Overlay that with the various industries, and it gives you a global reach. It’s all about connectivity.”

He said business owners can connect back with family and friends abroad and share with them the vastness of opportunity that exists in this region. It will make them want to migrate here, too, he said.

“They then come here with their energy and desire to make this country better because they’re here,” he said. “And so, our collective ability to be open to collaboration, and open to winning and providing value, I think lends a lot to who we are on both sides of the fence.”