Panel: Why ‘investing’ in New Jersey means connecting to opportunities that are second to none

All-star leaders at ReNew Jersey Business Summit details why state’s demographics — its cultural diversity and educated workforce — make it easy selection for business community

From building a world-class research facility, to a once-in-a-generation infrastructure project, to a whole-world-will-be-watching sporting event, the speakers on the “Investing in New Jersey” panel at the third annual ReNew Jersey Business Summit & Expo certainly had plenty to talk about Tuesday in Atlantic City.

But, just talking about the projects would be missing the big picture of what New Jersey is all about.

The various initiatives are not awards for New Jersey, but a byproduct of what the state — and its business community — represents: a diversity of talent and people.

So said the group.

Thierry Klein, president of Nokia Bell Labs Solutions Research, said the famed lab opted for a purpose-built facility at the Helix in New Brunswick over all other locations — in New Jersey and around the country — because of the access to an extraordinary class of scientists and researchers.

Kris Kolluri, CEO of the Gateway Development Commission, said the size of the project ($16 billion) and the length of it (at least 15 years) will provide opportunities for generational wealth for those selected to work on it — a selection that will include diverse companies like no other.

Lauren Nathan LaRusso, the co-cost and general counsel of the N.Y./N.J. World Cup Host Committee, said simply being the commercial and media capitals of the world was not the most important aspect of the region’s bid. She said she felt FIFA saw the community and the faces and the values of New Jersey.

“We have a great history of soccer, that was a given, but we really leaned heavily on the values and the diversity here, the workforce that we bring to the table, and the bar of excellence that really is unmatched across the country,” she said.

Alberto Garofalo, the president of New Jersey for Bank of America, wholeheartedly agreed. He said the bank saw the same attributes before it decided to invest in a new headquarters in Jersey City, a 550,000-square-foot property that is one of the biggest commercial leases in state history.

Garofalo talked about the ecosystem of diversity the state brings — and how it matches both the employees the company has and the clients it serves.

“One of our core foundations is giving to the community, and making sure that we leave the community a better place than we found it,” he said.

Serving the community is a key initiative for Jersey Central Power & Light, state President Jim Fakult said.

He not only pointed to the company’s rich investment in technology and innovation — everything from its major commitment to clean energy and offshore wind to a push for greater energy efficiency — he noted how the company is working with the community to achieve it.

A few years back, diverse companies made up less than 10% of JCP&L’s vendor contracts. Now, Fakult said, that figure is approaching 40%.

Of course, none of the panelists epitomized making an investment in New Jersey as much as Garofalo.

For him, it was personal.

Garofalo, who was raised in Hudson County, detailed how he has lived in five countries and moved nearly two dozen times in his work career. When Bank of America gave him an opportunity to pick a permanent spot, he picked New Jersey.

Garofalo called New Jersey an ecosystem of diversity — not just in traditional ethnic representation, but in the wide variety of opportunities it creates.

“There isn’t anything that cannot happen or cannot be done in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “At Bank of America, we divide the company into markets, and New Jersey is one of the major markets for our firm.

“It’s critical, it’s important. And I think we’re just getting started here.”

It’s a sentiment that was shared by all.