Making connections: How head of Choose office in Taiwan aims to bring East Asia, N.J. together

Sam Lin, the director of the New Jersey Asia Pacific Center that formally opened in Taipei, Taiwan, on Wednesday morning, readily admits the truth about what many people in East Asia know about New Jersey: very little.

There is not a complete understanding or appreciation of the differences the state has with New York City or Philadelphia, he said.

But, it’s all good, Lin said, because most people in New Jersey don’t necessarily understand the subtle differences between China, Korea and Taiwan.

Lin, speaking a few weeks back when the leaders of all the now five Choose New Jersey international offices came to the state for a firsthand look, said the need for people on both sides to understand the differences is a key factor why Choose New Jersey not only opened its office in Taipei — but satellite offices in Seoul and Shanghai, too.

Lin, who was hired earlier this year, said his job is to bring all the locations together in a cohesive way that will benefit New Jersey — as well as East Asia. Lin said he’ll start with two sectors that are key to the state: supply chain and biotech.

On electronic goods: “We want to get that supply chain connected, because, while each of the countries are quite similar, each subsector is very different. Korea does a bit of designing. Taiwan does manufacturing. China does more assembly. We want to get that aligned and show how New Jersey can help.”

On biotech: “Taiwan is pushing really hard on biotech and pharma; we need to leverage that they can go to Jersey academic institutions to do more research and clinical trials and to commercialize their products. We need to let them know that 50% of FDA approvals has footprints from Jersey.”

Lin saw all of this during the weeklong visit, when he joined approximately two dozen representatives from Choose New Jersey offices in Ireland, Germany (covering mainland Europe), Israel, India and East Asia.

Most of all, he said, he saw a state that has so many out-of-office qualities that he feels will appeal to East Asian business leaders, their employees and their families.

Lin rattled off four key connections:

  • Diversity of the population: Being able to have a cultural connection is key when you go overseas; New Jersey has that, as much as anywhere, Lin said. And that includes having a welcoming attitude toward the LGBTQ community, too.
  • Top-notch education system: This is something Asian leaders are really looking for, Lin said. And it’s not just a great K-12 system for their kids, but also having access to a highly educated workforce to do the type of jobs these companies need.
  • Stellar location: It’s not just New York City and Philly, Lin said, but the ability to be able to get to Boston and Washington, D.C., in just a few hours — and having the busiest port on the East Coast.
  • Cost of living: That’s right, New Jersey scores well here. That’s what happens when you compare apartment prices not just to New York, but to Tokyo and Seoul. “They see the value immediately,” Lin said.

Choose New Jersey CEO Wes Mathews, who was on hand when Gov. Phil Murphy announced the intention of the office during the East Asia economic mission trip last fall, saw the value of an East Asia office immediately, too. He applauded its opening.

“The opening of the New Jersey Asia Pacific Center marks a critical milestone in our efforts to enhance our presence in some of the world’s most significant economic markets,” Mathews said. “Through the center, we look forward to building bridges and sharing the incredible value proposition of New Jersey’s world-class talent, location and innovation-fueled economy to our partners in the Asia Pacific.”

Lin said he is hopeful each of the three Asian offices — which only have one representative each right now — can double or triple the number of associates in the next year. He said he feels New Jersey has so much to offer, it will be an easy sell to East Asian companies.

He said he learned that firsthand.

“I had been to New York City before, but not New Jersey,” he said. “On this trip, I got a sense for how different it is. I loved it.”