Flanked by the leaders of Newark's key corporate, educational and non-profit institutions, Mayor Ras Baraka formally launched a new economic development initiative designed to employ a multi-pronged strategy to build up the city's economy.
"It's not normal for us to expect the city to grow, crime to reduce, our economy to thrive and families to be secure with an unemployment rate that constantly is higher than the state or the federal government. And it is not normal to believe that we can't support local businesses and expect the economy of Newark to thrive and our families to benefit," said Baraka on Monday at a press conference announcing the inauguration of the Newark 2020 initiative, a plan to encourage residents and non-residents of Newark to hire, buy and live in the state's largest city.
"We have to do something about it," Baraka said. "We have to be as angry at poverty as we are at gun violence."
The Newark 2020 plan, developed by the city's administration over the last two years, takes a three-pronged approach to improving the city's economic outlook. One goal of the plan is to hire and train 2,020 of the city's unemployed for full-time living wage jobs by the year 2020.
Another aim of the initiative is to support the growth of local businesses by connecting them to the purchasing needs of Newark businesses, large and small. Finally, the plan hopes to attract more people to live in Newark, including employees, faculty and students, as well as encouraging long-time residents to stay as the city continues to redevelop.
An assembly of major Newark institutional leaders were present, including representatives of Prudential Financial, PSE&G, Port Newark, RWJBarnabas Health, Rutgers-Newark and Panasonic.
PSE&G, RWJBarnabas, Rutgers-Newark and Audible have all pledged to hire at least 100 Newark residents by 2020 as part of the initiative.
Don Katz, the CEO of Audible, the audiobook company, moved his company to Newark from the New Jersey suburbs in 2007. Katz has already started his own plan to attract people to make the same move. Audible recently ran a housing lottery for employees, the winners of which would have their rent paid by the company for a year as long as they signed a two-year lease at the newly renovated Hahne & Company building in downtown Newark, a 10-minute walk from Audible’s headquarters.
Already sold on Newark, Katz sees the synergy in the city's strategy.
"What I see happening here is the three key catalytic sectors that need to drive progressive and visionary change - the business, government and philanthropic sectors - have an opportunity now to not look backward, to not protect the status quo. We can move out together to create a new urban entrepreneurialism that can really redefine other cities' comeback stories too."
Kimberly McLain, the CEO of the Newark Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the ongoing economic revitalization of Newark, said the initiative should not be confused with charity.
"This is about senior leadership saying that it doesn't make sense in that we can be this city and we cannot extend ourselves to those who have been here for decades," McLain said.
The family of Richard Cammarieri, the special projects coordinator of the non-profit New Community Corporation in Newark, has lived in the city since 1899. Speaking on behalf of the Newark Community Development Network, an umbrella group of community development organizations, Cammarieri has witnessed repeated attempts to revive Newark over the past half-century.
"We've been disappointed before, but I will say that there is something different about this," Cammarieri said. "It feels different. It sounds different. It looks different. My optimism is always guarded. However, I divest myself of that qualifier today. I am optimistic. This is a coherent, comprehensive and thoughtful vision that will raise up all Newark residents in a way that is equitable and sustainable."
The official announcement of the Newark 2020 plan comes only a few weeks before the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Newark civil disturbances that torched much of the city and scarred its image for decades.
Ryan Haygood, the CEO and president of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, referenced the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words in the 1960s about the development of two Americas, split along a racial and an urban/suburban divide.
Newark still faces great economic hardships: 33 percent of the city's African-American residents live in poverty, while only 18 percent of the jobs in Newark are held by city residents.
"These are systematic challenges that require a systematic response. Newark 2020 presents us with a such a special opportunity now," Haygood said. "Fifty years later, perhaps no other city embodies both the reality of the two Americas, and the possibility of bridging that intrinsic divide, than the mighty city of Newark."