NEWARK, NJ — Anybody who comes from the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark (a.k.a. Down Neck) knows that in all aspects of life, it's all about relationships.

For Chris Licata, ConnectOne Bank senior vice president, his deep family roots in the Ironbound is helping him and his co-workers extend their banking network. Together, Licata and his team want to build a better type of bank that is best equipped to help build a vibrant, booming, and changing part of New Jersey's largest city. 

"I'm part of Newark. I've been coming in and out of this neighborhood my whole life," said Licata, 42, as he sat dressed in a natty pinstripe suit inside the new ConnectOne Bank branch on Chestnut Street in the Ironbound. "With most bigger banks, your decisions are made anywhere else but New Jersey. We don't need to go to a different time zone. Instead, a client can walk into this office, and there is nothing that they need that we can't handle right here." 

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The brand-new ConnectOne Bank branch is using a model designed for the digital age and developed by founder Frank Sorrentino.

Traditionally, a long row of tellers with a few desks for loan consultations are elements that composed a bank branch. However, today’s bank branch has moved to be a hybrid between a co-working space and a networking space complete with coffee and technology.

The new ConnectOne Bank branch in the Ironbound is part of this trend. Built inside a repurposed factory building that once churned out brake parts for General Motors, the new bank space has 21st-century amenities that internet-savvy prospective clients have come to expect. 

The new branch, located immediately next door to the old location that first opened in 2014, contains meeting spaces, collaboration spaces, working spaces, online demos of digital banking, a cafe and tech bar, plus state-of-the-art technology throughout the branch. 

With the Ironbound home to twice as many businesses as the rest of Essex County, (600 businesses per square mile compared to 300 for the rest of the county), it was essential for ConnectOne bank to change to accommodate the density of small to medium-sized businesses that may need to use the bank as an entrepreneurial meeting space, networking or workspace, all while having access to banking and loan experts while they do business.

"A loan for $25,000 to a local mom-and-pop shop makes a big difference," said Licata, who also serves as the commercial lending team leader for the ConnectOne branch in the Ironbound. "We're providing the financing for that kind of development to happen, which means so much for so many members of this community. This is the most important way that this bank can be a positive agent for change in what is clearly a changing neighborhood." 

Life stands still for no one. The Ironbound is in flux, a tile in the mosaic of a Newark that is undergoing a revitalization, renovation, and resurgence.

"People who work at the other branches of ConnectOne are like 'Can I come down to the Newark office today?' They know that the Ironbound is a great place to be. They know what's up," said Licata, whose family ran the now-gone Tommy and Josephine's deli on Adams Street, and whose aunt is still well-known for the cappuccino she makes at the Caffè Espresso Italia, just a few blocks away at the corner of Adams and Malvern Street. 

"One of the questions our founder Frank Sorrentino, a builder turned banker, always asks is 'What do you guys need?' We have that line of communication open here in the Ironbound," Licata said. "We don't just talk about what needs to be done. We actually do it. And that makes a real difference."