Getting Amazoned: Could scenario of local unrest killing project play out in N.J.? Experts weigh in

A day after Amazon — and the promise of almost unprecedented jobs and investment — was forced out of New York City due to local opposition from politicians and progressives, two questions must be asked:

  1. Should Amazon been able to foresee this possibility?
  2. Could the same scenario happen in New Jersey?

The first question is easy — especially in hindsight.

So said Jay Biggins, a partner at BLS Strategies in Princeton and a nationally known relocation expert.

“I think generally it’s a surprise, but when you look back at the sequence of events, two things became clear: There was a growing sort of political movement among activists that captured a certain amount of the news cycle that was creating an unwelcome feeling. And there was the appointment of (state Sen. Michael Gianaris) to a public authorities control board that could stop it.

“It was a governance issue at the state level that has been there for a long time but is rarely used in this way to effectively block a project.”

File photo
Jay Biggins of Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co.

The second question is more nuanced. Our state, after all, is famous for home rule — a legacy issue that routinely comes into play with developers.

Ted Zangari, the chair of the real estate practice at Sills Cummis & Gross, said New Jersey had done the preparation needed to handle any issues.

“I don’t foresee the same issues playing out here, for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact that state and local officials practiced fire drills in preparation for their response to the Amazon RFP that paved the way for a clean shot should an actual opportunity present itself,” he said.

“Suitable tracts of land and large-block office spaces coming online in the years ahead were identified. A mega Grow NJ incentive was enacted into law. Infrastructure from a century ago when Newark housed at least twice its current population is also in place. And most importantly, politicians, business leaders and labor are all aligned here.”

Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, said having all players on board early is key — and what New Jersey always strives to do.

“It comes down to communication and partnership and collaboration,” he said. “With good communication and early planning, you can solve a lot of challenges.

“If someone wants to do something this is really odious and really hated by the community, you’re going to see those challenges, but if the company takes the right approach of early communication with state and local officials — you could hear, we’ve always had this XYZ issue and this is going to make it worse instead of making it better — but, if you do that early on, before the plans get locked in, you usually work around them and get to a happy outcome.”

Biggins said the Amazon event in New York may ultimately serve as a wakeup call for those looking to relocate.

File photo
Ted Zangari of Sills Cummis & Gross.

Even a project that was coveted by more than 200 municipalities in the country and had the support of the New York City mayor and New York governor was not a done deal upon the letter of intent.

Biggins, in fact, that said such agreements need to be viewed for what they really are, a first step.

“It’s a multilayered, complex decision-making process like none other, and anyone expecting to enter into a letter of intent with the senior executive leadership of state and city and expecting that to be the end of it, was not being practical,” he said. “It probably needed to have been perceived as a critical first step, but a step in a process that was going to entail some additional layers of negotiation before closing.”

It’s why Amazon should have realized this was a possibility.

“There’s only so much you can button down before you actually go through the gauntlet of additional gates of a process,” he said. “You can’t legally button it down, there are still layers of approvals. In this context, it means have all your political support lined up so that you have consent and you’ve developed whatever compromises are needed and gotten credit from those compromises in the form of sign-offs.

File photo
Tim Sullivan of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

“That’s where they lost control of the process and confronted some opposition that was more vocal and more focused on defeating this project than they were expecting. I don’t think they should ever have been surprised by that.”

The announcement, Sullivan said, was a big surprise for those in the economic development community for one simple reason: That scenario rarely plays out.

“It’s rare that something of that size actually goes off the rails,” he said. “There’s almost always something you can do — shrink the project, change the project, do something different — the full eject button is very rarely pushed, that’s why a lot of us who do this for a living were surprised.”

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Two coworking spaces, PrimeWork and Incutate, approved by NJEDA to offer rent support through NJ Ignite

Two coworking spaces, PrimeWork and Incutate, have been approved by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to offer rent support to startups through its NJ Ignite program, the NJEDA announced Friday.

NJ Ignite, the NJEDA said, supports technology and life sciences startup by moving them to collaborative workspaces and providing rent support to make the lab more affordable.

With the addition of Primework and Incutate, there are now a total of 11 workspaces approved to provide rent support, the NJEDA said.

“Entrepreneurs often face critical decisions about how to spend their capital,” NJEDA CEO Tim Sullivan said. “Through NJ Ignite, we’re helping to alleviate that burden by allowing startups to put their money toward creating jobs, investing in research and development, and commercializing and marketing their products and services. This focus is vital to achieving Governor Murphy’s vision for reclaiming New Jersey’s role as a worldwide leader in innovation.”

Primework, which recently opened its first New Jersey location in Somserset, said it is a “short-term, all-inclusive office space solution where a fledgling company can scale upwards without compromising the proprietary nature of its business.”

Primework also provides its members with furnished offices, flexible lease options, spacious conference rooms, mail service, Wi-Fi, kitchen amenities and more.

“Collaborative workspaces are the wave of the future for startups that don’t want to commit to long-term leases,” Avi Orlansky, PrimeWork founder and CEO, said. “Expanding into New Jersey has enabled us to reach a whole new crop of entrepreneurs and it is our sincere hope that many of them will decide to move to one of our facilities with support of the NJ Ignite program.”

Sewell-based Incutate provides startups and companies a space where they can interact with one another, it said. It was founded in 2011 by the law firm Lauletta Birnbaum as a consulting firm for early-stage companies.

“Our proximity to Rowan University makes us an attractive option for startups launched by the university’s students and alumni who are looking for office space and hands-on mentorship,” Frank A. Lauletta, Lauletta Birnbaum founding member, said. “Thanks to NJ Ignite, even more early-stage companies will be able to benefit from our numerous amenities and programs.”

For more information about the NJ Ignite program or to apply, click here.

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Murphy makes pitch for Amazon on TV talk shows: ‘There’s lots of compelling reasons’

Gov. Phil Murphy appeared (by telephone) on a number of business shows Friday morning, discussing all things Amazon and Newark in the wake of the e-commerce giant backing out of plans to create half of its second headquarters in New York City.

In this interview, on “Bloomberg Daybreak: Americas” with host David Westin, Murphy described:

  • His pitch for Newark (“We don’t have any of those land-use issues”);
  • His relationship with Amazon (“They already employ double-digit thousands of folks in New Jersey. They’re already a major corporate citizen in our state”);
  • His take on incentives (“If the arrangement only benefits the company and it’s completely one sided, you’ll logically get pushback, and rightfully so”); and
  • Why Newark residents and civic leaders wouldn’t push back against Amazon (“We’ve got the bones for a company to come in and employ folks and live there so not have to force people to the margins, which we will not ever do. I think it’s got to be balanced and I think Newark and New Jersey has put forward something to Amazon that was in balance”).

Here’s a transcript of the call:

David Westin: Is there any hope they can reconsider (not looking for a second headquarters)?

Phil Murphy: I think it’s too early to tell, David, but Newark was a very serious contender — it was in the last 20 and many would say it was on the even shorter list. It’s a very compelling story that’s only gotten more so. Newark in particular is a city that’s got the bones. We don’t have any of those land-use issues that I think they had to deal with in Long Island City (Queens). And, more importantly, it’s got a great location, enormous talent pool.

We are a state of innovation in terms of our own economic DNA, so there’s lots of compelling reasons. Newark is led by a great mayor, Ras Baraka. So, we think we got a lot of the pieces to the puzzle, but we’ll see. I think it’s too early to tell. I can’t speak for Amazon certainly, but we think Newark is a very compelling spot for them and for others thinking about a similar decision.

DW: Did (New York City) go too far? Have we seen the high-water mark in making those concessions to companies?

PM: I will say this on New Jersey, we always want to make sure every deal we strike works for the companies and the residents. It works for our kids. And Amazon has presented itself as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with this HQ2 notion. So, we felt we put a package together both at the state level and at the Newark city level. Not just for them, but for us, most importantly.

We still have that welcome mat out. The Newark story has only got more compelling, not less. I think it’s going to work for both sides. I think we had an arrangement with Amazon, a proposal with them that would do that. And I think, in many respects, we are the right choice for them. We have the highest concentration of scientists and engineers in the world. I think there’s a lot of data points that makes us compelling.

DW: How do you deal with taxpayer backlash at big companies coming to cities and the state offering them so much? What concessions do you make to your taxpayers?

PM: If the arrangement only benefits the company and its completely one sided, you’ll logically get pushback, and rightfully so. Land use, which isn’t as glamorous as incentives, was a big piece of the breakdown in New York. We have none of that in Newark, so we’ve got the bones for a company to come in and employ folks and live there so not have to force people to the margins, which we will not ever do. I think it’s got to be balanced and I think Newark and New Jersey has put forward something to Amazon that was in balance.

Local and state leadership were both supportive because we didn’t have those fractures, because it was a fair deal not just for them, but for Newark, too.

DW: Where did they go wrong? Would you have that support in Newark from local politicians, unlike (Gov. Andrew) Cuomo did for Long Island City?

PM: I can’t speak to Long Island City. I was with (New York City Mayor) Bill (de Blasio) a couple days ago talking about this very topic. We do not have that issue in Newark.  Let me just say that emphatically.

Mayor Baraka has been extraordinarily supportive (of) his city council. The local interests in Newark have been very supportive of an arrangement with Amazon as long as it was fair. We have long ago presented something that was fair. And I would say the same thing on the state level. I know the level of support in Newark and New Jersey, and it’s high.

DW: Is Amazon returning your phone calls?

PM: We’ve got a good relationship with them. I don’t want to speak for them, and I want to make sure I’m not getting ahead of myself, but we’ve got a very good relationship with Amazon. They already employ double-digit thousands of folks in New Jersey. They’re already a major corporate citizen in our state. We’ve had good exchanges throughout this process.

Even respecting their decisions to go to Virginia and New York, we never stopped speaking. And that’ll continue to be the case. So, while it’s too early to tell, I just want to make sure the world knows that the Newark story is still extremely compelling for the likes of Amazon.

DW: Is there a Plan B for Newark?

PM: Newark’s got a lot of buzz around it. Even when we didn’t win in the first round of the Amazon hunt, it was still an extraordinarily positive experience, it sharpened the story. The investment is high, the location is extraordinary, the talent pool, the infrastructure in terms of transportation (is strong).

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Rutgers School of Business–Camden dean steps down, returns to faculty

The Rutgers School of Business–Camden announced Friday Dr. Jaishankar Ganesh has decided to step down as dean and return to the faculty, effective July 1.

The announcement was made by Phoebe A. Haddon, chancellor, in a letter to the campus community on Friday.

The letter said since Ganesh began his role as dean in 2010, enrollment to Rutgers-Camden business programs has doubled.

During his time as dean, he helped create two online degree programs; a Student Experience Center; accelerate five-year programs and dual-degree programs; a Corporate Affiliate Program; and more.

To the Campus Community:

It is with great appreciation and respect for a job well done that I announce Dr. Jaishankar Ganesh’s decision to step down from deanship of the Rutgers School of Business–Camden and to return to the faculty effective July 1, 2019.

His tenure as dean has transformed our business school. Since the dean’s arrival in 2010, enrollment in Rutgers–Camden’s business programs has doubled. The dean has launched five new undergraduate and graduate programs that are thriving. He created two online degree programs – the Rutgers online MBA and the Rutgers online bachelor of arts in business administration – that represent the standard of excellence for all of Rutgers University’s online business offerings. It is an indicator of our success in this area that U.S. News & World Report has ranked our online BABA 31st in the nation and our online MBA as 51st.

Dean Ganesh’s strategy for preparing students in both the theory and the practice of business has resulted in an upgraded undergraduate curriculum that now incorporates career-oriented tracks and focused-learning modules across every program. Under his leadership, the School of Business created three one-credit courses that provide our students with critically needed professional development experiences. He designed and developed a Corporate Affiliate Program that enlists corporate partners in each major who recruit student interns and provide input to the business school curriculum. This program resulted in over 120 paid internships last year.

During the past several years, the School of Business sharpened its focus on providing our students with the support needed to assure their success in the classroom and in their careers. Dean Ganesh established a Student Experience Center to assist students with personal and professional development while monitoring clear competencies and metrics associated with student retention, graduation, and placement. His vision of an excellent business school energized our alumni who have responded with support that has enabled us to launch a new scholarship program, a Bloomberg trading lab, and a scholarly center that promotes excellence in accounting education and practice.

Our business school faculty has grown to meet the rising demand for a Rutgers–Camden business degree. The dean’s support for the business faculty has yielded an impressive increase in our institutional research profile. Their scholarship increasingly appears in top academic journals and the faculty often present at prominent conferences.

As a member of the campus leadership team, Dean Ganesh has contributed his energy toward the advancement of our campus. Partnering with the other academic units, he developed accelerated five-year programs and dual-degree programs that now allow students to heighten their professional profiles by earning their Rutgers–Camden MBA degrees while also working toward select undergraduate and other graduate degrees at our institution.

Jai Ganesh’s enthusiasm and spirit have uplifted Rutgers–Camden since his arrival in 2010.  I am grateful for his years of service as dean and look forward to his work with our students when he returns to the faculty.

We will identify opportunities to celebrate Jai Ganesh later this semester. Until then, please join me in offering our thanks to Dean Ganesh for all he has done to elevate the Rutgers School of Business–Camden during his deanship.

Within the coming weeks, I will announce plans for transitional leadership for the business school as well as for a national search for a new dean.

Phoebe A. Haddon, J.D., LL.M., Chancellor

Corcentric relocates HQ to Cherry Hill to accommodate rapid growth

Corcentric, a provider of procurement and financial process automation solutions, announced it has relocated its headquarters to Cherry Hill.

The new space is located at 200 Lake Drive East in the Woodland Falls Corporate Park.

“For more than two decades, New Jersey has been our home and we’re committed to continuing to grow in this state,” Matt Clark, president and chief operating officer at Corcentric, said. “As more and more companies realize the efficiency and productivity gains enabled by modernizing their procurement and finance functions – and the cost-savings and better supplier relationships that go along with it – we expect the momentum we experienced last year to continue throughout 2019.”

The company moved, it said, to accommodate rapid growth, including its acquisition of Source One Management Services and Determine Inc. It also said its current client base now exceeds 6,000 companies with revenues around $103 million for 2018.

St. Peter’s U. names new executive director for public policy institute

Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City announced Thursday it has named Ginger Gold Schnitzer the new executive director for the Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership, effective March 4.

Schnitzer is the current director of government relations for the New Jersey Education Association. She’s spent 22 years with NJEA, helping shape education policy in New Jersey.

“Ginger has more than two decades of experience as a respected leader of one of the most important unions in our state,” Eugene J. Cornacchia, president of Saint Peter’s University, said. “We are confident that her experience and connections will be a tremendous asset to the growth and success of the Guarini Institute.”

The Guarini Institute provides a non-partisan forum for discussion of key public policy issues, Saint Peter’s said. It sponsors lectures and programs throughout the academic year to promote critical thinking, debate and careers in public service.

“The Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership at Saint Peter’s University is an ideal place to explore critical public policy issues and inspire the next generation of leaders, advocates and policy experts,” Schnitzer said. “This is important work and I am excited to leverage my experiences in state and local politics to raise the bar for the Institute.”

Schnitzer has also served in a number of other public service roles. In 2008, she was named a member of the United States Electoral College for New Jersey. She also served on the Plainsboro Township Committee for eight years and was president of the Plainsboro Public Library Foundation and vice chair of the Plainsboro Township Zoning Board. She currently serves as a visiting associate at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.   

 Schnitzer earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in government administration from University of Pennsylvania and a juris doctorate from Villanova University School of Law.

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In Jersey City, a Vegan Cafe For All Palates

A ‘bacon cheeseburger’ made with a meat-like Impossible Burger patty with vegan mozzarella and smoky coconut ‘bacon.’ Photo by Sophia F. Gottfried

When Marcell Portes went vegan five years ago to transform his health, it wasn’t an easy transition. Friends cautioned him against it, and his family, originally from the Dominican Republic, where meat is a big part of the cuisine, was also puzzled.

He found it difficult to find something to order when he went out to eat. But he knew how to cook, from working in family restaurants and various other kitchen jobs. So, last May, the 26-year-old decided to open his own vegan restaurant in Jersey City.

Portes, who has spent most of his life on Jersey City’s West Side, didn’t venture to trendy downtown. Instead, he opened More Life Cafe on the city’s West Side, near Lincoln Park (and just a five-minute drive from his mother’s restaurant, El Sol Del Caribe). It was a conscious choice. “I wanted people in my neighborhood to have access to something healthier, something different,” says Portes, who can count four liquor stores and more than a handful of fried food joints on his short 10-minute commute home from the cafe.

What guests—those from the neighborhood, as well as all who trek in from across the city—find at More Life is a cheerful, no frills spot with tons of options for vegans and open-minded non-vegans alike. The front of More Life is dominated by a buffet, where one can scoop up over a dozen rotating dishes into a takeout container and pay based on weight ($8.99 per pound). These recipes are Portes’ creations and lean heavily on the Caribbean flavors and ingredients he was raised on—sans the meat, seafood and dairy, of course—and cooking techniques learned from his mother. “A lot of people think vegan food is bland or not tasty,” the soft spoken and lean Portes tells me, “but that’s not true.”

The buffet bar at More Life Cafe. Photo by Sophia F. Gottfried

When I stopped in for dinner, vegan friend in tow, we found More Life’s plethora of buffet options to be super flavorful, indeed, from the cinnamon-rich mashed sweet potatoes to tangy barbecue jackfruit to a spicy chayote squash stew, which we sopped up with a flaky plantain cake loaded with plantain slices and shredded coconut. After packing a plate to share with a small scoop of just about everything from the buffet and still weighing in at around $10, we also ordered from the set menu. Featuring mostly veggie burgers, mac and (cashew) cheese and soy ‘chicken’ sandwiches, this section of the menu is plant-based, but not necessarily healthy.

Mac and (cashew) cheese. Photo by Sophia F. Gottfried

For my vegan friend, the ‘bacon cheeseburger’ ($12), a crispy, surprisingly meat-like Impossible Burger patty with vegan mozzarella and smoky coconut ‘bacon,’ satisfied a fast-food craving. For people skeptical of vegan food or healthier eating, this part of the menu is a more approachable introduction to vegan or plant-based eating, Portes explains.

There are also a dozen smoothies, juices and ‘ice cream’ shakes, a pastry case full of vegan cakes and mousses and a few goods from other local vegan businesses for sale, such as Cliffside Park-based Om Sweet Home Bakery’s vegan ‘butter,’ and Brooklyn’s Yeah Dawg vegan hot dogs.

Portes has hired two cooks to keep up with demand and now works in the kitchen himself a few days a week. He says would love to expand throughout the city and get in on the many areas of Jersey City that are up-and-coming, where customers are asking him to open. It’s a far cry from half a decade ago, when he caught so much flak for his vegan diet, but Portes isn’t flaunting that. “I’m just happy I was able to introduce a lot of people to healthier options.”

More Life Cafe, 191 Mallory Ave, Jersey City; 201-985-0001. Open daily from 11 am to 8 pm.

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Unchained at Last Aims to End Child and Forced Marriages

Illustration by Ellen Weinstein

They contact her by e-mail, text and phone, entreating her to help them, each story more heartrending than the last. The teenager whose parents are determined to marry her off to an older cousin. The couple who grew up in a religious cult and were married against their will at 15. The young gay woman forced into marriage at 19 to a man who repeatedly beat and raped her. The sisters whose abusive father wanted them to marry men he could control. Their stories haunt Fraidy Reiss, but they also impel her to action. The founder of Unchained at Last, a nonprofit based in Westfield and dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the United States, Reiss understands the stories as if they were her own. Because, in fact, they are.

Raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, Reiss was forced, at 19, to marry a virtual stranger who threatened to kill her less than two weeks after the wedding and continued to do so for the 12 years they were together. Eventually, she found a way out of the marriage—an extraordinarily difficult and courageous act for a woman raised in an ultra-conservative religious milieu. As she built a new life for herself and her two daughters, she found she couldn’t forget the suffering of other women like her. It was that sense of survivor’s guilt that became the impetus for the founding of Unchained at Last in 2011.

If you think that forced marriage is a third-world problem, or perhaps limited in the United States to fringe religious communities, Reiss will quickly set you straight. In her small office, she reels off the statistics: “Across the U.S., between 2000 and 2010, an estimated 248,000 children were married, some as young as 12, almost all of them girls married to older men.” (The estimate is based on the available data from 38 states.)

There are no hard numbers on forced marriages overall, but anecdotally, Reiss says, “I can tell you it’s happening everywhere. Our clients come from every major religion, minor religions, secular backgrounds; they come from every socioeconomic level; they come from families who’ve been in America for many generations and from immigrant families from countries of origin on every inhabited continent.” It’s happening in the LGBTQ community, where parents employ forced marriage as a form of conversion therapy. And in the vast majority of cases Reiss has worked on, the perpetrators are parents. “Think about that betrayal,” she says. “The people you’d normally go to for help are the ones causing you harm.”

That was certainly Reiss’s experience, but it wasn’t one she rebelled against initially. As a teenager in the ultra-Orthodox community, she expected an arranged marriage, even welcomed it. It was only when her husband began to threaten her that she realized there could be a downside to the custom. “He would describe to me in detail how he was going to kill me,” she says, “and he gave me good reason to believe him, because while he was saying it, he would punch his fist through the wall, smash windows, dishes, furniture.” Still, she had two children with him and moved with him to an Orthodox community in New Jersey, all the while enduring his mounting abuse. At 27, she says, “I realized that the only way out of the marriage, other than a coffin, was through an education.”

She enrolled in Rutgers, graduating at 32 with a degree in journalism, and found a job as a reporter at the Asbury Park Press. In her last year at Rutgers, she’d stopped wearing a head covering—traditional for Orthodox women. Her parents’ response was to declare her dead to them. In a strange sense, that freed her to leave the marriage. “I was no longer worried about losing my family,” she says. “I’d already lost them, so what more could I lose?” She changed the locks, filed for divorce, and four years later, scraped together enough cash to buy a small Cape Cod in Union County, which she and her daughters referred to as the Palais de Triomphe. That same month, she founded Unchained, the only U.S. nonprofit devoted to aiding and advocating for victims of forced and child marriage.

Reiss figured she could devote a couple of hours a week to it: maybe help five women the first year, 10 the next, offer some emotional support, help them find pro bono attorneys. “By the end of the first year,” she says, “Unchained had 30 clients, and they needed a lot more than just emotional support and attorneys.” Often, the women are fearful they’ll be tracked down and returned to their marriages. For this reason, Unchained fiercely guards their privacy. (Due to privacy issues, New Jersey Monthly was unable to interview any of the women for this story.)

From its inception as a one-woman operation to its current stature as a globally recognized nonprofit with a full-time staff of four and a devoted cadre of volunteers, Unchained has helped more than 500 women and girls escape forced marriage, offering them a safe haven (usually a shelter for survivors of domestic violence), free legal aid to secure a divorce (and sometimes, a restraining order), and emotional support for as long as it’s needed. The organization offers assistance to any girl or woman in the U.S. who, in the words of its mission statement, is or has been pressured, bribed, tricked, threatened, beaten or otherwise forced into marriage, as well as American citizens who have been taken overseas for the purposes of forced marriage.

Clients find Unchained through word of mouth or referrals from law-enforcement or domestic-violence agencies. When a woman is taken overseas for a forced marriage and makes her way into a U.S. embassy, the State Department may refer her to Unchained. Some find the organization through an online search, even in religious communities that ban the Internet. (“It’s really hard to enforce those Internet bans,” Reiss says from personal experience.)

Unfortunately, if those clients are under 18, the extent of the help that Unchained can offer is limited. That’s because, thanks to a variety of legal loopholes, child marriage is still legal in 48 states. And then there are the various legal measures designed to protect children: In most states, for instance, it’s illegal to help a child leave home. In addition, largely because of liability issues, most domestic-violence shelters won’t take in a child without a parent or guardian.

“That means,” says Reiss, “that in a lot of states right now, children can marry but aren’t allowed to file for divorce. We like to say that puts the ‘lock’ in ‘wedlock.’” What’s more, in most states, it’s virtually impossible for a child to retain an attorney or mount a legal action in her or his own name.

“Think about that betrayal,” says Reiss. “The people you’d normally go to for help are the ones causing you harm.” Photo by Jennifer S. Altman

Given those realities, Reiss felt it was a no-brainer to advocate for a legal ban on child marriage. However, it would have to be done on a state-by-state basis, and eventually on the federal level. She figured that most legislators wouldn’t even be aware that child marriage was still legal, or would think that it was simply the result of archaic laws that no one had seen fit to remove from the books. Once they knew, she assumed, arriving at a legislative fix would be a slam dunk.

Her first assumption turned out to be correct; alas, the second, she learned as she proposed the legislation to lawmakers across the country, was a tougher hurdle. “In state after state,” Reiss says, “the argument was that if a girl got pregnant, she had no choice—she’d have to get married, even if she was raped.”

Reiss and Unchained battled on, wielding statistics as a weapon. Consider, they told the legislators, that a teenage girl who marries in the United States is 31 percent more likely to live in poverty and 51 percent more likely to drop out of high school, and that globally, child marriage makes a woman three times more likely to be a victim of domestic violence than if she marries at 21 or older.

Concentrating on her home state of New Jersey, Reiss chipped away at legislative resistance until all but five legislators gave the thumbs up to a bill raising the minimum age to marry to 18. (Previous state law permitted 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent, and those under 16 with the consent of parents and a judge.) The bill passed both houses of the Legislature in 2017, but Governor Chris Christie vetoed it, citing religious customs and recommending that it restrict marriage to those 16 and older. Meanwhile, Reiss and Unchained got a bill banning child marriage—the first of its kind in the nation—passed in Delaware in May 2018. The New Jersey bill was brought up again and signed into law last June by Governor Phil Murphy.

Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Union), a sponsor of the bill, ascribes much of its success to Reiss. “She was determined,” says Munoz. “She visited the offices of the majority of legislators, and she was extremely persuasive. She had the facts on her side, and she wouldn’t back down.” Munoz notes that she has sponsored many pieces of legislation, but the bill banning child marriage is one of which she is especially proud.

So far, Reiss and Unchained have helped to introduce similar legislation in more than 20 states, with the goal of getting child marriage banned nationwide. But even if that happens, Reiss says, she’ll probably be in business for a long time to come. Women over 18, after all, can still be forced into marriage, and few states have laws banning forced marriage overall. Then there’s the problem of parents forcing their children to marry in religious-only ceremonies. In some states it’s illegal to officiate at a marriage without a civil marriage certificate, “but that doesn’t stop the practice from happening,” Reiss says.

If Reiss is angry, she’s also remarkably upbeat. As she tells her story, she pulls up her sleeve to reveal a tattoo braceleting her right wrist; it depicts a series of links, one of which has been explosively severed. In the early days of the fight to ban child marriage, she explains, she and her staff vowed to get celebratory tattoos when the first bill was signed into law. Getting that tattoo, she says, was one of the most triumphant moments of her life. Given her iron determination to right the wrong of forced marriage, that triumph is likely to be one of many.

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PSEG’s LaRossa insists utility will close nuclear plants without subsidy

Public Service Enterprise Group is fighting back. Again.

New Jersey’s largest utility is doubling down on its promise to shutter three nuclear plants in South Jersey if it does not get approval for up to $300 million in state subsidies annually for the next three years.

Whether or not PSEG should receive the zero emission credits, or ZEC, is a question the state Board of Public Utilities is deliberating on and will have an answer for in April.

Ralph LaRossa, CEO and president of PSEG Power, told ROI-NJ on Thursday that the nuclear plants can’t compete with cheaper options and would have to close if they are not subsidized for the next three years.

“As part of that application process, you have to commit that you are closing the plants (if the subsidy is not approved) and we indicated that with an officer’s signature in that document,” LaRossa said.

If it sounds like the same fight that took place last summer, that’s because it is.

Earlier this month, the state’s rate counsel said the truckload of documents provided to the BPU show the utility is not in dire financial need of the subsidy.

In a 44-page response Thursday, PSEG said the claims made by the rate counsel are relitigating old issues that were brought up during the legislative battle, and that the rate counsel is unfairly characterizing some of the prices and financial information.

The unfair characterization is namely using the highest prices available to show revenue, rather than the mix of fluctuations for on-peak and off-peak pricing, according to PSEG.

The rate counsel and other opponents of the proposal are also suggesting that PSEG is using inaccurate methodologies to calculate the losses the plants could incur.

In the absence of nuclear energy, gas and coal plants would pick up the losses, as was already evidenced by the closure of one plant last year, LaRossa said.

PSEG said there was a shift of approximately 20 percent of electric generation from nuclear to natural gas as a result of the shutdown of Exelon’s Oyster Creek plant in September.

LaRossa said PSEG has consistently stated that keeping the nuclear plants open helps provide New Jersey a clean energy option in the buildup to stronger wind and solar energy production (both of which PSEG has dabbled in).

Nuclear is a clean energy option, but has fierce competition from cheaper and more abundant gas production — and the process for selling energy into the grid, which operates electricity for the entire region, prioritizes cheaper over cleaner energy in an annual bid process, he said.

That, LaRossa said, is why the subsidy is necessary. It helps to cover the costs of operating nuclear energy, which operates at the same pace throughout the day rather than with more control over how much is burning, like with coal and gas.

“The market is going to the next-cheapest product,” he said. “If the marketplace is not paying enough, that’s where the ZEC application comes in. It’s going to be as competitive as any other; for us, we are going to be compensated like we should be.

“(If) we know we have this other revenue source — because I can bid on 10 if I know I need 12 to run, because I get two from this other revenue source. If I wasn’t getting the two from someplace else, I have to bid 12 and then I’m going to be out of the market.”

And the threat of closing down all three plants, rather than just one or two, is both a cost-benefit issue and affects PSEG’s attractiveness as an employer.

“You operate as a whole fleet,” he said.

Despite lower costs of some labor and reduced purchasing of nuclear rods, if only one or two plants closed, the shared cost of all three plants make it an efficient endeavor for PSEG, LaRossa said.

The costs of operating just one nuclear plant cannot be sustained and would reflect poorly on PSEG for hiring future talent because it only has one plant, he said.

The rate counsel has been fighting back since the time the legislation was discussed, saying PSEG is using taxpayers to run its business.

Meanwhile, PSEG has maintained that lowering the cost of energy is an important step for the business to take to serve its customers — the very same taxpayers.

“From a carbon-free generation solution, this is a much-needed solution to keep around,” LaRossa said.

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N.Y.C.’s loss of Amazon should be N.J.’s lesson: Bashing Big Business, incentives can cost you big businesses

When the state’s audit of the Economic Development Authority came out in January, some folks felt it was, at best, a contrived exercise to give Gov. Phil Murphy cover to change the state’s tax incentives — cover he didn’t need — and, at worst, stunningly inaccurate.

The $11 billion talking point, after all, has not held up to public or private scrutiny.

Years from now, it may be known as something else: the reason Amazon did not look to New Jersey after pulling out of New York City.

Why would a company that just left a location because public activists railed against an incentive package come to a state where companies taking incentives seemingly are being demonized — despite the fact that the state’s incredible $8 billion package for Amazon is still on the table?

Tom Bracken, who heads the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, has repeatedly argued that anti-business rhetoric (and regulations) are hurting the state’s chances of landing big companies.

File photo
Tom Bracken of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

“We need to stop the unwarranted negative attacks on New Jersey’s business community,” he said in a recent Op-Ed for ROI-NJ.

“Businesses in our state must deal with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the country, absorb new costs of a higher minimum wage and expanded paid sick leave, the new so-called ‘rain tax’ for the creation of stormwater utilities and manage through a morass of outdated and burdensome mandates.”

We may soon find out if that’s true.

The race for Amazon is not over. Not by a long shot. The rules, however, have changed. And it’s important for everyone to realize that.

So said Jay Biggins, executive managing director of BLS Strategies, a highly regarded national relocation firm based in Princeton.

“I think we probably should take Amazon at its word that it is not looking to relocate this half of HQ to one of the other candidate cities,” he told ROI-NJ.

Instead, Biggins said, Newark should look to be part of the incremental growth that still is coming to the metro area.

“The recommendation wouldn’t be for Newark to try to pursue what Amazon said they’re not doing, but rather to pursue opportunities for growth occurring within the region as Amazon looks to diversify,” Biggins said.

File photo
Jay Biggins of Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co.

“This is an important region for them, and they have a reason to be here. Then were very clear about that, and they intend to grow in the region. Newark has a reasonable shot at earning some of that growth.”

But it’s not the only city that can make that claim. Biggins said Jersey City is back in the game now, too.

“Don’t leave Jersey City out,” he said. “Newark was one of the finalists, but that game is gone. And all the rules of that game are over.

“Everything’s open. Jersey City absolutely has a reasonable prospect of obtaining some jobs from a share of the growth that they’re planning in the region.”

But neither city will have a chance unless the state changes its tune.

That’s what Jim Kirkos, the longtime head of the Meadowlands Chamber who is well versed in the New Jersey-New York battle over business, said after Amazon’s decision.

“The Amazon announcement is why business leaders constantly talk about policy-makers and communities needing to have an ‘Open for Business’ posture — one that creates and leverages opportunities while still making sure community concerns are met,” he said.

“New Jersey should learn from this devastating announcement in New York.”

Biggins agreed.

Meadowlands Regional Chamber
Jim Kirkos of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber.

“It’s important that the leadership of New Jersey get behind a positive message to recruit business,” he said. “The governor has already indicated his intent to have incentives going forward as part of that strategy. But the legislative leadership and the governor will need to get together around a consensus on how robust those incentives need to be in order for New Jersey to be successful.”

And there’s no time like the present.

“It’s important that they do that timely, so that we send a signal to the market that overcomes the negativity and projects unity behind a basic principle that is that New Jersey is competitive and intends to be successful in creating and retaining jobs,” Biggins said. “And that businesses will have a conducive environment for growth.”

Murphy attempted to do just that Thursday afternoon.

“After learning of the decision to pull out of their chosen HQ2 location, I contacted Amazon and city of Newark stakeholders directly, continuing a constant dialogue that predates my time as governor,” he said in a statement.

“New Jersey is open for business, and now more than ever, Newark is the clear choice as the next presence for Amazon corporate offices. Amazon now has the opportunity to join in Newark’s story of a city on the rise.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka made his pitch, too.

“Given the city and state’s assets — a strong talent pipeline, a diverse tech base, unmatched infrastructure and a highly accessible location — we are well poised to accommodate Amazon, should they want to relocate New York City’s portion of HQ2, in whole or part,” he said. “Legislation regarding the tax incentives has already been passed, our real estate options are still viable and the community has been — and will continue to be — engaged.

File photo
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

“Newark is becoming a national model for what equitable development should look like across the country, and we welcome the opportunity to resume conversations with Amazon and provide them an opportunity to be a part of its renaissance.”

Corporate incentives have been around for more than 100 years. But they may never have been more important than today.

Amazon, one of the most significant companies in the world, received hundreds of generous offers just for putting out a Request for Proposals. It was then forced to back out of a deal after those incentives led to a backlash of opposition from local groups.

The opposition may not have been expressing the voice of the people — some estimates said 70 percent of New Yorkers favored giving incentives to Amazon. But they certainly were talking in the loudest voice.

And you can be sure CEOs of companies across the country heard them loud and clear.

Now is the time for New Jersey to speak up.

If it doesn’t, New York’s loss may be ours, too.

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