Finance

Murphy announces weeklong September trade mission to India

Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday announced a seven-day trade mission to India in September, aimed at strengthening ties with the state’s second-largest foreign direct investor.

Murphy will visit six cities as part of the trip, including Delhi, Agra, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. The visit will make him the first governor of New Jersey to visit India on official business, the Governor’s Office said.

The focus of the economic mission is to strengthen business ties with India, cultivate international investment opportunities here and deepen cultural and economic ties between the state and nation. Murphy noted in his remarks that New Jersey has the nation’s fourth-largest Indian community, at an estimated 420,000-plus residents — a number that also makes the Indian community the state’s largest ethnic minority group.

“As India’s role as one of our key partners continues to expand, we want to make sure we maximize the potential of our economic relationship,” Murphy said at the event. “I am excited to make the case for New Jersey as a leading investment choice for Indian companies, creating lasting partnerships and good jobs for our residents. We are proud to be home of one of America’s most deeply-rooted Indian American communities, and growing our economic partnership will only strengthen those ties.”

The news of the trip was first reported in April by ROI-NJ, when state Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan described plans during an Indian Business Association event.

Plans for the trip include meeting with key government and industry leaders, as well as visits to companies and official announcements.

The trade delegation will include Murphy, first lady Tammy Murphy, Choose New Jersey CEO and President Jose Lozano, Sullivan and other officials.

“We are thrilled to be part of Gov. Murphy’s economic mission to India in September,” Lozano said. “New Jersey is a leader in the life sciences, medical technology, clean energy and manufacturing, and we are the best place for international companies to do business. We look forward to strengthening our close cultural and economic ties with our partners in India during this trip, and attracting more businesses to invest in the Garden State.”

Added Sullivan: “In our increasingly interconnected world, driving international trade and investment is critical to making New Jersey a global competitor and building a foundation for long-term, sustainable economic growth. As the country with the third-largest (gross domestic product) in terms of purchasing power, India is already a formidable player in the international economy, and the country’s influence is only continuing to grow. Gov. Murphy’s trip is an important step forward that will pave the way for new business partnerships between New Jersey and India and bring more investment and jobs to the Garden State.”

Murphy announced the trip at an event presented by the Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce held at the Spice Culture restaurant in South Plainfield.

Officials from the Somerset-based chamber — celebrating its 25th anniversary this year — presented Murphy with a “good luck shawl” and plaque at the start of the remarks.

“We are so honored that Gov. Phil Murphy has chosen the Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce to announce his trade mission to India in September of this year,” chamber President Priti Pandya-Patel said in her introduction. “As a community leader, business owner and longtime resident of New Jersey, it is so remarkable that this administration has made extra effort to embrace the value of our Asian Indian Americans for their contributions in New Jersey as well as recognizing the strengths of the companies based in India. On behalf of the board of directors and members of the Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce, we would like to wish Gov. Murphy and his team a safe and successful journey to India.”

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Multiple N.J. banks honored for community service efforts

Fourteen New Jersey banks were honored recently by the New Jersey Bankers Association for their community service and outreach efforts in the communities they serve in the state.

Banks were judged on their ability to help and serve in a number of areas, addressing a variety of needs in both traditional and imaginative ways. And while support for traditional, well-known philanthropic causes such as Habitat for Humanity, local food banks and first responders remained high, there was also significant support for a wide range of causes.

Employee volunteers from each bank were a major part of community support and outreach. Also evident was a commitment by bank managers and directors to community service through personal engagement in activities and events as well as membership on a wide spectrum of boards of not-for-profit organizations.

Winners were selected in seven size areas.

  • National banks: TD Bank, Bank of America;
  • Deposits over $5B: Provident Bank, Investors
  • Deposits between $2B- $5B: Peapack-Gladstone, Kearny
  • Deposits between $1B-$2B: Boiling Springs, Manasquan
  • Deposits between $500M-$999M: 1st Constitution, Two River Community
  • Deposits between $300M-$500M: Roselle Savings, Crest Savings
  • Deposits below $300M: Metuchen Savings, Lusitania Savings

Here’s a look at some of reasons for the selections:

Largest national banks

  1. TD Bank: A large bank with significant support for communities throughout New Jersey and across a wide range of needs.
  2. Bank of America: A large national bank with solid support for the people and communities of New Jersey.

Banks with deposits over $5B

  1. Provident Bank: Continued strong commitment to a wide range of causes in many communities reflecting a bank firmly rooted in New Jersey.
  2. Investors Bank: Demonstrates strong support for a wide variety of organizations, public services and community strengthening organizations.

Banks with deposits between $2B and $5B

  1. Peapack-Gladstone Bank: Continually has a clear message of what it supports, particularly with respect to food and shelter insecurity, and support for veterans in need.
  2. Kearny Bank: Significant support for a wide variety of causes and community service organizations by employees, primarily through volunteerism.

Banks with deposits between $1B and $2B

  1. Boiling Springs Savings Bank: Community outreach with Coffee with a Cop, and support for food pantries, various community centers and support for bankers in North and South Carolina affected by Hurricane Florence.
  2. Manasquan Bank: significant recognition for community support as evidenced by receiving a 2018 Humanitarian of the Year and Financial Capability Innovation Award.

Banks with deposits between $500M and $999M

  1. 1st Constitution Bank: Strong community presence and support-from board members through branch employees.
  2. Two River Community Bank: Supports a variety of not-for-profit groups and initiatives to improve the quality of life and environment in its service area.

Banks with deposits between $300M and $500M

  1. Roselle Savings Bank: Strong tradition of employees at all levels actively participating in educational and other community organizations including the exceptionally diverse activities and causes supported by members of the board.
  2. Crest Savings Bank: Bank employees and management reflect commitment to their communities through volunteer work, board memberships, support for youth and the arts, and an awareness of challenges and opportunities present in the smaller communities in which they operate.

Banks with deposits below $300M

  1. Metuchen Savings Bank: Outreach and funding is focused on support for youth, health-related causes and enrichment of their community.
  2. Lusitania Savings Bank: Employees demonstrate strong support for focused health needs within their service area.

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Heated to a boil: Experts say N.J.’s merger market is on fire — and there are few regrets

When you spend three decades officiating mergers and acquisitions, you’re going to see more than a few partnerships that everyone involved regrets.

Bob Anderson, shareholder at Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper P.C., certainly has seen his share.

Anderson, however, believes bad breakups are at an all-time low. Buyers and sellers pleased with their bottom line are often finding ways of making things work out in spite of quibbles.

“What’s making deals successful right now is the fact that, when the acquisitions are made, it’s in the context of a very good economy,” he said. “Even if you don’t find that operations are ideal at the company you’ve acquired, the fact that the economy itself is so strong — that tends to pull companies along regardless.”

For that reason, New Jersey’s merger market has remained at the busiest point in Anderson’s 30-year career over the past two years.

“People are buying and selling businesses at a rate I’ve never seen,” he said. “Sometimes, in the past, you’ve had different industry segments pick up an activity — with one area hot and one slow. Right now, there are buyers with money and sellers who see right now as a time to cash out in every industry.”

Other experts in these transactions, such as Jeffrey Cassin of Scarinci Hollenbeck, have been saying the same.

The defining story of dealmaking as of late has been the mixture of high levels of private liquidity, the recent tax overhaul leaving companies flush with cash and baby boomer company leaders retiring. With these ingredients, the market continued to heat to a boil, Cassin said.

M&A is all about buyers, as well as sellers, trying to predict the future. So, you can look at what businesses have done in the past, but now the future is making some people nervous because of the tariffs. It makes it difficult to predict what the next five years will look like.” — Bob Anderson

Although Cassin said a lot depends on particular circumstances when asked whether deals are more often successful today, he did say that he’s noticed both the buyer and seller side of the coin come to these transactions far more prepared than they did in the past.

“M&A actors have gotten more sophisticated using their legal, accounting and other advisers,” he said. “That allows them to ‘spec out’ their deals, basically just using those advisers to make better deals. And it’s the same on the sell side. Overall, it’s a cleaner process.”

Everyone agrees that sellers probably stand most to gain from deals today, due to the higher prices companies are fetching as larger businesses and private equity firms compete for the same deals.

Cassin said what’s fetching a higher price than ever today are companies that specialize in “human capital.” That means sales forces, IT teams and other employee-heavy operations.

“I think that’s a cool trend, because it means companies are really valuing people,” Cassin said. “And it might not have to do with general unemployment —and firms struggling to find talent —but just what businesses most need today.”

Even if the pricing of businesses is in flux, Cassin doesn’t expect any near-term issues that will make deals more difficult to pull off.

“Even when there is economic slowdown, M&A activity doesn’t always take a hit because you might just see a flip to it being more of a buyer’s market,” he said.

Anderson, on the other hand, wonders how much the international trade situation and new tariffs could start to deflate the ever-expanding appetite for acquisitions.

“M&A is all about buyers, as well as sellers, trying to predict the future,” Anderson said. “So, you can look at what businesses have done in the past, but now the future is making some people nervous because of the tariffs. It makes it difficult to predict what the next five years will look like.”

Without having seen any sort of impact yet, Anderson suspects that the economic saving grace less than perfect partnerships have had over the last few years might soon be a thing of the past.

“As it becomes more difficult to make predictions for what things will look like a few years out, that will make some more uneasy about what deals they’re putting together,” he said. “So far, activity is held up in the face of all that. We’ll have to see if that changes.”

Conversation Starters

Reach Bob Anderson of Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper at: randerson@lindabury.com or 908-233-6800.

Reach Jeffrey Cassin of Scarinci Hollenbeck at: jcassin@sh-law.com or 201-896-4100.

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Working together to deliver on promise more than 30 years in the making

Courtesy photo

Camden County Freeholder Jeff Nash.

On a summer day in 1992, I found myself among a large crowd inside the iconic RCA Building in Camden city where the world’s first recordings were set to vinyl. Then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton arrived at an otherwise desolate Camden waterfront for his first stop following his nomination at the Democratic National Convention in New York City. The future president spoke to jubilant supporters about his bold plans for urban renewal and the bright future envisioned for the city he visited that day.

In the almost three decades which followed, there have been many similar promises to rebuild one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the United States. Most plans were well-intentioned, all very expensive, but, despite all these efforts, Camden remained impoverished with limited opportunities for its residents.

Shortly after the Clinton visit, then-Gov. Jim Florio announced the “Camden Initiative,” only to see the plan abandoned by the incoming administration of Gov. Christie Whitman. Moving forward, it was replaced by a plan to develop the waterfront and clean Admiral Wilson Boulevard, but which essentially ignored the city’s neighborhoods. Gov. Jim McGreevey attempted to correct course by investing $175 million into those neighborhoods, but the investment was spread too thin, given the enormous need. Then the Great Recession handcuffed any economic opportunities explored by the following Gov. Jon Corzine administration.

Ironically, it was a Republican, Gov. Chris Christie, who, with a Democratic Legislature headed by Senate President Steve Sweeney and then-state Sen. Donald Norcross, lifted Camden’s trajectory for the first time in decades. Christie observed that, over the course of his first term, state aid to Camden increased approximately 40% to $350 million annually. He lamented about tax dollars being used to maintain the unacceptable status quo — the most dangerous, poorest city in the nation. He recognized that, either something dramatic was to be done to reverse the trend, or the annual cost to taxpayers would soon reach an astronomical $500 million a year.

Thus, the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 was born, extending enticing tax incentives to companies willing to invest millions of dollars and certify full-time employment in Camden and four other distressed cities in the state. Specifically, the plan was designed to create new jobs, which, in turn, would generate new state revenue to offset state aid and tax credits.

Around the same time, the Urban Hope Act created new educational opportunities for students, and the city police department was replaced by a larger county-run Metro force.

The revitalization legislation exceeded expectations. Objective observers have hailed the city’s revival as a model for the transformation of a midsize urban center in the United States. The result: a $2 billion private sector business investment; thousands of new job opportunities; training for residents to fill jobs; demolition of dangerous buildings; revitalization of a dilapidated parks system; new market-rate housing; infrastructure repairs; higher educational achievements; and significantly lower crime.

The challenge for Camden today is to sustain that positive momentum in a volatile political environment fueled by Trenton turmoil. However, 30 years of failed efforts should remind us that we finally found a revitalization formula that works. Our focus must not be shifted by misguided politics, but rather remain on job training, education and safety for Camden’s residents and all of South Jersey.

If I had closed my eyes at the RCA Building that summer day in 1992, and reopened them today, I would see a thriving waterfront and improved neighborhoods. I would have to conclude that Clinton’s optimistic vision of Camden’s future came to fruition.

What I see for our future is the next president visiting some impoverished community elsewhere in America and envisioning that it could one day be a city transformed like Camden.

Jeff Nash has served as a Camden County freeholder for 27 years, first elected in 1991. He is also vice chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority, having served under five governors in that appointed position. He is an attorney who moved his law office to Camden city.

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The DAK Group announces sale of Mayflower Sales to Gen Cap America

The DAK Group, an investment bank based in Rochelle Park, announced the sale of Mayflower Sales to Gen Cap America.

DAK served as the exclusive investment banker and financial adviser to Mayflower in the deal, initiating and managing the process.

“Mayflower has formed a strategic partnership to accelerate the company’s growth plans while also solidifying its position as a market leader. It is a fantastic opportunity for the owner to both monetize and ensure the legacy of the extraordinary business that his family has built.” Michael Richmond, managing director, The DAK Group, said.

The deal, DAK said, will capitalize on Mayflower’s position as a value-add distributor of physical security and storefront hardware products.

“We selected Gen Cap based on their long-standing track record of partnering with established management teams to drive continued success,” Paul Swetow, CEO of Mayflower, said.

The DAK team was led by Michael Richmond, managing director; Elyse Greenbaum, director; and Melvyn Threatt-Peters II, vice president.

“We are excited to partner with Mayflower’s top-notch management team, led by CEO Paul Swetow, in this investment. We look forward to working with the Mayflower team to further build on the company’s long track record of providing quality products and exceptional service to its customers,” Andrew Ginsberg, director, Gen Cap America, said.

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N.J.’s small businesses won $2.1B in federal contracts in FY18, SBA reports

New Jersey small businesses received $2.1 billion in federal contracts during fiscal 2018, according to the Small Business Administration, part of $120.8 billion awarded nationwide.

The state also reached the mandatory goal of 23% of contracting dollars going to small businesses, according to SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone.

The $120 billion in nationwide contracts represented a record for the federal government, SBA Regional Administrator Steve Bulger said. Bulger, who oversees programs in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, noted that the government earned an “A” on the annual Small Business Federal Procurement Scorecard as a result.

“We are finding that the annual Procurement Scorecard is an effective tool that measures how well federal agencies reach their small business and socioeconomic contracting and subcontracting goals,” bulger said in a prepared statement. “It is important to remember that SBA is providing accurate and transparent contracting data, as well as reports on the specific progress each federal agency is making toward meeting their overall contracting goals.”

Titone listed some other statistics for New Jersey:

  • Small disadvantaged businesses received $752 million in federal contracts, surpassing the mandatory 5% goal at 8% of total dollars;
  • Women-owned small businesses received $464.4 million in federal contracts, just under the mandatory 5% goal at a 4.95% rate;
  • Service disabled veteran-owned small businesses received $146 million in federal contracts, below the mandatory 3% goal at 1.5%;
  • Historically Underutilized Business Zone, or HUBZone, businesses received $65 million in federal contracts, below the mandatory 3% goal at 0.7%.

“Our work is never done when it comes to achieving contracting goals,” Bulger said. “In New Jersey, our focus will be on women-owned small businesses, certified HUBZone companies and service disabled veteran-owned small businesses. To make sure we are improving on all fronts, we are continuing to collaborate and have discussions with federal agencies on ways to expand opportunities for more small business contractors in our region to be better prepared to compete and win federal contracts.”

Nationally, the $120.8 billion represented 25.1% of federal contract dollars, also exceeding the 23% mandate. The total was up nearly $15 billion from the prior fiscal year.

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Tax factor: Reforms’ effect has some businesses looking at M&A in new light

Companies are finding a new reason to go out shopping for other businesses or post their own For Sale signs: There might be a favorable tax bill in their future.

It doesn’t exactly top the list of reasons a business participates in merger and acquisition activity, but more private entities are considering whether there might be tax benefits in forging new partnerships under the country’s new tax code.

So said Stephen Ehrenberg, an accountant who, like any other, wants his clients to make sound tax decisions. And, these days — under 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act regime — there’s a lot of his favorite decision-making to do when it comes to buying or selling a business.

“It has really changed the landscape for buyers as well as merger candidates for many reasons,” Ehrenberg said. “The benefits along with the potential downsides strictly from a tax perspective have given a lot of people food for thought.”

The recent tax reform, effective as of last year, made changes such as cutting the country’s federal tax rate for corporations to 21 percent, down from 35 percent. 

Ehrenberg, a partner at Sax LLP, said that tax rate reduction is one of the most obvious ways the overhaul is coming to bear on M&A activity.

“The U.S. used to have a higher corporate tax rate than other countries, so it became sometimes more difficult to succeed with some arrangements,” he said. “With the lower rate now, there’s a different consideration from buyers looking beyond the country’s borders.”

On the other hand, the lowered tax rate is upping the likelihood that a business in a newly favorable tax circumstance will want to keep the doors open, he added. Likewise, private entities have extra incentive to stay in business by securing more market share with acquisitions, potentially affecting what those businesses are willing to pay for a partner as a result.

Eligibility for the Qualified Business Interest deduction, which can shave 20% off taxable income, has also been relevant for both sides of the coin.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had little to say about the direct tax implications of M&A transactions, so how businesses are structured — and thus how much tax they owe — is what matters most. 

That said, Ehrenberg said there are many components of the new tax system that have consequences, however indirectly, for these transactions. 

New rules around the deduction of business equipment and other assets incentivizes agreements wherein a buyer purchases certain assets of the business being acquired. Federally designated Opportunity Zones and the tax benefits they now bring has given those of the seller side of acquisitions potential to defer gains.

However, as much as Ehrenberg is a tax guy — he said it’s not everything when it comes to the decision to buy or sell a business.

“You never want to let the tax tail wag the dog,” Ehrenberg said. “You’ve got to look at things holistically. You don’t go with merger candidates just because you can save 20 percent on your tax bill — because if you’re not making money in that arrangement, it won’t matter.”

Tariff tribulations

Tariffs are being talked about again — and no one doing mergers and acquisitions is happy to hear it.

When it comes to buying and selling businesses, Stephen Ehrenberg of Sax LLP said involved parties value certainty. So, when there’s news about intensified trade battles, buyers and sellers get antsy.

Even when it doesn’t appear to have an effect on a business transaction, there can easily be an indirect impact when two companies are looking to combine, Ehrenberg added.

“If you’re selling your business to a company selling washing machines made in Canada, they may be facing tariffs that they weren’t hit with before,” he explained. “And when it comes to (M&A), it could work in your favor, or it could just as easily be a detriment. It’s hard to say.”

The trade situation is especially nerve-racking for businesses in the middle of transactions, as Ehrenberg said there’s often no predicting impending tariffs or retaliatory measures.

“Some businesses are having to pause to ask, ‘Am I going to buy a company when I’m going to be stuck with tariffs that are 10 or 15 times greater than they were six months ago?’” Ehrenberg said.

Todd Polyniak, also of Sax LLP

Todd Polyniak, also of Sax LLP, said there have been recent instances of private equity firms purchasing businesses and being unhappy with returns because of how the trade environment has evolved.

Due to that, Polyniak said businesses putting themselves up for auction should expect a whole lot more due diligence going forward.

“It won’t be as easy as it was even a year ago,” he said.

Conversation Starter

Reach Stephen Ehrenberg of Sax LLP at: sehrenberg@saxllp.com or 212-661-8640.

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Life after liquidity: 3 things to know before selling your business

As we draw closer to the end of a business cycle, mergers & acquisitions activity in New Jersey is anything but quiet. The business lifecycle continues to accelerate, creating both pressure and disruption for business owners. Innovation across the state’s core industries has fueled further competition across the spectrum. At a time when organic growth has been slower over the past few years, companies have been turning to more acquisitive opportunities in order to continue to hit their growth trajectories and stave off new competitive entrants. This point is further illustrated in JPMorgan Chase’s 2019 Business Leaders Outlook survey, where a number of business owners have identified M&A as a catalyst for future growth.

JPMorgan Chase
Lester Pataki of JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking.

What generates concern for business owners is often the uncertainty around the M&A or sale process and what the outcomes may be. The inevitable worries might include “Is now the right time? Will I get the maximum value for my business? What happens to me and my family after the ink is dry?”

Among the top ways to prepare for such an event, and to ease anxieties, are educating yourself on three key considerations as you prepare for a sale or restructuring.

Don’t underestimate the emotional side of the transaction

Business owners often focus on how to maximize transaction value and do not take the necessary steps to secure the best personal outcome from the sale of a business. Deciding to sell a business is a deeply personal decision. The right sale structure is often motivated by factors other than financial metrics, and can depend greatly on how the owner envisions their life post-transaction.

For these reasons, it is important to establish in advance the primary purpose, or intent, for your money — both the financial and structural outcome — before taking any other steps. Identifying a primary intent moves the focus on a company’s sale to the broader purpose of the financial and structural outcome, which can align overall wealth strategy and decision making with the individual’s or family’s goals.

Key questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s the level of involvement you envision for yourself post-transaction? What level of control, or lack of, are you comfortable with?
  • Do you have family members whose livelihoods are dependent on the business?

Know your options

Each business owner’s exit strategy may look different depending on the role they want to play post-transaction and how they want to structure their deal. Business owners need to marry their business and personal objectives to arrive at the best option. While selling is a common path for business owners seeking liquidity, it’s just one option. There are lots of ways to extract liquidity that are often overlooked.

Aside from a full sale of your business — a clean break — you might continue with an equity stake. With a minority controlled equity stake, you may contribute still to the company’s strategic operations if your goal is to still maintain some control. You may also consider a structured sale or employee stock ownership plan.

Key questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the business?
  • Am I aware of what the industry multiples are/market value of my industry?

Ask the tough questions during planning — and do it early

Planning helps avoid risk to your business and your personal financial plans, and also keeps the peace among business partners, stakeholders and family. If an exit strategy is on the horizon, understanding economic conditions and trends is key. For example, technology is both an enabler and disruptor of business models and, in New Jersey, the bio and medical technology industries are growing apace. Having an informed view of the outlook for your business’ sector from a regional and industry point of view will be additive to understand the price value of the business.

Timing is also a critical consideration. Decision makers should be of sound mind, and not “under the gun” with time constraints or financial distress. Ideally, transaction planning begins as much as three to five years in advance of execution. When there is a compressed time period to finish the deal, the owner may not get the most out of their hard-earned equity interest, and may regret a strategic decision they could have handled differently.

Depending on the leadership structure of the business, you may be exposed to some unique risks. For example, if the No. 1 decision maker can no longer fill that role, what happens to the company’s operations? If the business is family-owned or operated, is there a logical succession plan in place? No matter what age an owner or business might be, this step is critically important.

Key questions to ask yourself:

  • How will the talent, financial and operational executions function after the deal?
  • Is there a succession plan in place for critical roles to support the business?
  • Have you established procedures for conflict resolution and exits from the business to avoid disruption?
  • Have you established a contingency plan in case of your incapacity or death?

J.P. Morgan Private Bank in New Jersey is run by Market Manager Alma DeMetropolis, who leads a team of local professionals that provide wealth management advice, strategies and services to successful individuals, family offices, foundations and endowments throughout the region. Lester Pataki is a managing director and middle market banking region manager for JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking in New Jersey. He leads a team of commercial bankers who help local companies succeed at every stage of growth through tailored solutions, including credit and financing, treasury and payments and international banking.

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Cross River acquires Seed small business banking platform

Cross River Bank, a Fort Lee-based provider of banking services, announced Monday it has acquired Seed, an online small business banking technology platform.

The new platform, Cross River said, will enhance the bank’s suite of Banking-as-a-Service solutions.

“This acquisition marks a significant milestone for Cross River that comes on the heels of our recent capital raise. It allows us to further strengthen our position as a leading provider of fintech solutions as we continue building and enhancing a complete banking platform where companies can leverage best-in-class banking technologies with compliance excellence,” Gilles Gade, founder, chairman and CEO, Cross River, said. “The strength of Seed’s leadership is undeniable, and we are excited to extend Cross River’s growth trajectory with this acquisition as we bring on the Seed team and work together to expand our capabilities and offerings.”

Under terms of the deal, Cross River said it will take on members of the Seed team, including Seed co-founders Brian Merritt and Ryan Hildebrand, and open additional offices on the West Coast in San Francisco and Portland.

“We extend a huge thank you to Gilles and the Cross River Board for believing in us,” Brian Merritt, co-founder and CEO of Seed, said. “We are excited to be a part of this dynamic team as we help Cross River continue to build on its lead as the best bank and technology partner in the country.”

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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First National Bank of Elmer may not be down the Shore, but it’s making inroads with seafood industry

When the First National Bank of Elmer got started 115 years ago, it was founded in a barbershop in its namesake Salem County borough. That’s at least an hour’s drive from the Shore.

So, when the bank recently went fishing for a customer segment, what it came up with might be a surprise.

“What we have down in South Jersey is a concentration of seafood businesses,” said Brian Jones, CEO and president of the bank. “And, because of banking industry consolidation, there’s fewer players in that market down there today than there were five or six years ago. And these seafood businesses need new banking partners.”

Not keen to tell the tale about the big one that got away, this community bank is pursuing clients in the South Jersey fishing industry, adding to the small and midsized businesses it already serves in its footprint across Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.  

And the sector is a big one. Nationally, the seafood industry — between harvesters, seafood processors, wholesalers and retailers — generates about $129 billion annually, Jones said. Combined, the country has more than a million jobs in this sector.

The Upper Deerfield branch.

Locally, the combined port of Cape May/Wildwood is one of the largest commercial fishing ports on the East Coast, he added. A recent report put the value of this South Jersey industry at $85 million.

Cold Spring Fish & Supply Co., one of the region’s largest seafood businesses, contributes about 500 jobs to the Cape May County economy — making it one of the county’s largest employers. Another Cape May business, Snow’s/Doxsee, has the nation’s largest allocation for fishing and harvesting ocean clams.

There are more businesses in the region’s fishing industry, mostly tightly held operations that have been handed down from generation to generation. These businesses are looking for banking partners who have similarly long-held ties to the industry.

Therein lies the catch.

“For that reason, this type of lending is not the easiest to break into,” Jones said. “You need to know how to work with this sector if you’re going into it, or you’re in trouble. But if you can do it, you’re in demand.”

The First National Bank of Elmer got into the market with the assistance of Elizabeth Hulitt, the bank’s new senior vice president. She’s a transplant from an acquired banking entity, one of those along the Shore that once eagerly angled for fishing industry clients. She has an expertise in the local industry and has closely worked with the Massachusetts-based regulators that monitor it. 

The amount of harvesting of scallops or clams that can be done locally is controlled by permits those regulators issue. The high price tag on those permits is one of the reasons the industry keeps close ties to bankers.

“You have to maintain your vessel and your fleet, which can be very capital-intensive,” she said. “Also, when there’s an opportunity to add a permit to fleet’s ability to harvest, you have to be in a good liquidity position to do that.”

Like the banking industry, fisheries and seafood suppliers have consolidated over the past few years, which has only increased the value of those permits.

Hulitt added that the industry’s borrowing activity is driven by a swarming number of vertically integrated companies with a fleet of commercial fishing vessels, as well as facilities for freezing and processing products.

“That provides many opportunities for a traditional community bank to work with these companies to provide financing for equipment, real estate and other assets,” she said. “As a bank, we’re very fortunate to have a financing need that we’re able to understand and also see and touch in our own backyard.”

To make sure a loan is successfully recorded under the terms and conditions set by the U.S. Coast Guard, legal experts are often called in for the loan term. 

Some aspects of these loans can be complicated, but Jones said working with his bank’s growing customer niche is not altogether different from other banking relationships. 

And his belief is that — like a number of other industries — the seafood sector prefers a community bank’s more personalized model to the sometimes-wide net cast by larger institutions.

“With people who are running these boats, a lot of their business relationships involve buying and selling in a hands-on way with people they trust, so they want the same thing on the banking side,” he said. “That’s something we want to offer.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Brian Jones of The First National Bank of Elmer at: bjones@elmerbank.com or 856-358-7000, ext. 0100.

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