TRENTON, NJ—(SBN)—Preparing an elaborate economic development proposal for Amazon’s HQ2 site selection process without the support of the state was an important exercise for New Jersey’s capital city, according to George Sowa, founding CEO of Greater Trenton, the economic development nonprofit started in late fall of 2015.
Watch the complete video interview with George Sowa in the player below.
In an exclusive video interview with StateBroadcastNews.com, Sowa says pulling together all the information on development opportunities and sites in the Trenton area is work that the agency will leverage in its conversations with other companies considering relocation there. Trenton did not make the “short list” of 20 cities being considered as finalists for the HQ2 development, although Philadelphia, PA, and Newark, NJ, the state’s preferred choice, did make the list. Sowa points to a clear Amazon preference for locations in the Northeast.
“Thirty-five percent of the cities that were shortlisted are between Washington, DC, and Boston on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor,” Sowa says. “We’re essentially at the heart of that corridor. It validates our location, but when you also look at the plan we put together, it’s something that could be used for any series of companies going forward.”
Sowa, whose family has history in Trenton for more than a century, is bullish on the city’s prospects for redevelopment, even though some observers see Trenton as a particular challenge because of past failures of city and state government to prevent a commercial exodus.
“It has such a rich historical and industrial heritage,” Sowa says. “Some of the perception is justly deserved, but a lot aren’t, so we are addressing on both to make sure we get those aspects right.”
Sowa says as “chief tour guide for Trenton,” he has conducted more than 100 tours of the city for developers and companies. One of the city’s strengths, Sowa says, is the confluence of transportation options at Trenton. The River Line light rail delivers passengers near the Trenton Amtrak station, which is a hub for commuters going to New York and Philadelphia, as well as to other points in the Northeast.
As the state’s capital city, the economy could benefit from providing better retail and housing opportunities.
“There are 20,000 state workers coming into Trenton each day,” he says. “Unfortunately, 20,000 state workers leave the city every day, so we need to do a better job of getting engagement by the state workers.”
Based on the work that’s been done on the Amazon presentation, Sowa says, Greater Trenton knows there is a significant amount of available land to offer to companies for development in the downtown area.
Greater Trenton is currently working with a company considering moving 200 workers into the city, he says.
“It’s also understanding the right people from the right organizations,” he says. “Fortunately, my background is such that I know a lot of the right people at these companies, to understand who would be the right prospective investor or developer in Trenton. Trenton is not right for the huge institutional investors, but for opportunistic investors, private companies and people that look for a great entry point, Trenton is absolutely a great place to be.”