By Christopher Lang, April 2, 2018 at 3:00 AM | NJBIZ
Tim Sullivan says he’s unafraid of the challenges that come with his new job as CEO of the state’s Economic Development Authority, despite New Jersey’s relatively high unemployment and past low marks as a place to do business.
The 36-year-old Sullivan is accustomed to filling key financial-policy roles. He served in former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration as an economic development official and most recently was a deputy commissioner in Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development.
“Gov. [Phil] Murphy believes, and I agree with him, that New Jersey’s best days are ahead of us,” Sullivan said. “That’s because we have a pretty good hand of cards to play, as we face the next 15, 25, 50 years into the future.
“You can’t pick a much better place than where we are located,” he told NJBIZ. “We’ve got tremendous resources and higher education, a tremendous and diverse corporate base, tremendous talented workforce. And it’s an increasingly diverse state, with a high quality of life. Doesn’t mean everything is perfect — there are enormous challenges — but I think the opportunities are there for the taking.”
Sullivan is back in his native New Jersey after Murphy appointed him in January as chief of the agency that’s charged with supporting job growth in the state while revitalizing local communities via EDA-funneled business incentives.
“Getting the call to be asked to do this job was an enormous honor,” Sullivan said. “I am excited to think about some of the challenges and opportunities we have in front of us.”
It’s broadly acknowledged that New Jersey has been slow to recover from the Great Recession. Its 4.7 percent unemployment rate ranks 39th in the nation, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics updated March 12.
“Thinking about economic development [in New Jersey] and broadening our focus on startups and the innovation economy, we’ve got some ground to recapture to re-establish New Jersey as a capital of innovation and also thinking about things like workforce development,” Sullivan said. “We have an incredible opportunity, as the economy grows and jobs get created, to make sure that folks looking for a job [or who] have been dislocated from an industry they used to work in, have opportunities in a new industry. That’s much easier said than done, but it’s a challenge worth taking on.”
He added: “New Jersey, Connecticut and most of the Northeast, we’re really well-positioned for the sort of postwar manufacturing and cooperate boom that took place through the suburbanization of America. … States like New Jersey, Connecticut and New York [are] all grappling with some of these same challenges. It takes smart, nuanced and nimble policy tool kits to address them, and each state has to think about them somewhat differently but also in partnership.”
New Jersey’s tool kit must include the smart application of financial incentives to businesses, successful workforce development programs and working with public officials and community stakeholders at all levels, Sullivan said.
“One of the things I learned in Connecticut is being a good partner to the municipalities and cities and mayors and town councils [is] really important,” he said. “They’ve got their fingers on the pulse of the community, and it’s not very often where they don’t have a great sense of where they want to go or take their city or town. So it’s our job to be a partner to them.”
But New Jersey cannot address all of the challenges on its own, he stressed.
“[Throughout] the entire Northeast corridor … there’s an enormous shared interest and shared investment for big programs that need to be thought about collectively,” Sullivan said.
That includes infrastructure projects such as getting the Gateway Tunnel built and even policy initiatives focusing on climate change, he said.
Sullivan grew up in Maywood and went to Bergen Catholic High School in Paramus before earning degrees in government and English from Georgetown University in 2003. He credits his supportive parents for his early career success calling his educator mother someone who “helped a lot of people and made a difference” in her own way.
“If you work in public and government, you have a chance to work on issues and policies that impact people’s lives in a positive way,” Sullivan said. “There are great opportunities to learn a lot and be engaged in lots of different issues and also work on challenges and opportunities that help make lives better and make communities stronger. At the end of the day, that’s pretty rewarding.”