On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Jose Lozano, President & Chief Executive Officer of Choose New Jersey, New Jersey’s leading nonprofit economic development organization that has assisted with over 300 companies.
On this episode of Bring It In season one, Lozano sat down with 1Huddle’s CEO Sam Caucci and discussed the benefits of having a business in New Jersey, inclusivity, and finding talent.
Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
Below are some of the insights Lozano shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.
Sam: So Jose, I guess, to kick us off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Choose New Jersey?
Jose: Sure. My name is Jose Lozano. I’m the president and CEO of Choose New Jersey. I’ve been here for about three years, actually, just a couple of days ago I celebrated my third year anniversary.
We are a not-for-profit organization that’s really focusing on attracting businesses to New Jersey and selling on why New Jersey is a great place to either expand or relocate.
Sam: Why is New Jersey a great place to move to? And I’m biased because I’m obviously in Newark, but what do you tell someone from Texas? Why should they move to New Jersey?
Jose: One, because Sam is here. But one way we really truly sell New Jersey is the location and our talent. Being next to the largest city and the largest economy, New York City, just beside Philadelphia, one of the fastest-growing, then you squeeze 8.9 million folks in New Jersey that is full of rich talent from all walks of life. I think it just gives any sort of company a good chance to expand or grow and whatever workforces they’re looking for, I assure you, they will find it.
Sam: Before Choose New Jersey, can you tell us a little about what you were doing before?
Jose: Just before I joined Choose, I had spent several years at Hackensack Meridian Health, which is one of the largest healthcare systems in New Jersey and actually one of the largest ones in the country.
Just prior to that, I had been in the Obama administration at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Sam: What made you choose Choose New Jersey after that experience?
Jose: I think there is no cooler and more unique job than getting paid to sell the state you call home. It’s a place where I have chosen to raise my two daughters. It is the place that I was raised and educated, both through my K-12 experience in my undergraduate. And so to think that every single morning, I wake up trying to convince another company to move to New Jersey, a place I call home, and a place that gave me so many opportunities, I think there is no cooler place to be able to work at.
Sam: How has your sales pitch changed over the last year and a half due to COVID?
Jose: Selling New Jersey during COVID has definitely been unique, but it highlighted so many of the areas that here in New Jersey, we’ve taken so much for granted. Having a great place to raise your family, a great strong foundation of a K to 12 district, great places for food, and these local communities, these walkable communities having access to parks where you can ride bikes.
In this pandemic, it made us value things that we have for so long, just kind of brushed off to the side. So spending good quality time with family, taking those nice long scenic walks and those little downtown communities that we have. We have over 500 communities in New Jersey and so whatever sort of community you are looking for, I assure you, you will find it here, be it down the shore, in the mountains, being this suburban, urban field that you’re looking for, or some places like Newark, which is completely urban.
And so I think the way we sold New Jersey is saying “let us show you the community and the environment that is affordable and reasonable compared to so many of our competitive states. Come see firsthand on why so many folks are actually moving to New Jersey during this sort of pandemic.”
So we started to actually approach it more from a quality of life perspective first, then secondarily started to go in at the business locations and so forth.
Sam: Are you seeing any trends? I’m interested given that there’s obviously a lot of talk about remote work like is it here to stay and so on and so forth, but are there any trends that you’re seeing or expecting coming out of COVID on how the workplace is shifting?
Jose: Well, I think with the workplace shifting, you would think that companies, as we start to come back from the pandemic and we’re seeing these sorts of conversations out, companies will decide where to go based on the workforce.
And the one thing we saw during the pandemic in New Jersey was that our housing market has boomed. It’s up 20% year over year. So the workforce at the end of 2019 and the workforce today in 2021 is a bit more robust and has increased dramatically. I think for the first time in recorded history, housing sales are up in all 21 counties from the Northwestern part of the state to the most Southern part. And I think you’ve seen a lot of regional movement and an influx in folks wanting to move into more suburban areas where places where you can actually spread your wings.
Now on the business side, I think you have seen a greater interest in companies wanting to be a bit more horizontal and maybe a little bit less vertical and maybe allowing more kind of allowing workplaces to be spread out a little bit more.
And so we’ve had companies that have announced they are coming to New Jersey. Even in the height of the pandemic, Choose New Jersey was responsible for bringing in 33 companies that are now calling New Jersey home. And since the beginning of the year, we’ve had some fairly large announcements.
We had WebMD moving about 700 employees to New Jersey that I’m not convinced before the pandemic would have actually happened.
Sam: I’m a tech startup, and I’d love to get your perspective because I think there’s a lot of really awesome things happening in New Jersey around innovation and technology. Obviously, technology and innovation is not new to New Jersey given its history, but how do you think about attracting younger startup companies and creating an ecosystem where they can thrive, where they have different challenges, different needs?
In short, why should a startup in New Jersey versus the Bay Area for Austin or Atlanta, or Tampa right now?
Jose: So the first thing I would tell any sort of startup is what do they value the most in their growth? Time is everything. Time is money. So when you look at your expansion and your pace of expansion, the first thing that’s going to allow you to get there at the pace you want is the workforce.
And the one thing I will tell you is that the workforce in New Jersey, given that we have almost 20 Fortune 500 companies, companies that have been born here and have grown here and expanded here. You’ve had companies that are relocated. You have foreign companies that have expanded here, created a New Jersey to be their North America presence.
I would tell a startup that there are companies that have paved that road beforehand for you that are already here in New Jersey. You have the workforce to pull from, you have the educational talents to pull from. I mean, in New Jersey, we have, depending on the tech startup and what sort of engineers you need, we have more scientists and engineers per square mile than any other place in the world right here in New Jersey.
And given that we’re diverse and by nature, we’re highly dense and highly populated, again, like I’ve said before, whatever workforce you’re looking for I assure you, you will find it here in New Jersey.
Sam: Some of your work is international, I assume. Right? You’re not just trying to get companies to move within the US?
Jose: Right. Our international attraction strategies have dramatically increased in the last few years. When I first arrived, we had about 25% of our pipeline and our traction was about international.
Today, it’s about 77%, because what we’re seeing are companies, as they’re wanting to enter the U.S. markets, they’re looking to enter more often than not, you have international companies that want to establish their presences in New York City, but they’re getting a little bit of a sticker shock when they look at New York City.
And when you happen to just take a quick glimpse across the river, what you’re getting is something much more reasonable and much more affordable. The talent is there. You have great communities to raise your families for the workforce. And it’s extremely diverse. We are one of the most diverse states in the country.
And so when an international company is looking to have a significant footprint, they’re going to want to be in communities that resemble something that resembled something back at home.
Sam: Over the last year and a half, I don’t know how many times I thought about how lucky we were to choose New Jersey over New York City, especially in a moment like this. And even before that, the talent that you have access to. We get young people from Rutgers to Princeton, to Ramapo College, to Montclair State, to Fairleigh Dickinson and NYU and St John’s and Hofstra and Fordham that come. They take the Jersey transit from the Garden to Broad street. It’s been amazing to me how accessible it’s been to be able to get people, and your talent pool is so much bigger than just New Jersey when you’re in the state.
Jose: Absolutely. But you gotta remember where New Jersey is nestled nicely, we do attract work for those that happen to live in the Southern part of Connecticut. You’ve got New York City, you’ve got all the way from the Southern part of New York and the Westchester area. And then South Jersey you’re extracting from Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia area.
We are in an easy area to gravitate from, for some of our surrounding states. And when you have really easy access via mass transit and our road and our trains and our planes and so forth like that, it’s a really easy spot to call home.
Sam: I want to ask you about the workforce, cause you brought up a few times talking about talent here in the state. And I think given the, even the remarks from President Biden are addressed to Congress talking about things like lifelong learning being important, and also talking about infrastructure, including people, not just roads and bridges anymore.
Maybe beyond just you at Choose New Jersey, but as a leader who’s been working in an administration, you’ve worked at your background in the healthcare space. What can companies do to make sure they tap into more local talent today?
Jose: If a CEO asks me today that same exact question, one of the first things I would say is partner with the communities, be it K-12, be at the technical schools, the county colleges, or a four-year higher ed institution. When you can partner with them and create a pipeline, so an individual getting either a certificate or an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree if they have a pipeline to getting immediate work, I think there is absolutely nothing greater.
It’s easy for the company to work with the higher ed institution to actually articulate the skillset that they’re looking for. And there is nothing better than a student graduating and being able to be guaranteed or actually have employment. And so I think if you want to give back to your local community, one of the best things to do is find a way to create a pipeline and start to build a culture and an organization that rewards the community that you’re now living in.
Sam: One of the things that is so powerful about being in Jersey is not only, I think, a really big nonprofit sector that’s very local, there’s a lot of afterschool programs for young people. Some of our best candidates at 1Huddle will come out of local community programs.
I have one last question for you: the future of work is sort of the main theme that we talk about a lot. And it often talks about being afraid of the robots coming up.
But I guess for you, what is your hope for the future of work looking forward?
Jose: My hope is that the future workforce is not only inclusive but is broad by all walks of life. I think we all benefit, no matter the size of the organization we have or what our core mission of the company we work for, we all do better when we actually embrace all walks of life, all views and perspectives. I think the future is going to be really dependent on inclusivity.
Sam: Jose, thanks for taking some time.
Jose: Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Topics Discussed: Inclusivity, New Jersey, Workforce, Work, Jobs, Business