For New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) CEO Tim Sullivan the words diversity and innovation are synonymous with economic empowerment. The words and phrases are key selling points he and others use when attracting business enterprises to set up shop or, in some cases, remain in-state. “We want to have one of the most diverse and inclusive innovation ecosystem in the country,” he said.
Sullivan was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce on Friday, March 20, at the Trenton Country Club. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the event has been postponed. The event is part of the Trenton Economic Development series.
For more information about when the postponed event will be rescheduled visit www.princetonmercerchamber.org. Other panelists scheduled include Robin Walton, vice president at Thomas Edison State University, Frank Rogers, director at Firmenich, Keith Secrest, president of Kinetics Industries, and state Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli.
Sullivan has worked in economic development and financial services for nearly two decades. He is a native of New Jersey and has lived and worked in and around the state for most of his life. He grew up in Bergen County and is a graduate of Georgetown University.
He worked in investment banking at financial services industry giant Lehman Brothers as a healthcare banker for several years and focused on mergers and acquisitions and capital markets transactions for companies in the managed care, biotechnology, and healthcare industry sectors. He has worked in various economic leadership positions for state government agencies in New York and Connecticut since 2010. He joined the NJEDA in February, 2018.
Sullivan says he has focused on fostering the growth of minority and women-owned business enterprises across the state and region. “For too long, Black and Latinx entrepreneurs have been denied access to the early stage seed capital that can help propel a business from vision to reality,” he said. Last month the NJEDA announced the creation of a diversity seed fund solely designed to encourage minority-owned businesses to launch start-ups in under-served communities across the state.
Sullivan has been guiding the authority through difficult times. For example, he has been at the center of a political melee between state legislators, business leaders, and others regarding the hot button issue of state tax incentives for businesses.
The agency has been embroiled in scandal since June, 2019, when a task force appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy found a discrepancies and questionable transactions in more than $500 million tax credit awards to dozens of firms. Some of the findings included the falsification of documents and potentially fraudulent information from applicants.
In addition, allegations of nepotism were raised after several of the businesses that received sizable tax credits were linked to prominent and powerful South Jersey business mogul George Norcross. The EDA is continuing to review tax incentives granted to a number of companies following the task force findings.
The biggest bone of contention between State Senate leader Steve Sweeney, legislators, and the Murphy administration is imposing an annual cap on tax incentives. The administration remains steadfast in implementing reforms that, among other things, would include capped incentives at specifically aimed projects in mostly urban based communities such as Trenton, Camden, and Paterson.
Under the reforms the amount of the tax incentive would be capped, limited and reviewed annually. The Senate, has issued its own set of proposals — rejecting the caps and allowing little leeway for a compromise. “Capping tax credits have been shown to work nationally,” Sullivan said. “Tax credits and incentives are only part of a larger package of economic incentives and will remain part of the state’s plan to attract new business to New Jersey.”
Another economic initiative Sullivan is passionate about is the NJ Film & Digital Media Tax Credit Program unveiled in January. Among other things, the program offers a tax break of between 30 to 35 percent to entities for video, film, and digital media projects in New Jersey. The program also provides a diversity tax credit to companies that employ people of color and women during the production of the film, television show, or series. The HBO series “The Plot Against America” premieres in March and was filmed in several locations across the state including Newark, Cranford, Union, and Paterson. “Tax incentives continue to attract marquee productions to New Jersey,” he says. “Dozens of jobs and ancillary business opportunities are created when a film or television show is made in New Jersey.”
While the NJEDA has been criticized in the past for mostly courting and acquiescing to the whims of big corporations with deep pockets and political influence, Sullivan contends his role as CEO remains transparent and inclusive. “Economic incentives will remain a major part of our initiatives to convince companies — big and small — to find a home in New Jersey,” he said.