Caren Franzini, long-time head of the state Economic Development Authority, is resigning to seek a job in the private sector. Franzini will end her 18-year tenure as CEO effective September 30.

According to EDA spokeswoman Erin Gold, the decision to leave was Franzini’s. “She decided that it was time to move on and look for a job in the business world.”

“I have had the unique pleasure to serve the people of New Jersey in a tremendously rewarding job for over two decades, and now, with the EDA entrusted with so many tools for economic growth and positioned for continued success, I have decided it is time to move on to a new phase in my career,” said Franzini. “EDA is a special place with a dedicated and talented staff that will be especially hard to leave, but I have deep comfort in the knowledge I am leaving it in good hands.”

Franzini’s duties will be divided between two people. Michele Brown, currently appointment counsel to Governor Chris Christie, has been named chief executive officer. Tim Lizura, the senior vice president of finance and development at EDA, will be president and chief operating officer — a newly created position.

Maureen Hassett, EDA’s senior vice president for governance and communications, will replace Lizura as the senior vice president of finance and development.

The EDA board was informed of Franzini’s departure at a special meeting on July 25. The board approved the authority’s executive restructuring and the appointments of Brown and Lizura during the meeting. Brown will receive the same $225,000 salary that Franzini received, while Lizura will be paid $205,000.

“I have had the opportunity to work with Caren and the EDA for over 20 years,” said board chairman Al Koeppe. “For all of that time, and under her leadership, the EDA has been a source of pride for the state.”

Franzini was able to “function very effectively at the strategic level as CEO, as well as a highly technical operating level as a COO,” said Koeppe. “She had the energy and deep skills to fill both roles superbly.”

Franzini was also praised by the business community. “Caren Franzini is simply one of the finest economic development professionals in the nation,” said Philip Kirschner, president of the N.J. Business and Industry Association.

“She continually changed, innovated, and produced new products and services to meet whatever new challenges confronted our businesses and our economy,” he said. “Any time a big project got done or a business relocated to New Jersey, chances are Caren Franzini played an integral role in making it happen.”

New Brunswick Development Corp. president Christopher J. Paladino, who worked at the EDA with Franzini in the early 1990s, said she “is one of the few individuals who felt comfortable and was effective at the intersection of public policy, politics, and business. She has been a bit of an icon.”

Paladino said he wasn’t surprised that she is retiring, adding he’s “a little surprised she waited so long to explore” her options.

Debbie Hart, president of BioNJ, stressed Franzini’s importance to the state’s biotechnology industry. “We at BioNJ will be forever grateful to Caren for a steadfast support of the biotechnology industry that can be traced to the very early beginnings of the industry.

“It was Caren’s suggestion to a group of biotechnology executives in the early 1990s that the biotechnology industry needed to speak as a single ‘voice’ that led to the creation of BioNJ,” Hart said.

She added that Franzini was pivotal in supporting state initiatives such as the Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer Program that have helped start and sustain numerous biotechnology companies.

Under the executive restructuring, Brown will be responsible for setting the organization’s strategic direction, working with the administration and legislature, and being responsible for the EDA’s ethics. Lizura will be responsible for overseeing the EDA’s business operations, its incentive and financing program portfolio, real estate development, and its financial and accounting matters.

Prior to joining the Christie administration, Brown — a graduate of Drew University and Georgetown University Law Center — served for 18 years as an acting first assistant U.S. attorney for New Jersey. She specialized in white collar cases — including corporate, bank, health care, and securities fraud.

In her role in Christie’s administration, Brown acts to provide strategic and legal advice to the governor and cabinet.

Lizura, who holds a degree in economics from Rutgers University and an MBA from Rutgers Graduate School of Management, helped develop and administer many of the EDA’s financing programs, including the Main Street Business Assistance, Economic Redevelopment Growth, and the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit programs.

Prior to re-joining the EDA in 2008, Lizura served as director of World Trade Center redevelopment/deputy director of redevelopment at the Port Authority of NY & NJ. Before that he worked for more than a decade in EDA’s real estate department, serving as director until his departure in 2006. Prior to EDA, Lizura worked for four years with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

New Jersey Economic Development Authority, 36 West State Street, Box 990, Trenton 08625-0990; 609-858-6700. Michele Brown, CEO. www.njeda.com.

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