Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the July 7, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Hill Wallack: Trenton Move Fizzles Out
Just one year ago the biggest fireworks in Trenton’s Fourth of July celebration was the news that Hill Wallack, the 55-attorney law firm headquartered for years at the Carnegie Center, was preparing to move lock, stock, and barrel to 45,000 square feet in the heart of the capital city.
This year the Hill Wallack fireworks appear to be a dud for Trenton. Construction of the new building at Liberty Commons on East Front Street is reported to be at least six months behind schedule and facing financing questions, according to reports citing the project’s developer, the non-profit Economic Development Corporation for Trenton.
Hill Wallack managing partner Robert W. Bacso confirms that the law firm’s lease at 202 Carnegie Center expires on October 1 and that — with the prospect of the Trenton space not being ready until April, 2005, at best — the firm and the city agency “have mutually agreed to terminate our lease.”
With no other comparable space immediately available in Trenton and with the Carnegie Center apparently unwilling to extend the lease on a month-to-month basis, Hill Wallack was left with no choice but scrap the Trenton move. “We ran into an obstacle no one could get past,” Bacso says. “I’ve got too many people here (about 130 staffers) to let a lease expire with no place to go.”
Now the choices are a location in Hamilton, another in West Windsor, or the possible renewal of the lease at 202 Carnegie Center. The law firm hopes to reach a decision by the end of this week.
“It’s regrettable,” says Bacso of the breakdown in the Trenton move. “It’s something we really wanted to do.”
Now it is official. NRG Energy Inc. has leased 47,000 square feet at 211 Carnegie Drive, and the wholesale power generation company will officially move its 200-person headquarters from Minneapolis to the one-story building that used to be occupied by an architectural firm, CUH2A, which left Carnegie Center for 1000 Lenox Drive.
Rumors of the company’s move were circulating in April, but the building’s owners, Boston Properties, did not confirm that a lease had been signed.
State monies played a role in enticing NRG. Gil Medina had been state commerce commissioner in the Whitman administration, and he was able to funnel $7.5 million from a program he had worked on, the Business Employment Incentive Program, to NRG. Medina now heads the Technology Enterprise Group for Cushman & Wakefield, which represented NRG in a multi-state search for a location.
That much of NRG’s operating assets are located in the Northeast was an important factor in the company’s decision to move here from Minnesota. Other factors were, according to a press release, “New Jersey’s top-notch transportation system, central location in the East, excellent education system, and competitive business incentive programs.”
Another significant factor was that CEO David Crane has owned a home in the Princeton area for a dozen years. A 1981 Princeton University graduate, he and his wife and five children live in an early 19th century manor house in the Lawrenceville area.
“The opportunity to occupy the entire building also provided significant appeal,” says Jon Marks of Cushman Wakefield. “It is being completely retrofitted for its new tenant, and it offers a headquarters-quality image and outstanding operational efficiencies. NRG Energy will be well-positioned to grow and prosper in this environment.”
Marks and Joseph Sarno of Cushman & Wakefield of New Jersey headed the search and Jerry Miller coordinated the tenant fit-out work and move-in logistics.
The building will not be ready until November. In the meantime, some of the company employees will have desks in 104 Carnegie Center, where NRG will occupy the whole first floor. CUH2A had occupied this space as well, before it moved to Lenox Drive.
“Seventy people were offered relocation,” says Meredith Moore, director of communications. She admits that the Minneapolis employees have experienced the “sticker shock” that comes with buying a house in the Princeton area, but notes that the real problem is that so few houses are on the market.
Just 40 to 45 people chose to move from Minneapolis. “People born in Minneapolis and stay here, and they like staying here. They have very strong family and community ties,” says Moore. Those who are not moving were allotted outplacement services, and some of them will keep working in Minneapolis until March, 2005.
The remaining 150 jobs are being filled in the Princeton area, including those in plant operations, safety, engineering, power marketing, and accounting and taxes. Most of the jobs are being filled by agencies, but the company is getting unsolicited resumes as well at (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
“It’s a very entrepreneurial organization,” says Moore, “where individuals are given a lot of responsibility. NRG is a wonderful place for personal and professional development and growth. People are not put in boxes. They are given many challenges and opportunities.”
Crane was lured to NRG last fall from a post as CEO for a deregulated energy firm based in the United Kingdom. It was his job to help NRG recover from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, selling some assets and concentrating on its core assets. It owns and operates power-generating facilities, primarily in the northeast, Louisiana, and California. Its operations include baseload, intermediate, peaking, and cogeneration facilities, thermal energy production and energy resource recovery facilities.
After graduating from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, Crane earned his law degree from Harvard and worked for the international law firm of White & Case. Then he worked for ABB Energy Ventures, at the Carnegie Center and in Hong Kong, from 1991 to 1996, and when he left he was vice president for the Asia-Pacific region.
From 1996 to 2000 Crane was a senior vice president at Lehman Brothers, responsible for the power industry. In 2000 he was chief operating officer at International Power formed from the breakup of the United Kingdom’s National Power, and he was promoted to chief executive officer.
Founded in 1989, originally as a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, NRG is a wholesale electricity provider. In just over 10 years it built or bought more than 50 power plants that sold electricity on a long term or short-term basis. The majority of its power plants, mostly fossil-fueled, are in North America, but it does have projects on the other four continents. In addition to electricity, it also sells natural gas and oil, and it has alternative energy projects.
When Crane left International Power to take over as president and CEO of NRG Energy, NRG was emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, because it couldn’t service the debt on the plants it had acquired.
Under a bankruptcy reorganization plan, announced in December, 2003, NRG has returned $3.3 billion to creditors who were owed about $6.4 billion, and the former parent company, Xcel Energy, paid the creditors $640 million in cash. Creditors received a combination of cash and common stock.
“The industry has had some tough times,” says NRG’s Moore. “NRG has made its way through the tough times. We are on a very strong upswing. Our strategy now is to grow at a prudent pace, where we are making select acquisitions of power plants in the United States, that will strengthen our core portfolio of plant assets. Now our core areas are in the northeast, southcentral/Louisiana, and California.”
RG Energy Inc., 901 Marquette, Suite 2300, Minneapolis MN 55402. David Crane, president and CEO. 612-373-5300; Home page: www.nrgenergy.com
Tyco Pitches In For the Homeless
Tyco International Ltd. is no longer the new kid on the block, the block being Roszel Road, stretching from Alexander Road to the Carnegie Center. Tyco moved to 7 and 9 Roszel, and at the other end of Roszel NRG Energy will occupy 211 Carnegie (which is on the corner of Roszel Road).
The two move-ins have a couple of similarities. Timing, for one. Tyco moved from Boca Raton and New York last year, and NRG is moving from Minneapolis (see article above). Both companies were having problems when they moved. Tyco’s were legal problems, and it brought in a new CEO, Edward Breen, to clean house. NRG’s were financial problems, and it brought in a new CEO, David Crane, to do the restructuring. And though much was said about how all the factors were taken into consideration, and how wonderful Princeton is, the bottom line is that both of the CEOs happen to live here.
But with Tyco’s announcement last week that it will give $300,000 to the cause of homelessness, it has set the bar high for other new companies like NRG.
New to the community, Tyco wanted to find an issue where it could make a difference. It met with social service workers and agencies in Mercer and Bucks County. “Nearly everyone requested our help in the fight against homelessness,” says Charles Young, Tyco’s senior vice president of marketing and communications. “We believe that Tyco can make a significant, positive impact in this area, not only in terms of financial support but through the volunteer efforts of our employees.”
The homeless situation in general is aggravated, in Mercer County, by the high cost of housing. Anyone moving to Princeton (unless they come from Manhattan or Connecticut) cannot help but be affected by “sticker shock” of housing prices. A person making minimum wage would have to work 22 hours per day, seven days per week to pay the average rent of a two bedroom apartment, which is $973 per month. So although Tyco employees may not be making minimum wage, the price of housing would be very much on their minds.
“The latest census shows that New Jersey is the richest state in the richest country in the history of mankind, yet in the shadow of the State House, more than 900 people are homeless on any given day. Of this number, almost 50 percent are children,” says Dennis C. Micai, director of the Mercer County Board of Social Services and chairman of Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness. Trenton has the second highest rate of family homelessness in the nation, and the average age of the homeless person is seven. As many as 20 percent of homeless children don’t attend school regularly.
Tyco has agreed to join forces with a coalition, the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, and it will contribute $300,000, which represents “a substantial portion of our local philanthropic resources,” to address the homelessness issue on a number of different levels. It will also make an on-going commitment in volunteer hours and expertise, says Marty Dauer, who is director of corporate citizenship at Tyco. Stephanie Wolcott is Dauer’s assistant.
Tyco International Ltd. is a global conglomerate divided into five main areas: Fire & Security, Electronics, Healthcare, Engineered Products & Services, and Plastics & Adhesives. It had revenue of $37 billion in 2003, and it employs 260,000 people worldwide, 350 on Roszel Road.
The monies will go to non-profit groups that provide programs for the working poor throughout the communities that make up Mercer and Bucks counties. The goal of the 10-year plan is to ensure every resident of Mercer County has access to permanent, affordable and safe housing, and this is supposed to prevent and, in 10 years, end homelessness.
With more than 150 representatives of government and social services, the Mercer Alliance plan has assigned committees, named leaders, and set clear goals with deadlines. In addition to creating safe and affordable housing, the goals include establishing a “seamless safety net;” finding “income strategies” to increase minimum wage and welfare grants; implement discharge planning so that those leaving public facilities have a place to live; and raise public awareness of the homelessness issues.
An initial grant of $40,000 from the Princeton Area Community Foundation provided seed money to establish the coalition. The members of the coalition:
Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, with a mission to ensure that every resident of Mercer County has access to permanent, safe and affordable housing. It is a coalition of more than 150 representatives of government and social services, corporations and non-profit organizations. Its contact person is Mary Ellen Marino (email@example.com). Phone: 609.989.9417
HomeFront with a mission to end homelessness in Mercer County, by harnessing the caring, resources, and know-how of the community.
HomeFront is committed to lessening the immediate pain of the homeless and to helping families become self-sufficient. They work to give people the skills and opportunities to ensure adequate incomes and to increase the availability of affordable housing. Lastly, they help empower homeless families to advocate for themselves individually and collectively. Its contact is Connie Mercer, executive director, (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Habitat for Humanity in Trenton, aiming to build a neighborhood in East Trenton, to provide decent, affordable housing, and to create healthy, vibrant, and self-sufficient communities. Its contact is Peter Madison, executive director (E-mail: email@example.com).
YWCA – Trenton, committed to the empowerment of women and girls and the elimination of racism in a community with a 45 percent poverty rate, providing education, leadership training, affordable housing, support services, health promotion, recreation, and public advocacy. The contact is Sharon Bonitz, acting CEO (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
YWCA – Princeton, aiming to reach the underserved with programs for the entire community that include pre-school through adult, after-school, and literacy (pre-K through citizenship), plus scholarships from the 41-year-old Bates Scholarship Fund. The contact is Eileen Conway, executive director www.ywcaprinceton.org).
Bucks County Housing Group, a private, non-profit social service agency that provides a housing and related social services, assisting homeless and low-income families attain permanent housing and self-sufficiency. The contact is Melissa Mantz, development coordinator (E-mail: email@example.com).
A Woman’s Place, a domestic violence shelter in Bucks County that serves as a temporary housing facility and provides numerous services and support, including a 24-hour hotline, to abused women and their children. The contact is Lynn Hefele, development director (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.awomansplace.org).
This is the first public plan to end homelessness in New Jersey, and it may serve as a model for other counties and coalitions, says Macai, the alliance chairman and director of the Mercer County Board of Social Services. He points out that his agency spends more than $8 million per year in providing services to the homeless and in preventing homelessness.
“Of that amount, $1.7 million goes for housing approximately 850 families and individuals in shelters and motels, and $1.4 million in rental assistance for over 4,000 families/individuals. For fewer dollars we can provide permanent housing to five times the number in motels/shelters,” says Macai. “This is a clear example of how funds could be spent in a more productive manner in more affordable housing was available.”
The next big company moving into Princeton Township might occupy the building taht used to house the secretive Institute for Defense Analyses at 29 Thanet Circle. Now known as the Center for Communications Research, the 90-person federal agency moved to Bunn Drive, leaving behind a 30-year-old building that was constructed like a fortress. Hillier has the contract to design the $6 million renovations for the two-story, 53,000 square foot office building there.
“The key thing,” says Bob Hillier, “is that the building sits on a beautiful site — a nice place to look out on.”
The owner, GHP Office Realty, a real estate investment firm based in White Plains, notes that this building is the largest contiguous block of available office space in Princeton. “A headquarters building of this type is not available in the Princeton area,” says James J. Houlihan, a GHP principal, along with Andrew Greenspan, James G. Houlihan, and Howard Parnes.
GHP also owns the 36,800-foot 300 Alexander Park, for which it paid $6.2 million, and it owns the former Lockheed-Martin property at 104 Windsor Center.
Michael Mann of Pepper Hamilton is the land use counsel for GHP, and Thomas Romano of GVA Williams/Buschman Party is doing the leasing. Van Note-Harvey Associates is doing the engineering services.
The Thanet Circle property has 10 landscaped acres and currently has 118 parking spaces, worth $125 at current rates. GHP plans to double the number of parking spaces, redesign the facade, put in new windows, and add a dramatic Class A lobby.
“We are going to completely re-image the building,” says Hillier, “making it look much more up-to-date, replacing dark bronze accents with lighter metal, adding many more windows, and upstairs, creating an 18-foot ceiling meeting room with clerestory windows that will bring in even more light.”
Janssen Pharmaceutica, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, asked for and got municipal approvals to more than double the size of its facility and triple the number of employees over a 20-year-period. Its current location houses the United States management and marketing employees, plus facilities for some of its clinical drug testing.
Founded by Paul A.J. Janssen in 1953 in Belgium, the firm develops and markets products for analgesia, gastroenterology, and psychiatry/neurology. It moved from Piscataway into the $40 million, 270-acre, Hillier-designed United States headquarters.
The plan would take an existing 500,000 square feet and add 800,000 feet of office space, increasing the number of employees from 1,380 to 3,880. A childcare center might be included.
John Subacus, Janssen’s facility management director, says that Janssen wanted to get a 20 year plan locked in place so that its zoning could not be reduced. The township still has control over final approvals if and when the company decides to build. The taxes for Janssen are an important part of Hopewell’s tax base.
Janssen Pharmaceutica (JJ), 1125 Trenton-Harbourton Road, Box 200, Titusville 08560-0200. Peter Miller, president. 609-730-2000; fax, 609-730-2323. Home page: www.us.janssen.com
New Brunswick has joined Trenton in being designated an urban enterprise zone, a place where businesses can cut the state tax in half, from six percent to three percent.
Up to 30 percent of the city can be included in the zone, and though it will certainly include the downtown business district, it might take six to nine months to draw the final boundaries.
Restaurants and hotels must charge the full six percent, even in this zone.
If a business hires eligible unemployed local residents, it can earn tax credits of up to $1,500 per employee.
“This is a significant new tool now at our disposal in our efforts to increase business, create jobs, stabilize property taxes and rehabilitate the infrastructure of our city,” says James Cahill, mayor of New Brunswick.
Hoping to acquire the rights to the Orajel brand of oral care products, Church & Dwight will put $30 million toward the purchase of Del Laboratories, based in Uniondale, New York.
Church & Dwight and Kelso & Co., a New York-based private equity group, are forming DLI Holdings to purchase Del for $385 million in cash and the assumption of $80 million of debt. The transaction is expected to take place by the end of the year.
As Del’s biggest over-the-counter brand, Orajel had sales of $386 million. Church & Dwight could acquire rights to the Orajel brand in three years.
“This move gives us a stake in a business that complements our current oral care product line and would, if we exercise our purchase option, add another powerful brand to the Church & Dwight portfolio,” says Robert A. Davies III, chairman of Church & Dwight, the maker of Arm & Hammer brands. His company also has the Mentadent, Close-Up, Aim and Pepsodent brand names. It has 600 employees in the Princeton area, a total of 1,160 employees in New Jersey, and 4,440 worldwide.
Church & Dwight will contribute about 20 percent of the equity financing in the form of convertible preferred stark. Del’s management team and Kelso & Company will provide the rest.
Church & Dwight Co. Inc. (CHD), 469 North Harrison Street, CN 5297, Princeton 08543-5297. 609-683-5900; fax, 609-497-7177. Home page: www.armhammer.com
Robert Zito, known for representing the New York Stock Exchange at a time of turmoil, is the new head of corporate affairs at Bristol-Myers Squibb, in charge of a 45-person staff.
Zito has worked at Sony, CN Communications International and Hill & Knowlton. He became executive vice president of communications at the NYSE in 1994 and left in late May. He lives in Hunterdon County with his wife and three daughters.
Zito, 50, will move to his new job as vice president of corporate affairs on July 21, replacing John Skule, who left in March after 15 years.
Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMY), One Squibb Drive, Box 191, New Brunswick 08903-0191. 732-519-2000. Home page: www.bms.com
Miller & Mitchell PC, 134 Nassau Street, Princeton 08542. 609-921-3322; fax, 609-921-0459. Home page: www.millermitchell.com.
Miller & Mitchell expanded from 863 State Road to Nassau Street, doubling its space to a second floor office with an entrance just to the left of Panera Bread. It is not the first time this law firm has been on Nassau Street, because they were at 229 Nassau Street before.
The principals, who are married, had worked together for Prince Sports Group in years past where Miller was general counsel. Richard M. Miller’s background includes corporate legal positions with Cheeseborough Ponds, Bausch & Lomb, and several securities firms. Cathryn A. Mitchell opened her own practice in 1994, then merged her practice with her husband’s.
The practice has the following specialties: corporate, business, technology, intellectual property, international and entertainment practice with an emphasis on mergers and acquisitions, general employment, not-for-profit corporations, E-commerce/internet, mergers/acquisitions, corporate representation, intellectual property protection, development and licensing of computer software and other technology.
In 1997, with their technology clients, Miller and Mitchell formed the Princeton Technology Alliance, which has meetings that are open to the public.
Robert A. Maschke Jr., above, has moved the Paramus office of Chas. H. Sells Inc. to Princeton Corporate Center, 5 Independence Way, Suite 300. The headquarters is in Briarcliff Manor, New York.
Established in 1925, the firm has 190 employees and 10 offices, and its clients include NJDOT, NYSDOT, NJ Turnpike Authority, NJ Transit, Amtrak, and many municipalities. It offers bridge inspection, bridge design, transportation engineering, civil/site development, land surveying/GPS and photogrammetric mapping services.
A civil engineer from Widener University, Maschke is a licensed professional engineer in four states and has more than 14 years experience in inspection, design and rehabilitation techniques of major and complex highway and railroad bridges.
Among the structures he has inspected are the Pulaski Skyway, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the Goethals Bridge. Skilled in non-destructive testing methods, he has performed repair designs and has retrofitted fracture critical members.
Chas. H. Sells Inc., 5 Independence Way, Princeton Corporate Center, Suite 300, Princeton 08540. Robert A. Maschke Jr., 609-514-5195; fax, 609-452-8464. Home page: www.chashsells.com
Capital Franchise Group, 350 Forsgate Drive, Suite 103, Monroe 08831. Peter Casey. 732-656-3007; fax, 732-656-3013.
Peter Casey is changing the name of Forsgate Business Consulting to Capital Franchise Group, a move that reflects a shift from general business consulting to franchising.
Casey grew up in Boston, where his father had a grocery business. The youngest of eight children he majored in marketing and business at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island. After a job as a stock broker, he worked for TD Waterhouse as vice president of marketing, then in 1993 he partnered with a financial planner to open a New Century Planning on Forsgate Drive. The company now has five planners and a half-dozen accountants.
Casey says he frequently encountered people who, for whatever reason, were trying to switch careers or start their own businesses, and in March, 2001, he founded Forsgate Business Consulting. Franchisors survive longer, he realized. “The survival rate is 96 percent versus 18 percent for an independent company.”
He calls himself a career counselor and franchise broker, and he sells what he terms “a small boatload of franchises,” including three Carvel ice cream stores, one Baby Power franchise, and a Maui Wowi (fruit smoothie and coffee).
The fee structure is similar to real estate, because the seller pays the fee. “If I show you five franchises the franchise pays me to introduce you, but my fee does not get added on to your fee,” says Casey. “One in 11 people I refer to a franchise will actually buy the franchise, but the franchise would go through 200 or 300 leads to get one buyer.”
Mathtech Inc., 101 Interchange Plaza, Cranbury 08512. Lori Weitz, senior vice president. 609-495-2500; fax, 609-495-2505. www.mathtechinc.com
In the middle of June Mathtech moved its Princeton office from 5,000 square feet at the Carnegie Center to a smaller space at Interchange Plaza, where five people work now.
Mathtech used to be a division of Mathematica, Inc., the company on Alexander Road that was founded in 1959 by Oskar Morgenstern, a noted political economist. As a subsidiary of Mathematica it was bought by Martin Marietta in 1983. In 1986 the officers and employees bought it back. In addition to the Princeton office, Mathech has an office in Falls Church, Virginia, and a subsidiary in Tucson, Arizona.
Mathtech’s current work in Princeton includes computer systems and applications development, litigation support, program evaluation that supports government policy decisions in education and the environment, general business consulting, and training. The staff in both Princeton and Falls Church provides applied economic analyses and econometric modeling.
Jerry Bentley is still in charge of the economics department here, and he has an office at Rider University. Donald Wise, a consultant on education studies, Robert Horst, an environmental economic consultant, and Shelley Liberman, a consultant on systems and stratgic planning, are no longer with the firm.
Compugen (CGEN), 7 Centre Drive, Suite 9, , Jamesburg 08831. Erez Chimovits, president. 609-655-5105; fax, 609-655-5114. www.cgen.com
By the end of this year Compugen USA, a bioinformatic R&D firm, will have moved its 24-person United States headquarters from Centre Drive in Jamesburg to San Jose. 408-236-7335.
The company’s first product — the Bioaccelerator — attached to a workstation and could accelerate certain analysis software by three orders of magnitude. Since then the company has developed the BioXL which is even faster.
The Jamesburg office was set up in 1998 to sell this product. Merck bought the first machine (slightly larger than a personal computer) in 1994, for about $200,000. Compugen shifted most of its activities to the West Coast office in 2000, and in 2003 it sold its Bioccelerator line.
“The main focus of our commercialization efforts now relates to establishing partnerships based on our proprietary discovery engines and growing therapeutic and diagnostic pipeline,” says Erez Chimovits, president of Compugen USA.
A five-person market research company based at Montgomery Commons, Monument Information Resource, has been bought by R.R. Bowker, a 200-person firm. MIR compiles publishing sales data on textbooks for as many as 1,800 courses, and Bowker owns the Books in Print database and other publishing data.
The amount of the sale was not disclosed, and MIR’s five workers will remain, for now, in the office park near Princeton Airport.
MIR was founded in 1994 by Manuel Guzman. Before the founding, there was no statistical rating vehicle to provide a best seller list for higher education publications.
Founded in 1872, Bowker is based in New Providence, New Jersey, and employs about 200 people worldwide. It belongs to the privately held Cambridge Information Group, based in Washington, D.C.
Monument Information Resource, 713 Executive Drive, Montgomery Commons, Princeton 08540. 609-430-9494; fax, 609-430-9495. www.mirdata.com
If you went to high school with Troy Vincent, and if you stayed active in your church and community, and if you have your stockbrokers license and are a financial planner, and if you have experience in the mortgage industry, then maybe you have what it takes to open your own mortgage company. If your wife can join you in the business, so much the better.
Christopher and Loletha Johnson opened Promise Land Mortgage at the Trenton Business and Technology Center at 36 South Broad Street. They offer commercial and residential mortgages.
“We started in the incubator because it offers affordable office space, and our overhead is drastically reduced, because we have access to copiers, printers, computers, and fax machines, which we didn’t have to purchase,” says Christopher Johnson. “We can use the conference to meet with our clients.
“Our clients are first time home buyers, existing home owners, and real estate investors. We don’t hold the mortgages, we are the mortgage brokers, and we try to find the best scenario to meet our client’s needs.”
The Johnsons say they take a holistic approach to home ownership. we analyze clients’ income and debt to make sure they fully qualify, rather than depending on industry ratios. “Whereas the industry looks only at debt that appears on credit reports, we look at all of the financial obligations, including utility bills and food bills, and we do projections on the cost of maintenance, so they are fully prepared. If we see they mismanage their finances, we might put them on a budget and recommend that they cut their cable or cell phone bill,” says Johnson.
Both were born and raised in Trenton, went to Trenton High School, and when they were married six years ago, they moved to Willingboro. Loletha Payne Johnson went to College of New Jersey, Class of 1991. She was a pharmaceutical sales representative for J&J and a registered nurse at Medical Center at Princeton and the Visiting Nurses of Delaware Valley.
Christopher Johnson’s mother was in the insurance business, and his father worked for the city of Trenton. After majoring in chemistry at Stockton State, Class of 1993, he worked as a car salesman and was in sales with Xerox and Canon ABS.
He has worked for a mortgage company in South Jersey for seven years and also as a licensed stockbroker for Eltkon Financial Services in Trenton, which is owned by Troy Vincent, who went to high school in Trenton before he moved to Bucks County and became a star for the Philadelphia Eagles. The name of the company is a Biblical term for “the place to seek godly advice.” Like Eltkon, says Johnson, who is also a minister in his church, Promise Land is a Christ-centered company.
“We like to transform the way clients think about homes. Most think of homes as just a dwelling place. But as an investment advisor, I think they should think of it as part of the portfolio,” he says. “We want them to understand the power of that investment, to take the home purchaser from being a home purchaser to being a real estate investor.”
“I believe that the market we are in right now, we are very active in our community and our received well. I am also a minister. Promise Land Mortgage is a Christ-centered mortgage. We are long-time church members and very active in our community.
It is not easy to open a mortgage company. Shortly after they were married, the couple took a course in Secaucus on how to do it. To get a license from the state, the company is required to have a liquid net worth of $50,000 plus an additional $50,000 to open its doors.
Some of their potential clients who may have had bad experiences with financial institutions ranging from banks to loan companies. “They can go to a company that they can trust, that can help them make their dreams come true,” says Johnson.
Promise Land Mortgage, 36 South Broad Street, Trenton Business and Technology Center, Trenton 08608. 609-656-2252; fax, 609-565-2252. www.promiselandmortgage.com
While Plainsboro isn’t exactly known as a town of slum landlords, it isn’t a renter’s paradise either, says one renters advocate. Worse, the state of New Jersey has become a landlord’s paradise, in his view. “It’s a far cry from New York City, the city of rent control and big publicity for angry tenants,” says Patrick Goldsmith, founder of the Plainsboro Tenants Rights And Information Network (TRAIN). “New Jersey really treats tenants like second-class citizens,” he declares.
Goldsmith’s TRAIN has its next monthly meeting on Sunday, July 11, at 2 p.m. at the Plainsboro Library. Items on the agenda include concerns about bad maintenance, gas and water usage fees, pet fees, safety, and lighting issues.. E-mail Goldsmith at email@example.com for information.
Goldsmith, 50, grew up mostly in New York and made a living there as an art dealer, lecturing on occasion at universities. He has also lectured at Princeton University. After moving to Plainsboro he ran on the Green Party ticket in a municipal election after he had discovered a calling in tenant advocacy. Meanwhile, he focused his professional energies on day-trading, a more profitable occupation than art at the moment, he says.
TRAIN has been around for a year and has around 150 members. It focuses on Plainsboro issues but could eventually become more of a state-wide advocacy group.
For Goldsmith, moving to New Jersey from New York was like going from one extreme to the other.
“In New York City it’s much more unfair to the landlords. They treat every landlord like a absentee slumlord. Here they treat every landlord like they’re responsible property owners, but more importantly they tend to denigrate the tenants,” he says.
A key battle, says Goldsmith, was the so-called “millionaires tax,” a provision in the state budget that hikes taxes for those making over $500,000 a year to provide larger rebate checks for low-income homeowners. Homeowners in New Jersey have been getting rebate checks of varying size for years, but until recently tenants were not included in the giveback program. This month state lawmakers included an annual $50 rebate for tenants, which Goldsmith and other renters’ advocates say was paltry and last minute.
“They earmarked it to be a windfall on property owners, and they didn’t even include tenants as part of that windfall. It was sort of like they all sort of forgot about us. At the last minute they put it into the bill. It’s not substantial,” he says.
One big fight in Plainsboro is with surcharges that tenants are required to pay for water and sewer upkeep. “Our interpretation of the law is the warrantee of habitability — a roof that doesn’t leak, doors and windows that lock, adequate lighting for safety out front, and hot and cold water that goes to a sewer,” says Goldsmith. “Their interpretation in Plainsboro is that `we do give that, we’re just charging you for that on top of the rent.’ Plainsboro in the only township in New Jersey that does that. There’s nothing on the books about it — this is what makes it more difficult.”
Other issues TRAIN takes on are gas sub-metering and maintenance, an issue Goldsmith says he has championed before — “with severity.”
“I stopped paying rent because of maintenance,” he says. “There was a huge gap between the window and the building. This lasted for two years and I couldn’t get any maintenance on it. We go to court in July.”
— Peter J. Mladineo
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