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Jersey City's Sales Effort Lands $1B for Downtown
Econ. Dev. Corp. Secures City's Boom Times
By Michael Barbella
Koperweis's eighth-floor office overlooks part of the Jersey City waterfront, which is bustling with construction activity. The constant drone of cranes, jackhammers and drills can often be overpowering.
"Sometimes, I can't open my windows because the sound of construction is so loud," said Koperweis, president of the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation.
It has been, loud for quite some time now. New Jersey's second largest city is experiencing a reconstruction that is turning the once decaying urban center into a thriving metropolis that rivals Manhattan. More than $1 billion in private sector investment is expected to pour into Jersey City over the next two years, as developers transform vacant rail yards and old warehouses into the office towers and retail malls of the 2st century.
Development is exploding along the city's waterfront. Construction has begun on several skyscrapers that will provide the city with millions of square feet of much-needed office space. There also are plans to build hotelsm retail centers and condominiums along the waterfront.
"We've coined the phrase Holistic Urban Building or HUB," Koperweis said. "We are trying to rebuild the city." The Jersey City Economic Development Corporation has been instrumental in helping to rebuild the city. Over the last several years, the 19-year-old agency successfully has bridged the gap between the public and private, sectors by becoming a "clearinghouse of information" for companies considering, relocating, Koperweiss said. It also initiated a savvy marketing campaign that has, shown the rest of the world what Jersey City has to offer.
The corporation has grown from a $1.3 million agency in 1994 to an $11.1 million organization today. During that same time period, the number of employees has increased by three.
"The [economic development] corpora- tion in the past was not fulfilling its mission," Koperweis explained. "A lot of people would call, but they wouldn't know who to go to. Who would get the demo- graphic information? Who would get out information about the loan program's? Who was going to help lure companies to the city? There was no one. We recognized that there was a tremendous need to get information to people."
There also was a tremendous need- for the city to market itself. When Koperweis joined the agency in October 1994, he immediately launched an aggressive advertising and marketing- campaign to tout the virtues of Jersey City. It was not a difficult task - Koperweis already had a great product; all he had to do was sell it.
"I classify my background as marketing, economic development and sales," Koperweis said. "When I first came onboard, I realized we had a great product here - the city - but we had no tools to market that product."
That changed within a year. The corporation commissioned an artist to create a Jersey City "center of the universe" poster similar to the famous New Yorker sketch. The agency had a copy of the poster reduced and printed on folders that are now filled with information and sent to businesses thinking of relocating to the city.
"The [information] packets allow people to become familiar with Jersey City," Koperweis said. "It helps them get comfortable with the city and saves them the hassle of having to go through a jumble of phone calls to get their questions answered. This is a service organization and the service we are selling is the city.
The agency welcomes businesses into the city by offering to put together a relocation package tailored to their specific, needs. It also has a small businesses loan program.
Several years ago, the agency created a blockfront program, which has enabled the city to refurbish entire blocks and create a more comfortable atmosphere for those who live and work there.
"We renovate storefronts to bring them back to the way they were in the 1920s and 1930s," Koperweis explained. "We want to create a more friendly atmosphere For people to walk around."
Some of that friendly atmosphere can be seen in an 11-minute video Koperweis produced which features a brief interview with New York Daily, News publisher Mort Zuckerman. In the video, Zuckerman discusses his satisfaction with opening a printing plant in Jersey City's Urban Enterprise Zone in 1996.
"I would say if we are happy here, it would be a flagship for many other companies in the area to consider locating in Jersey City," Zuckerman says in the video.
Besides the video, officials devised a new slogan for the city and put it on signs. The phrase "America's Golden Door" is written on the bottom of the sign, below a rendering of the Statue of Liberty. The city's name is written over the Statue of Liberty, in gold letters.
Koperweis said the city is still a golden door to opportunity today, but in a different way. Corporation officials call Jersey City "Wall Street West" and "Silicon Valley East," as scores of Wall Street firms move their facilities across the Hudson River and high-tech communications firms cross the continent to take advantage of the, area's fiber-optic cable network.
Although the corporation has worked hard to sell the city to outside investors, Koperweis credits Mayor Bret Schundler - the first Republican elected in seven decades - with giving the agency a decent product to sell. "He [Schundler] recognized that he had to come forward and put the city in a good light," Koperweis said.
"Without a strong, stable political environment, you would not have the interest you have today in Jersey City," Koperweis said.
Thomas D. Ahern, executive director of the agency, believes the city's Urban Enterprise Zone program is partly responsible for the heightened interest. The sales tax collected from zone businesses has allowed the corporation to renovate blockfronts and fund other redevelopment projects.
"The money is put into a UEZ assistance fund. That funding source has assisted this corporation a great deal," Ahern said. "That [money] has allowed us to do a great deal of marketing."
Nearly 18,800 jobs were created or maintained among the city's Urban Enterprise Zone-certified businesses between 1993 and 1997.
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