Profile: Hailing from the Lone Star State, She Celebrates the Garden State

Paula Saha | November 19, 2014 | Profiles
President and CEO of Choose New Jersey boosts state’s economy by attracting businesses to NJ

Tracye McDaniel
Name: Tracye McDaniel

Who she is: McDaniel is the president and chief executive officer of Choose New Jersey, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to promoting economic development in the Garden State. The organization works closely with the state to attract and retain businesses to New Jersey.

Texas girl: McDaniel grew up in Waco, TX. Her first experience with entrepreneurship was her mother, a registered nurse who started her own tailor business so she could stay close to home for her daughters. She had a storefront attached to their house and would make uniforms for the Baylor University band and other programs, McDaniel said.

“I just remember, she picked us up from school every day. At the shop we would watch people come in and try on their clothes,” McDaniel said. That image of her mother — “just seeing her, making that decision and her experiencing the freedom to have the quality of life that she wanted” — has stayed with her.

Career changes: McDaniel studied journalism in college, and even worked a year for a Texas NBC affiliate. She ultimately decided that she wanted to earn more and went back to school. “I tell women this story often, it’s ok to make decisions on what you think you want to make. A lot of women don’t do that. They shy away from negotiating what the market value is for the services they provide.”

She first worked as a volunteer for the Austin Chamber of Commerce and they ultimately hired her. Six months later, the then-mayor of Austin dedicated funds to start an African-American Chamber of Commerce in the city. The Austin Chamber “loaned” McDaniel to the startup operation, and within a few months, she was hired as the CEO. She was 23.

That led to a 30-year career, including posts in tourism and economic development in state government under governors Ann Richards, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry. She then went into the private sector as executive vice president and COO of the Greater Houston Partnership. That’s where she was in 2011, when Choose New Jersey came calling.

What Jersey and Texas have in common: “Being very proud of where you come from, a big bold attitude. There’s big hair in Texas and big hair in New Jersey. All of those things were very familiar to me.”

What surprised her about New Jersey: “It’s the Garden State … when you’re here and you experience it, you see the farmland and the beautiful country that’s here. And the diversity in geography: beaches, mountains, all of those things you have in one state.” And, she added, she loves the location. “I can be on the Northeast coast here in New Jersey and get to just about anywhere: direct flights, train. Here I can be all over the world, and I love that.”

New Jersey’s other big selling points: “We have a brain trust of some of the smartest people in this world right here in this state. The innovation that’s come from that brain trust is amazing. We beat national averages when it comes to workforce and earned bachelor degrees and higher ed. in this state. One of the things that our research team determined, the Garden State boasts the nation’s highest concentration of scientists and engineers per square mile than anywhere in the world. Who can say that?”

In her spare time: Once a violinist, she’s thinking of picking it up again. Otherwise, she dotes on her family, visiting as often as possible. Her father is the founder of many Pop Warner football leagues in Waco. “He is 83 today and still goes to the football field,” she said. In addition, she dotes on her nieces and nephews. “I think I am the greatest auntie in the world,” she said. “I do a lot to spend time with them, give them a broader experience of this world.”