State is bullish on Trenton as minority, women contractors gather to network

Most cities would probably welcome new buildings but Trenton stakeholders have never been fans of these two – a last-minute Christie administration plan to construct new office buildings for the Health and the Taxation departments. But, with new administrations in Trenton – one at the state house and the other at city hall – those same stakeholders say they’re trying to make the best of it. New mayor, Reed Gusciora, was part of a lawsuit to stop the buildings.

“It’s not the optimum location,” he said. “We would’ve loved to have the buildings be downtown to be that economic engine. This is a city that’s eager to work, eager to get to work, so we want to work with the treasurer and the governor to make sure that our workers are engaged in this project, that they hire local contractors, minority-based and I still think we can get something positive out of the project.”

The mayor and the new state treasurer were at a networking event for small, minority and women-owned businesses today, spreading the word that this administration is all-in on a Trenton turnaround.

“I have really high hopes for the city,” said Treasurer Liz Muoio. “It’s a great city. Really engaged and passionate people who’ve lived here a long time and they want to see this city succeed, so we want to help people be a part of that.”

Potential vendors met with contractors scheduled to build the new offices to discuss ways that small businesses run by women and minorities might be able to get a piece of the 400,000 square feet of new construction. The state is providing training, waiving fees in some cases and providing a way for businesses to qualify for more public work. A good first step, but African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey CEO John Harmon says he’s been here before.

“The Marriott was $63 million,” he noted. “Waterfront Park was another $60 million and the school construction initiative, which was about an $8 to $12 billion statewide initiative, but when all the checks were cashed, Trenton and cities like Trenton still had the highest poverty, limited capacity and high unemployment.”

Harmon says he’s hopeful that Murphy’s stronger and fairer approach, that includes a better shot for the little guy, will lead to more opportunities. Some are already seeing change. Realtor Fareeda Stokes was here looking for broker opportunities at the new projects and says the Trenton real estate market is starting to percolate.

“One of the things that my company has is a contract with a number of different banks who put properties on the market after they’ve been foreclosed on and because of the inventory that’s out here,” she said, “we have a number of people who are looking whether it be to purchase and live in, or from an investment aspect, who are really picking up a lot of these properties.”

And that means more people living here, in a city that used to be home to almost 130,000 people. With a current population of around 80,000, which even a pessimist would admit leaves the capital city with a lot of room to grow.