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On Tap: A Summit To Boost Firms Owned By Women And Minorities in NJ

Daylong session in Newark on Sept. 20 will feature panel discussions, learning opportunities and lots of time for networking

Hester Agudosi
Hester Agudosi, Chief Diversity Officer of NJ

The Murphy administration is hoping to give a boost to New Jersey businesses owned by women and minorities by hosting a “summit” that will highlight opportunities to work with governments and other businesses.

The daylong summit is being billed as the state’s first large-scale event organized by government with the sole purpose of fostering business opportunities for women, minority, veteran and LGBTQ-owned businesses.

Dubbed “NJ Connects,” the summit will be held Sept. 20 at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. It’s being organized by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, an agency established by Gov. Phil Murphy as part of a broader effort to improve diversity in state government and of the businesses it contracts with on a regular basis.

State officials say they are planning to make it an annual event.

“Our goal is to ensure that everyone who wants to do business, both with and within the great State of New Jersey, has the tools and support they need in order to succeed,” Murphy said in a statement.

“This summit will provide critical resources to connect diverse businesses with economic opportunities in order to further our goal of creating a stronger and fairer economy,” he said.

Emphasis on diversity

Murphy, a Democrat, has made diversity a top issue since taking office early last year. In addition to establishing the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Murphy also selected the state’s first-ever female-majority cabinet. He also made Attorney General Gurbir Grewal the nation’s first Sikh-American attorney general, and Sue Fulton, his pick to lead the Motor Vehicle Commission, is believed to be New Jersey’s first openly gay cabinet member.

In addition, diversity requirements have been written into several new state policies enacted by Murphy, including a state tax-incentive program for the film industry that became law last summer. The administration has also been encouraging New Jersey’s private-sector leaders to learn ways they can boost their own businesses by contracting with a more diverse pool of suppliers.

The 2019 NJ Connects summit will feature numerous panel discussions, learning sessions and workshops for attendees, according to a news release issued by Treasury. Time will also be provided for networking throughout the day, and organizers are expecting roughly 150 exhibitors representing both the public and private sector to also be on hand.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio are among the top Murphy cabinet officials who are expected to speak at the summit, according to the event’s preliminary agenda. State Sens. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex) are also scheduled to participate in a legislative roundtable.

An urban-mayors discussion, featuring Newark’s Ras Baraka, Perth Amboy’s Wilda Diaz and other local leaders, is planned, and officials from the state Economic Development Authority are scheduled to lead a panel discussion on its small-business services and loan programs, which are not affected by the recent lapsing of the agency’s higher-profile corporate tax-incentive programs.

Hester Agudosi, the state’s chief diversity officer, said the summit will serve as a “forum for business owners to showcase their products and services, while connecting them to key public and private-sector procurement decision makers.

“Equally important, this annual event will provide a platform for procurement and purchasing leaders to introduce their organizations and specific project needs, while demonstrating their commitment to building a diverse contracting supply chain,” said Agudosi, who will also be a speaker.

A webpage that includes information about registering online has been set up for the event. Registration fees range from $25 for small businesses to $125 for large corporations. The deadline for registering online is Sept. 12, according to the webpage.

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