Murphy talks tech with startups in Newark, touting innovation economy

The Phil Murphy approach to promoting administration initiatives differs from his predecessor in many ways, not the least of which is a decided lack of stagecraft. It’s hard to imagine Chris Christie being this self-effacing and modest. But Murphy has found his strength as a salesman not in the big public town hall, but rather in the roundtable approach where – get this – other people talk as much as the governor.

Wednesday, Murphy was promoting his proposed half-billion dollar Innovation Evergreen Fund, a pool of cash from the state and private sources that would fund tech and other startups in places like Newark, where Audible is a top corporate citizen.

“We moved here in 2007 from suburban headquarters and it’s changed everything about our company,” said Audible CEO Don Katz. “Millennials want to work here a lot. In fact, we’ve hired over 600 of them in the last 20 months and they come from 22 different ZIP codes around the New York area, 12 different states, 12 different countries. They want to come and be part of the comeback of a great American city and it’s really something that I wish more CEOs understood.”

His kingdom for another Audible. Murphy says his economic recovery plan is built for the long haul, favoring a slow simmer that burns bright over time instead of a super hot state tax incentive that burns out quickly. Wednesday’s event was held at Newark Venture Partners, where small startups share space, ideas and sometimes venture capital.

“I’ve said this many times because it happens to be true: New Jersey was Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley and there’s a lot of data that backs that up,” noted Murphy.

But those days have been gone for over a decade, says Murphy, and at this roundtable he tried to get the conversation going among startups, venture capitalists and government, urging participants – more than two dozen at the table – to stay in touch after their exchange of ideas.

“Forty-second, 41st and 49th in the country in those three metrics — wage growth, job creation and poverty growth,” said Murphy. “So for all the big incentives that we put out there, we haven’t solved any riddles.”

Panelists were generally in support of the governor’s economic plan, although, as the governor admitted, the devil is in the details.

“We have a lot of smart investors in this room, some of the best in the country around this table and if we can supplement those investments in our companies, then we’re very excited about that,” said James Barrood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Tech Council.

“Some of these incentives do help catalyze behavior, whether it’s hiring ex-offenders, hiring long-term unemployed who are going to a certain demographic like Camden or wherever,” said David Rosenberg, CEO of AeroFarms. “It’s just some of the incentives that the state can help patch into a project.”

And that may be a challenge to Murphy’s white-collar-tinged economic plan, making sure that it’s stronger on incentivizing in urban areas and fairer by making sure the people there benefit from it.