NEWARK — Newark’s renaissance will be a hollow and unsustainable one if residents do not share in it, the new CEO of the revived Newark Alliance told members of the civic-oriented business group Wednesday night.
“While many of us work, play and do business here, Newark ultimately belongs to the people who call it home,” CEO Kimberly McLain told some 200 business and political leaders gathered in the Lafayette Tower glass atrium at Prudential Center during the alliance’s first public event in two years following the departure of its esteemed former leader.
“We can insure that development continues — and development is good — but we can insure that local residents don’t get left behind in the renaissance,” McLain said.
Mayor Ras Baraka, who has sought to bridge the traditional divide between developers and grass-roots constituents, was among those who applauded McLain.
After McLain had revealed she was not from Newark, Baraka told the gathering, “I’m here to give Kim an honorary Newark membership card.”
“You’re one of us,” he told McLain, who lives with her family in Bergen County.
McLain succeeds Al Koeppe, a highly regarded former president of both NJ Bell and PSE&G who led the Alliance following his professional retirement and then left the group about two years ago. Koeppe died at age 70 in December.
In introducing herself to the gathering, McLain said she grew up “on the wrong side of the tracks,” later adding that she was raised by a single mother in tiny Salley, S.C. (pop. 400). She went on to earn her MBA from Columbia University, and worked in investment banking at Credit Suisse and in the non-profit sector, including as president and CEO of the Foundation for Newark’s Future.
She’s been in the Alliance job for about a year, but has kept a low profile while developing new projects for the group, whose four “pillars” of civic involvement are economic and workforce development, education, and public safety. McLain recently published an opinion piece on NJ.com, arguing in sobering terms why businesses must hire city residents if Newark is to truly prosper.
“Newark residents hold only 18 percent of all jobs in the city, a proportion much lower than most major cities,” McLain wrote. “And the city’s poverty rate is at 30 percent, more than double the national average.”
McLain told the gathering she would soon unveil a program involving what she called “anchor collaboration,” working with the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation and with large Newark employers to bolster local hiring, procurement from local companies, and housing.
McLain’s predecessor, Koeppe, had been a towering figure in Newark business and civic circles. He was involved with the alliance well before taking over as CEO, and observers said his departure shook the group to its core, sending it into a period of dormancy.
Wednesday night’s event was not only a civic coming out party of sorts for McLain, but also a festive revival of the Newark Alliance itself, with an open bar and trays of lamb chops and short-rib sliders.
Alliance Chairman Dennis Bone welcomed a who’s who of Newark political and business leaders, and the event’s corporate sponsors: Council members Mildred Crump, Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, Anibal Ramos, and Joe McCallum; state Senators Ron Rice and Sheila Oliver; U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr.; the Dodge, Victoria, Prudential and Robert Wood Johnson foundations; PNC Bank; Rutgers Newark; and others.
“It’s an exciting time for the alliance,” Bone said. “We have new priorities and we have new leadership.”