New Jersey has a key ingredient for growing its financial technology ecosystem: a talented workforce. But it must give that workforce good reasons to stay here.
That means more incentives, educational opportunities, improvements in public transportation and new places to live, said business leaders, state lawmakers and other influencers in the fintech industry at “Growing NJ’s Fintech Ecosystem,” an event organized by the New Jersey Tech Council (NJTC), and held on June 25 in Fort Lee.
“Talent is the most precious commodity in the innovation economy,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. “And we have to make investments where that talent wants to be.”
During the two-hour event, Sullivan spoke on the theme of “Making New Jersey the State of Innovation.” He is optimistic about fintech in the Garden State.
“I think we are really well positioned to dominate,” he said of New Jersey’s fintech industry. “We have the talent pool that is second to none to compete in this field. We are ranked fourth in the country in financial literacy. New York is ranked 10th and Massachusetts is ranked 38th.”
“When you dip your ladle in the talent pool, what are you likely to find? We have an advantage,” he said, noting that “the state also has the highest concentration of engineers and scientists per square mile than anywhere in the world.”
Sullivan talked up Governor Phil Murphy’s proposed New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund, which aims to raise $250 million from auctions of state tax credits and another $250 million from venture capital firms — all for New Jersey-based startups.
Legislation will be needed to create the tax incentive-based venture capital contribution system.
Meanwhile, State Assemblywoman Angela McKnight was on hand, discussing her concerns. She was joined by assemblymen Clinton Calabrese and Gordon Johnson.
“Yes, change happens, but we have to be mindful of gentrification in communities and of individuals who prey on our most vulnerable residents,” McKnight said. She pointed out that her bill requiring school districts to teach financial literacy to sixth, seventh and eighth graders had been signed into law, and will go into effect this September. McKnight noted that this was a major step forward, and added that all communities and companies should create internships, apprenticeships and mentoring programs.
There was also a panel discussion featuring fintech executives — John Ahrens, CEO of Veratad Technologies (Teaneck); Megan Howell, manager of state government relations at PayPal (Washington, DC)); J. Christian Warner, director of state and local policy at Kabbage (Atlanta); and Jessica Wooke, chief product officer at RobustWealth (Lambertville).
James Barrood, NJTC president and CEO, asked the panelists, “How can New Jersey attract and retain more fintech companies? What’s the magic sauce?” Their answers included:
- Investing in the workforce, providing internships.
- Improving and investing in public transportation.
- Being a good corporate citizen.
- Continuously looking for new ways to innovate.
- Investing in workforce education and school systems to bolster financial know-how, beginning with the basics of money management.
- Investing in new, hip places to live.
- Encouraging business leaders to network, and to attend events like this one.
“For fintech to thrive in a location, there needs to be the right environment, and not this regulatory oversight that is cumbersome and burdensome,” Howell said. “You want companies to come here and do business, too. There is a balancing act.
“A lot of fintech companies have financial service regulations that we abide by, but we also want to have innovative products,” she added. “Having a good regulatory environment and a good dialogue with those companies is helpful to make sure these projects continue to be made available.”
Bottom line: “We are nothing without our workforce,” said Phillip Goldfeder, senior vice president of public affairs at Cross River (Fort Lee), a bank that partners with technology companies, and the host of this event.
“You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. You can have the smartest CEOs and the smartest leadership, but if you don’t find a talented workforce, which we found right here in New Jersey, you are not going to be successful,” he said.