The New Jersey tech industry lost one of its greatest advocates this week when Caren Franzini, New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) head, stepped down from the post she had held for 18 years, through the terms of seven governors.
Franzini, whose resignation will be effective in September, said it was time to move to another stage of her career. She will be replaced by not one but two people, according to Gov. Christie’s office.
“It is clear that in Caren the EDA had a very unusual leader who was able to function … at the strategic level as CEO, as well as [at] a highly technical operating level as a COO,” EDA Chair Al Koeppe noted in a release.
At a special EDA board of directors meeting, the board voted to approve a new executive structure that will include both a CEO and a president/COO position.
Michele Brown, who is no stranger to controversy and now serves as appointments counsel to Gov. Christie, has been appointed CEO. She has been tasked with overseeing the EDA’s strategic direction, sound ethical and governance process and the tools and resources needed for its economic development mission.
EDA Senior VP of Finance and Development Timothy Lizura will be the new president and COO. He will lead EDA business operations, real estate development and financial and accounting activity. Lizura has helped develop some of the incentive programs that many tech companies use.
Maxine Ballen, New Jersey Technology Council CEO, worked alongside Franzini for years. Speaking to NJTechWeekly.com, she said Franzini’s resignation is a big loss for NJTC member companies because Franzini is a “great champion for the tech community as well as a friend, resource and ally.”
“As you know, we work closely with the EDA,” Ballen added. “Caren has helped keep New Jersey one of the top-tier destination states for technology because of the programs she put in place. Her leadership is the reason New Jersey is regarded the way it is.”
Both Ballen and Mario Casabona, the angel investor now heading the accelerator TechLaunch (Montclair), mentioned that under Franzini the EDA has been able to withstand government transitions with most programs intact.
Casabona remarked, “I’ve known Caren Franzini for at least 15 years. I was initially on one of her boards of advisers at the EDA. … She really transcended the politics in our state to get her job done. She was able to survive the political machine and at the same time help New Jersey grow.” Reached via email, Katherine Kish, Market Entry (Cranbury) president and executive director of Einstein’s Alley(Princeton), a nonprofit organization that supports growth in infotech, life sciences and “green” companies, called Franzini a “real point of light through many administrations in New Jersey. She has always been strong, smart, fair, supportive, principled, energetic and a real asset to the state in its economic development infrastructure. I’ve often thought of her as a pragmatic visionary. She will be missed in her EDA role.”
Some programs benefiting technology companies begun on Franzini’s watch during the past year include the initiation and funding of N.J.’s first private-public partnership for a tech accelerator and the establishment of two early-stage funds along with Osage Venture Partners (Bala Cynwyd, Pa.) and NextStage Capital (Audubon, Pa.).
In addition, the state announced programs through the Edison Innovation Funds for angel, VC growth and follow-on financing for companies that can match funds with those of private investors. Existing programs, including state incentives for companies that stay in N.J. and produce jobs, remain available.
The Wall Street Journal noted that the EDA “is in the process of evaluating its main tax incentive programs, which provide grants, bonds and loans to attract businesses and jobs to New Jersey. In 2011, the agency awarded $882 million in financing assistance and incentives. The EDA estimates the awards helped to create 13,000 new jobs and result in $3.4 billion investment.” Revisions to the tax incentives programs could come as early as the fall, the Journal reported.