Tracye McDaniel can extol the virtues of New Jersey like someone who has been here all of her life. It's a testament to her image-hawking ability, since the lifelong Texan just started work as CEO of the state's new economic development nonprofit Feb. 1.
As McDaniel's Choose New Jersey works to entice businesses to relocate to New Jersey, her out-of-state background helps her appreciate the lens through which those businesses see the state: TV shows like "The Sopranos."
"It's like watching the TV show 'Dallas'" and letting that affect one's image of Texas, she said.
When Choose New Jersey's board wooed McDaniel by bringing her to locations throughout the state, it may have set a precedent for her own efforts to convince others to relocate here. That matter of perspective has become a tool to shape a future Choose New Jersey marketing campaign — a study McDaniel launched, "basically asking corporate America: What do you think of New Jersey?" she said.
It's a question Choose New Jersey's board faced in seeking a top-flight candidate, according to Dennis M. Bone, its chairman.
"We knew of economic development organizations across the country who were doing a really terrific job," said Bone, president of Verizon New Jersey. "In New Jersey, we weren't doing a terrific job — basically because we weren't doing the job at all."
Bone said McDaniel's track record was crucial: She was chief operating officer of the Greater Houston Partnership — one of the country's largest regional business associations, with a staff of more than 75 — and previously was tourism director for Gov. Rick Perry.
She has 15 years of state government service, and also has served as the founding president of the Texas Association of African-American Chambers of Commerce.
"Her resume just reeks of experience and contacts," Bone said.
The board overcame New Jersey's tattered business climate rankings to entice applicants like McDaniel by presenting a chance to work on a clean slate.
"In many attributes, the state is
way down on the list," Bone said, but the new administration offered McDaniel the chance to get in on the ground floor of state development efforts. "All of the vibes going out across the country from Governor (Chris) Christie were very positive."
McDaniel wants Choose New Jersey to find prospective companies that would move or expand in the state, then work closely with state officials to close the deal.
It is one of three legs — along with the state-run Business Action Center and Economic Development Authority — that form the Partnership for Action, the overall economic development effort led by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. With a staff of three, it may be the smallest of those legs, but McDaniel said she doesn't feel short of resources.
"The advantage of Choose New Jersey over (a larger staff) is I get to build my team" from the talent that best suits New Jersey, she said. McDaniel already has recruited economic development officer Mike Chrobak, a Linden native who worked with McDaniel in Texas. She foresees growing to 15 employees over three years.
Originally from Waco, Texas, McDaniel later moved to Austin and helped to convince her younger two sisters and brother to move to the state capital. "I was in relocation years ago — I've moved them all to Austin from different places in their lives," she said.
McDaniel has now relocated to Princeton, also home to Choose New Jersey's temporary office. She is planning a competitive analysis of how New Jersey stacks up against other states in its economic development efforts, including its resources for building international trade. This will lead to a request for proposal in June for a firm to aid with developing the state's brand for Choose New Jersey's marketing efforts.
She also is planning several trips to build new leads, including the upcoming BIO International event in Washington, D.C., where Choose New Jersey and BioNJ will host a dinner to showcase the state to the life sciences industry.
"My dream would be if we could get the 'Cake Boss' to go to showcase
the culinary strengths of our great state," she said of Hoboken reality TV star Buddy Valastro.
While McDaniel said the state may have some major announcements of business retentions and relocations this year, these will be from businesses in the pipeline before her nonprofit launched. In her experience, it takes 18 to 24 months to attract companies, she said.
She also wants to make Choose New Jersey self-sustaining; presently, the funding comes from the corporations that form its board, which have each pledged $450,000 over the next three years.
For now, McDaniel is looking to keep up an effort that she characterizes with one word: "aggressive."
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