Michele Brown will step down as CEO of the state Economic Development Authority to become the CEO and president of Choose New Jersey, the privately funded business attraction arm of the state, NJBIZ has learned.
Choose New Jersey’s board approved the hiring of Brown during a meeting Thursday afternoon. She will fill the post left vacant by Choose New Jersey’s founding CEO, Tracye McDaniel, who announced last month that she was leaving to lead the Texas Economic Development Corp.
Brown will start at Choose New Jersey on Feb. 16, following the next scheduled EDA meeting.
For Brown, the move also brings greater job security. While everyone has raved about her work at the EDA, a new governor may want to bring in his or her own person.
It is unclear how Brown will be replaced at the EDA, but sources, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said it should not be automatically assumed that Tim Lizura, the uber-talented and well-respected chief operating officer, will be elevated.
This much is certain: The hiring of Brown is a coup for Choose New Jersey, one the board feels will show the organization — created in 2010 — has staying power and a bright future.
“In our view, it’s a grand slam,” New Jersey Manufacturers CEO and Choose New Jersey board member Bernie Flynn said. “We’re thrilled. As soon as Tracye told us she was looking to go back to Texas, we thought we needed a proven leader from New Jersey with established relationships who understood the inner workings of our partnerships, which will enable Choose to maintain its forward development.
“We asked Michele Brown if she would be the one and we were thrilled when she accepted.”
Brown is familiar with the workings of Choose New Jersey, since it is part of Gov. Chris Christie’s four-pronged Partnership for Action established for economic development. The group includes the EDA, Choose New Jersey, the Business Action Center and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.
Brown has been the head of the EDA since October 2012.
Flynn said she made such a good impression that she was the perfect candidate for the role.
“We saw it when she came into the role at the EDA, which was a higher-profile role than she had before,” he said. “She impressed the business and labor leaders around the board table.
“Her communication skills and relationship-building skills are very strong. Everyone that we talked to that she has worked with comes away impressed.”
Jay Biggins, executive managing director of Princeton-based Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., one of the leading economic development consulting firms in the country, called the hiring a big win.
“This makes so much sense for Choose New Jersey and the state,” he said. “To have someone of Michele Brown’s caliber and reputation come to Choose New Jersey will (create) the next generation of Choose New Jersey as it deepens its capabilities.”
Brown’s time at the EDA is an obvious plus, Biggins said.
“Her leadership at the EDA was so strong that now she’s an accomplished senior economic development professional,” he said. “Adding her leadership will flesh out the organization capabilities in every direction.”
Brown, a former federal prosecutor under Christie and one of his closest advisers, succeeded longtime CEO Caren Franzini at the EDA. Prior to joining the authority, she was Christie’s appointments counsel.
She has been at the helm in a time when the EDA’s profile has grown considerably, thanks to the expansion of business and development incentives under the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013.
During her tenure, the EDA closed on financing totaling more than $3 billion to support nearly 550 projects across the state, Choose New Jersey said in a news release. These projects are expected to leverage $7.5 billion in private investment and create and retain more than 80,000 jobs. She also guided the EDA in its administration of programs aimed at helping impacted businesses and communities recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
In its release, Choose New Jersey said it has supported the recruitment, expansion and/or retention of 60 corporate operations that accounted for more than 12,600 jobs and nearly $1.4 billion in capital investment — including investments by Allergan, Ferring
Pharmaceuticals, First Data Corp., Orexo, Sandoz, Shiamak, and Valeant/Bausch + Lomb.
McDaniel, lauded by many for her efforts to get Choose New Jersey going, said in a prepared statement that she was thrilled that Brown will succeed her.
“I’m incredibly proud of what we were able to accomplish in the past four years,” she said. “There is a growing recognition around the world that New Jersey has a superb business climate and a strong pipeline of leads that Michele and the state’s economic development team will no doubt handle with expert care.”
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