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Student program helps NAIOP build a bridge to real estate industry’s future

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Joe Zagari, project manager in Avison Young's Morristown office.
Joe Zagari, project manager in Avison Young's Morristown office. - ()

Joe Zagari wasn’t necessarily looking to network, much less find an internship in commercial real estate.

But the Rutgers University graduate student would accomplish both after accepting the invitation of classmate Mark Russo, NAIOP New Jersey's education coordinator, to attend one of the organization’s events in 2012. Zagari, then a student at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, was preparing to hear Dean James Hughes speak when he sat down next to Mark Goldstein.

“I didn’t know who he was at the time, but we struck up a conversation,” Zagari said of Goldstein, who is vice president and city manager for Liberty Property Trust. “He introduced himself and said who he was and what did, and after the presentation he offhandedly said, ‘Send me your resume — here’s my card. If you’re interested in an internship, I might have something for you.’ ”

It’s the type of experience touted by NAIOP New Jersey, the commercial real estate development association, in highlighting its Student Members program. For Zagari, who soon joined the chapter as a student, it laid the groundwork for his internship at Liberty Property’s Mount Laurel office and then his career — today, he is a project manager in Avison Young’s Morristown office.

For NAIOP, it’s a chance to cultivate the industry’s future leaders.

“We’re just trying to connect with the younger population as they’re going through college to let them know they do have career opportunities with the commercial real estate industry,” said Michael McGuiness, CEO and president of NAIOP New Jersey. “NAIOP is a great place to gain some exposure and make a name for themselves. … You just never know where the next job is going to come from.”

Student members in the 2014-2015 year paid $50 in annual dues for all the benefits of membership, from networking and registration to events, to the organization’s research and newsletters. The program centers largely on the graduate level and is available to full-time students not otherwise employed in the commercial real estate.

To help recruit for the program, NAIOP executives and members visit colleges throughout the year. McGuinness said that, knowing the schedule of a students, “we try to impress on them the value and the importance of being part of NAIOP and having access to all of the resources that we offer to members.”

Those resources include NAIOP events, such as the seminar on port commerce that led Portia Henry seek an internship with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2012. And Henry, who was also a grad student at the Bloustein school, said the relationships between the authority and NAIOP New Jersey helped her get a volunteer role at an even bigger event — NAIOP’s I.con industrial conference.

“The visibility alone was an invaluable benefit and experience, which quickly accustomed me to networking and interacting with executives and policy makers,” said Henry, now an executive policy analyst in the chairman’s office of the authority. “It also was a great way to meet other student members with like-minded interests.”

Zagari, meantime, is now a NAIOP member as a professional and continues to reap many of the same benefits he did as a student: information and the opportunity to network, volunteer and listen to key thought leaders in the industry. All that helps in his role as a project manager with Avison Young, with a specialty in industrial buildings.

“Just getting to the events and hearing some of the speakers speak, I think, is the easiest way to stay up to date on some of the contemporary information affecting the real estate market,” Zagari said. “It gives you kind of a tool belt of talking points when you’re out with clients and vendors to pull from.”

He added: “That information is still pretty valuable. And when your client asks you which consultant or which vendor they should hire … it’s nice to know that you have a Rolodex on your Outlook that you can pull from.”

And for NAIOP volunteer leadership and members, having a link to younger members simply helps them do their day jobs.

“Much of what we’re doing today, what we’re building and where we’re developing — it’s all to address today’s users,” McGuinness said. “And who are those users today? They’re smaller companies, they’re younger companies, they’re younger people, they’ve got different preferences. You’ve got to attract users. Without users there’s no need to build anything or develop anything.

“People are going to be leasing space or buying property, so it’s all about being in touch with what’s happening out there.”

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