A s the lieutenant governor and secretary of state of New Jersey, I could not be more proud to call one of the most diverse states in our nation my home.
Since entering office six years ago, I have had the privilege to tour our great state and meet with countless business owners from all backgrounds and walks of life. Meeting these hardworking men and women has given me a unique perspective of just how special our state truly is.
I would like to share with you just a few things I have done to not only celebrate diversity, but also to highlight the leaders who have inspired us all to reach for our dreams and never quit.
One initiative I began this year, “Reach as You Rise,” aims to highlight successful business women in our state. As part of this initiative, I have been able to learn from these women about exactly how they got to be where they are today — including stories about their childhood, their upbringing, their obstacles and their triumphs. Most importantly, by sharing their personal stories, these women are offering important advice to others also on the rise.
This idea came as part of my belief that as you become successful, it’s important to reach out and pull someone up with you; we all should strive to mentor others and help them to learn from our experiences.
One business owner I have been able to meet through this initiative, and someone I believe we can all find inspiring, is Wendy Shen. Originally from Taiwan, Wendy is the successful owner of FLOMO, an international party supply business. Her story about working her way to the top is one from which we can all learn something — and that is to never give up, no matter how big your dreams may be.
Another initiative of which I am proud is “Conversations with Kim,” which gives me the chance to meet with people from all walks of life and have private discussions away from the news cameras and outside of Trenton. From addressing our heroin epidemic to the struggles of running a small business, I am taking the time to listen — not talk — but actually listen to these inspiring people share their concerns about the real issues in our state and what we can do to fix them.
During a recent “Conversations with Kim” meeting, I had the opportunity to meet with Maria Del Pilar Rivas, the owner of Ozega Bakery in Clifton. Although Maria has only owned her Italian-Peruvian bakery for the last two years, she is no stranger to the business world. Maria owned a bridal boutique for more than 25 years.
During our conversation, Maria discussed the issues she faces as a small business owner, and the impact the Legislature’s policies and proposals could have on her company. In the end, it was great to hear these concerns straight from the source — an actual small business owner who knows better than anyone the challenges we’re facing here in New Jersey.
Maria’s story is just one of thousands from around our state. In each county, in each town, we are seeing more and more women and minority business owners opening shop. I’ve seen this growth firsthand, as I’ve attended 50 events in the past year alone that have focused on diversity and women in business. I could not be more proud and encouraged to see this progress happen right before our eyes.
This growth can in part be attributed to the hard work of my Division of Programs within the Department of State. The Department of State’s Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development and the Office of Faith Based Initiatives, which are housed in our Division of Programs, offer innovative entrepreneur development programs to the residents of New Jersey. These programs help guide the way of diverse business owners who have recently started a business, and also provides assistance to those who hope to create a new business.
Our work continues to help give New Jerseyans a true shot at achieving the American Dream, from the single mother who no longer has to live paycheck to paycheck to the nonprofit organization that now employs local at-risk youth in its social entrepreneurship program.
Moreover, we have done our best to make doing business easier in New Jersey. The Red Tape Review Commission has helped make it easier for everyone, leading to a record number of new business filings in 2015 and clearing obstacles that stand in business owners’ way. To put this into perspective, the uptick in new business filings marks a 21 percent increase since we came into office six years ago. This gives us hope and encouragement that New Jersey is a great place to do business, and it is only getting better.
On behalf of the State of New Jersey, I would like to say thank you to business owners from all backgrounds and walks of life. Your businesses are truly the backbone to our economy and I could not be more proud of your hard work.