(Editor's note: This report was updated at 2:15 p.m. with additional information and comments.)
NJBIZ has learned that Caren Franzini, former CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, has died after a brief illness.
Franzini was the head of the EDA from 1994 to 2012 before founding her own firm, Franzini Consulting in Lambertville.
"Those of us who knew Caren Franzini already recognize the magnitude of this loss," EDA CEO Melissa Orsen and President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Lizura said in a statement Wednesday. "Caren was a personal hero to so many of us, and a true friend to those who had the privilege of knowing her. Her legacy lives on in the culture she built at the EDA over two decades; a culture she inspired with kindness, loyalty, enthusiasm and integrity.
"As longtime EDA CEO, Caren’s mark at the EDA will be everlasting, as will her impact on economic development across the state of New Jersey. The resurgence of cities like Camden, Trenton and Newark; the fostering of innovation, through the development of the Technology Centre of New Jersey, the Commercialization Center for Innovative Technology and the Waterfront Technology Center at Camden; and her focus on small business and entrepreneurship, are all significant landmarks that will pass from this generation of New Jerseyans to the next.
"Caren’s career and influence were truly outstanding, but we will miss her most in far less quantifiable ways. She never forgot a birthday or to ask how your kids were doing. She was the first to say 'thank you' and to give her staff credit. She was the state’s and the EDA's greatest cheerleader and advocate, and a champion for doing the right thing, always. We all are better people, personally and professionally, for having known her, and there is no doubt that the state of New Jersey is a better place because of her."
Franzini's departure from the EDA did not mark the end of her public service. Last year, Franzini helped found Greater Trenton, a nonprofit dedicated to economic development in the state’s capital.
“Having been intimately involved in statewide economic development efforts for the past 30 years, I’m very excited to serve as co-chair of Greater Trenton,” Franzini said when that organization was announced. “With a strong group of engaged public, private and not-for-profit stakeholders, a clear mission and strong city assets, we have a great opportunity to bring new investment and activity to downtown Trenton.”
As president of Franzini Consulting, she consulted on both public and private economic and real estate development projects — and remained very much about bringing the various pieces of the puzzle together to move projects forward.
“Since I was always giving advice to other entrepreneurs, I thought I’d try it myself,” Franzini told NJBIZ in a July 2015 interview about her consulting work.
News of her death was met with an immediate outpouring of sympathy online.
She was a good person and a pleasure to work with. My condolences to her friends and family. https://t.co/d86wIw1cx5— Kenneth J. Sheehan (@kjsesq) January 25, 2017
Heartbroken. Prayers for Caren's entire family...she will be terribly, terribly missed. https://t.co/EDdGQNsBBQ— Christina Renna (@CGRenna) January 25, 2017
During her career, Franzini was also an integral part of the original Partnership for Action.
“Gov. (Chris) Christie’s transition team (was) looking at ways to really enhance economic development,” Franzini said in the interview. “One of the concepts was to create Choose New Jersey, an organization to market New Jersey, since we didn’t have the funds to market the state nationally or globally.”
From then on, Franzini said, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno spearheaded economic development by bringing in or creating various other state agencies in order to collaborate.
“It was really her initiative to create the partnership with the creation of this new organization,” Franzini said. “We’d meet every other week and go through prospects and companies that we were working with, as well as existing companies, and develop action plans to ensure we were working together and achieving wins.”
Franzini was named to the NJBIZ Hall of Fame in 2015 for her work in the state, which also included serving in government and on the boards of organizations such as PlanSmart NJ and the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey.
"Today, the state of New Jersey mourns the passing of Caren Franzini, an outstanding person, professional and leader," Debra DiLorenzo, CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said in a statement Wednesday. "During her two decades as CEO of the New Jersey EDA, Caren was a highly effective and visible advocate for business. She embodied everything one wants in a public official — integrity, intelligence, compassion, diligence, innovation and accessibility. As a former member of the CCSNJ board of directors, Caren provided us with insight into the inextricable connection ... between the public and private sectors needed to create a healthy business climate. And as a close personal friend, Caren's kindness, warmth and unconditional support made me a better person. I will miss her terribly."
According to Franzini's biography when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame, after college, she got her start working at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and with Public Financial Management. From there, she joined the New Jersey Department of the Treasury as an assistant state treasurer.
In 1994, she became the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. She spent nearly 20 years there making a positive impact on cities across the Garden State by supporting entrepreneurial development, revitalizing communities, and growing and retaining jobs. Annually, the NJEDA provided between $600 million and $800 million in financial assistance to businesses, nonprofits and public organizations throughout New Jersey.
“I credit our achievements to our company culture,” Franzini, who oversaw more than 150 employees, said in the hall biography. “To be a success you must value your team, value your customers, and maintain the highest level of fiscal and personal integrity.”
Over the years, Franzini has received numerous honors for her contributions to business growth and economic development in the state – from the New Jersey Technology Council’s John H. Martinson Technology Supporter Award, to the Wharton Club of New York’s Joseph Wharton Award for Social Impact.
“It’s important for companies to realize that in order to be successful, the community they’re located in must be successful, as well,” Franzini said. “I have always made a point of being involved in local events and organizations and encouraging others to be involved, as well.”
Franzini served on the board of directors of New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group, New Jersey Business and Industry Association, Horizon Blue Cross New Jersey Foundation Board, New Jersey Community Development Corporation, New Jersey Future and the New Jersey Alliance for Action. She also serves as a visiting associate at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.
A variety of New Jerseyans were among those who reacted to her passing:
@NJBIZ Very sorry to hear this. Caren was outstanding advocate for NJ & its many communities.— Downtown Cranford (@visitcranford) January 25, 2017
Sorry to hear of Caren Franzini's passing. She was a delight to interview and did so much for NJ. Peace and comfort to her family.— Melinda Caliendo (@MCaliendo33) January 25, 2017