Newark’s Mayor Ras J. Baraka officially launched Newark 2020, the signature initiative of his Hire.Buy.Live Newark program meant to boost local employment on July 12, 2017. The date was the 50th anniversary of the Newark Rebellion, which consisted of four days of rioting, looting, and property destruction in 1967 that left 26 dead and hundreds injured.
Now, 50 years later, all eyes are on Newark again. Businesses are beginning to hire more Newark residents, companies are starting to buy more goods and services from other local companies, and more people are moving to Newark to live and raise families there.
Truth be told, when Mayor Baraka won the election in 2014, many acted as if there would be another riot. Reporters came to City Hall armed with questions about whether young Baraka would follow in the footsteps of his father, acclaimed poet and activist Amiri Baraka.
“People saw my father as leftist or a radical. I have no issue with that. Those were turbulent times,” Mayor Baraka told a reporter once. However, this is a new era. “Now, we are trying to create stability. We want to bring quality of life and quality of goods into the community.”
So while most towns in New Jersey are touting Work.Live.Play, Mayor Baraka is singing a different tune. He is chanting Hire.Buy.Live.
“This is not a time to play,” says Mayor Baraka. “We have some serious work to do in Newark, and we are doing it.”
What exactly is Hire.Buy.Live Newark?
Hire. Buy. Live Newark is an initiative from the mayor’s office created to spur the business community to hire locally; buy goods and services locally, and to encourage employees to live locally.
Mayor Baraka brought the city’s leading institutions to the table and created the vision for an economic development strategy that combines jobs, procurement and local residence. He says his highest priority with this strategy is to ensure that all residents benefit from Newark’s surge of investment and development.
A recent report from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice revealed that the poverty rate for minorities in Newark is 33%—more than double the national average. It also showed that only 18% of the jobs in Newark are held by city residents, a proportion much lower than most major cities.
The Hire component of Hire.Buy.Live Newark is aimed at changing those percentages with its Newark 2020 initiative. Its goal is to have 2,020 of the city’s unemployed and under-employed residents hired into full-time, living wage jobs by the year 2020. This will cut in half the employment gap between Newark and New Jersey as a whole, according to the aforementioned report from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
So far the initiative seems to be catching on. More than a dozen major institutions in Newark have committed to the goal. Some of these companies include RWJBarnabas, Prudential, Panasonic, PSEG and learning institutions such as NJIT and Rutgers.
On a more grassroots level, the City of Newark has converted a used mobile unit from the Newark Police Division into a satellite office for the city’s workforce development office, NewarkWORKS. “The jobmobile visits parts of the city with the highest levels of unemployment, bringing access to jobs to residents who have faced serious obstacles to employment,” explains Mayor Baraka.
According to a city spokesman, “The Hire.Buy.Live Newark initiative is the first time any American city has tried to transform its economy by combining employment, procurement and residential strategies.”
The Buy component of Hire.Buy.Live Newark supports the growth of local businesses and matches them to the purchasing needs of other Newark businesses, large and small. Business partners such as Ports America, and United Airlines are committed to increasing overall local procurement from 3% to nearly 20% by the year 2020.
The Live component aims to attract more employees, faculty and students to live in the city where they work and go to school. Business partners such as Audible are already offering rent incentives to employees who relocate to Newark.
If all goes well, Hire.Buy.Live will become a national model for urban economic development and corporate responsibility. At a time when federal programs to support America’s urban areas are under attack, Newark just may be demonstrating that important solutions to economic inequality can come from within.