The tech industry is booming and New Jersey is emerging as a hub of tech innovation. Why? Well, let’s say the Garden State is growing more than just tomatoes.
New Jersey is experiencing a surge in tech startups, pioneers that are quickly gaining recognition for the impact of their work across industries. Add to the mix the rapid expansion of established, tech-driven corporate giants such as Amazon, and there’s little doubt that New Jersey is a desirable place for leading edge, tech-based companies to set up shop and expand.
One of those places is Bell Works, the former site of the patent producing machine, Bell Labs. At the reinvented site in Holmdel, both New Jersey based and national companies are filling up the 2 million square foot building in what appears to be a trend away from both city headquarters and isolated office parks.
When the project to transform the former Bell Labs building kicked off in 2013, Somerset Development hired The Garibaldi Group, a commercial real estate firm headquartered in New Jersey as the exclusive marketing and brokerage team for the project. Garibaldi’s on-site team is led by President Jeff Garibaldi and Vice Presidents Tara Keating Freeman and Kyle Mahoney. Together they’ve already executed leases for more than 60 percent of the available office space to a mix of small tech companies like VYDIA, corporate heavyweights like JCP&L and NVIDIA Corporation and fast growing tech companies like iCIMS and WorkWave. Garibaldi has also signed a host of potential and promising tech disruptors of the future, some of whom have already begun to transform industries and business practices worldwide.
When the firm set out to market Bell Works Jeff Garibaldi, Jr., Marketing Director for the company, said he knew they had a valuable, attractive property to show, he just didn’t expect the prospects would be so close to home. “We thought we’d be spending a lot of time in planes,” he laughed.
Monmouth County cultivates rich soil for tech innovation
“We thought we were going to end up going in and identifying companies in New York City or Philadelphia where a large number of their employees commuted from New Jersey and pitch them on the benefit of having a New Jersey presence,” Garibaldi said. “We also had a pretty well developed outline of how to approach prospects in Silicon Valley. We know many of them are looking for a bi-coastal presence and want a location that offers a mix of urban and suburban assets that will attract talent or make it more likely their best talent will move.”
“But what we found was completely different. We found an extremely well educated, experienced, talented, and motivated tech labor pool right here in Monmouth County, really within easy commuting distance. And we found many more tech startups and firms that are experiencing exponential growth like iCIMS and WorkWave right in our own backyard.”
The Garibaldi team was initially surprised to find so many potential tenants within the immediate proximity of Bell Works, but talking with local talent and businesses revealed some of the reasons for this ‘happy surprise’. Says Jeff Garibaldi Jr., “We think that this critical mass of innovators, industry pioneers, tech startups and entrepreneurs, may be the natural result of the fact that a company like Bell Labs called this home for half a century, and in Monmouth County, alums settled in the area and never left.”
Garibaldi continues, “When Bell Labs changed, and ultimately, when the Holmdel building closed in 2007, a lot of their workforce simply reinvented themselves and started their own companies. Add to that the incredibly rich workforce with a phenomenal background in tech and R&D that came from the now-defunct military base, Fort Monmouth, and their subcontractors -- all that laid the foundation for a booming tech community. When Fort Monmouth closed, not everyone took a package or went to Aberdeen, Maryland. Many of them had become established here and they stayed and did the same thing the Bell Labs alums did, they started their own companies or continued their careers in the tech field.”
A shift in where workers want to spend their days
The Bell Works project seems to prove what many experts in the commercial real estate industry have been noting for several years, “So for 20 years, there was a significant movement of younger workers and families into or near urban centers for the convenience of living in walkable communities with easy access to mass transit, entertainment and cultural activities,” said Garibaldi. “Now the trend is turning again, and millennials who are looking to start raising families are looking for a more suburban experience -- they want easy access to affordable and spacious living. They want opportunities to spend time in quiet, open spaces while still staying closely connected to the evolving tech world. That’s the genius of Bell Works. That IS Bell Works.”
The metroburb, a mini metropolis in the suburbs, is growing out of this trend where workers demand both urban amenities and green spaces close to where they live and work.
“For these millennials who are balking at exorbitant rents in popular urban centers, with Bell Works and the metroburb we are giving this highly motivated workforce somewhere to go, or more correctly, somewhere to stay,” Garibaldi said. “And for those highly skilled, highly motivated and innovative thinkers who are looking for a place to make their mark in the tech space, Bell Works is distinguishing itself in this highly desirable market.”
But still, it’s Jersey
Monmouth County has a lot to offer workers, trees, beaches, breathable air and ample parking, but it’s no Manhattan right? It’s not even Brooklyn. Can companies thrive here?
In the January 2016, Inc. story Why Today's New York Tech Scene Looks Nothing Like You'd Expect, entrepreneur Charlie O'Donnell, who founded and runs Brooklyn Bridge Ventures points out that New Jersey is attracting some notable startups like Jet.com in Hoboken and Audible in Newark - despite the fact that it is, well, New Jersey.
"Funding goes a little further in New Jersey," O'Donnell says. "Sure, there's a little Jersey stigma--it's where we go to watch our football games--but the truth is, if you have a good business, the talent will come to you."
The Garden State is also attracting thought leaders in the tech industry.
On Feb. 23 at Bell Works, the New Jersey Tech Council presents its “Tech Innovation Forecast 2017, an annual event that draws hundreds of key influencers from the tech, R&D and finance industries, statewide. Speakers at the NJ Innovation Forecast event include keynote speaker Marcus Weldon, President of Nokia Bell Labs, panel moderator David Sorin, Managing Partner of McCarter & English, leadership from companies like BASF, Siemens and Vonage, as well as the principals of venture capitalist firms like Genacast Ventures and Jay Bhatti of BrandProject. It’s a serious line-up with some first-time live pitches for revolutionary tech ideas as well as a revealing discussion about new innovation and acceleration funding models for the tech sector. Guests will meet some of the most influential minds working in the region as they delve into explaining how the tech industry is developing. Bell Works and The Garibaldi Group are major sponsors of the event.
James Barrood, President and CEO of the New Jersey Tech Council says, “The choice to hold this year's Tech Innovation Forecast at Bell Works was easy. Since tenants started signing leases and moving in, it was clear that the former Bell Labs-Holmdel site -- a legend for tech innovation -- is quickly reclaiming that well-deserved status. When you have a concentration of established leaders and notable startups in the tech industry as you have at Bell Works, you don't need a trend analysis to predict that a new, exciting tech hub has arrived. The tech industry in New Jersey is only going to grow more robust throughout the state. Bell Works is certainly going to be a big part of that story."
In addition to large, statewide events like the Tech Innovation Forecast that attract hundreds of corporate leaders in the tech field, The NJ Tech Weekly calendar of tech events lists dozens of tech-centric business and networking events each month throughout the state. From topical meetups like the NJ Data Science Meetup, to informal working groups for high level coders like the Arduino Study Group hosted by FUBAR Labs, to more niche events such as the NJ Drone Users Group "at the 18th hole" (a location disclosed only to group members) and Scarlet Startups, a group that meets at the Rutgers Business School, it's clear that tech is dominating conversations throughout the state.
The Garibaldi team says that the Bell Labs alums living in the area still feel extreme loyalty and warmth for their experience in Holmdel. Most of them were hired and staffed there as young professionals and they treated it as a college experience, forming clubs, falling in love and inventing the future of technology every day. Garibaldi says that for the dozens of Bell alums he has spoken with, they value the fact that the Bell senior management encouraged self-directed creativity and an almost ‘anything goes’ culture – as long as the result was amazing and transformed something about the industry.
The Garibaldi Group’s observations are backed by the fact that, once the opportunity arose in the form of Bell Works, the right labor force and tech businesses self-identified, and the community itself helped drive the momentum. It is an energetic, well-educated, entrepreneurial group that is excited to be back in the Bell Labs building, doing innovative work in the company of other brilliant tech minds.
A century of perspective on the New Jersey economy
This year marks 98 years in commercial real estate for The Garibaldi Group. In that time Jeff Garibaldi and his team have seen markets expand and collapse and industries grow and change. Tech may be experiencing a rebirth in New Jersey, but in terms of its real estate, it’s already a solid market. The tech market is the third largest sector occupying corporate office space (financial services and biotech hold the first two spots). Tech companies are often working on projects that require some risk and much courage on the part of their leadership. Garibaldi says that for these businesses, the right real estate portfolio makes a huge difference in how they are positioned to stay both viable and profitable as they grow and carry projects forward through research and development to implementation.
“Every business should expect their commercial real estate partner to work with them to streamline their real estate and corporate office processes so that every opportunity is realized and risks are minimized. Holdings and management issues absolutely affect the bottom line,” says Garibaldi. “The fact is, no one can perfectly predict the impact of changes to the corporate tech landscape, as giants like Amazon transform e-commerce with more and more fulfillment centers while also opening physical brick-and-mortar stores. Fulfillment centers and data centers, the pivotal needs of tech companies -- both the established giants and impactful startups -- all of this is what commercial real estate partners should be keeping their eyes on to best serve their clients now and in the future.”