If you’ve driven up the turnpike from Exit 7 to 8A then you’ve undoubtedly seen all of the giant distribution centers.
These are businesses that could have been located in Trenton if we’d gotten our act together.
One of the things you do as an aspiring civic leader in Trenton is go to workshops where you’re asked to list Trenton’s assets. People always give the same answers: its people, its buildings and its location.
Well our people are going to work on the turnpike corridor in places like East Windsor and Robbinsville, our buildings are empty and our location isn’t as good a one would have thought.
Instead Barnes and Noble, Green Mountain Coffee and likely Amazon along with many others have set up shop in modern warehouse space in the suburbs.
Before the apologist tell me that building new construction space is cheap and Trenton can’t compete, let me suggest that we didn’t even try. Doug Palmer was asleep at the wheel and Tony Mack is, well he’s Tony Mack.
The explosion in industry just 10 miles from downtown Trenton happened without our city even lifting a finger to figure out how we might be competitive.
We had at least one competitive advantage over the suburbs. Those warehouse facilities are hiring Trenton people. The Kenco facility that houses Green Mountain Coffee are actually bussing Trentonians to Robbinsville.
What went wrong?
My guess is that the views on business among the city leadership are simply too provincial to understand what was happening. Additionally our culture of corporate extortion limits us to dealing with small time developers. Serious logistics companies like Kenco wouldn’t give a trifling crook like Tony Mack the time of day.
Furthermore we just don’t have a good story to tell. To attract a 500,000 SF logistics operation we’d need to show why Trenton is a less costly option than a “Greenfield” in Robbinsville. We’d have needed all the creative business people we could muster to pull that story together. A difficult task indeed, but we didn’t even make a serious effort.
Trenton misses out on opportunities like this because we are distracted from the job of revitalizing our city. Instead of attracting world class development, we’re busy playing political games to attract housing projects like HOPE VI. We spend our days begging for money through grant writing and we reshuffle the deck chairs in our city budget.
I don’t expect Trenton to develop a plan in the next two years. Rather we’ll need to wait until a new administration is elected. In the meantime, we need to listen for candidates who have a “can do“attitude about engaging the city in developing a real revitalization plan.