Matthew Thornton, VP of comms at Audible, discusses how an influx of creative brands and a tech-related approach have revitalized the city
Relocating Audible’s headquarters to Newark, New Jersey, has proven to be one of the best decisions the company has made, says the brand’s VP of comms Matthew Thornton.
Audible, Amazon’s arm for audio books and other spoken-word content, has become the city’s fastest-growing private employer. It arrived in Newark with 125 staff. Now the company has about 800. Audible moved to Newark in 2007, relocating from the suburban town of Wayne about 15 miles away.
"We wanted to be part of an urban turnaround," he adds.
Although New Jersey’s most populous city has a history of innovation – it’s where Thomas Edison began his career as an inventor – Newark has been plagued by persistent violent crime and high unemployment. But it has seen investments in law enforcement, infrastructure, and education.
Thornton joined Audible in 2009 after working for more than a decade in and around book publishing, including at Random House and Scribner.
"Newark is a transportation hub so it is convenient for employees who commute from Brooklyn and other New York boroughs, as well as all over New Jersey," Thornton says.
Audible has six state-of-the-art recording studios, so its proximity to New York allows it to bring in freelance voice talent for its various audio products. The brand’s in-house team handles PR, but looks toward New York if it needs to hire a firm on a project basis. Newark lacks a large agency presence, but smaller firms exist including Jaffe Communications and Winning Strategies.
Audible can draw young talent from the 40,000 college students in Newark, which is home to a Rutgers University campus, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and other smaller colleges.
"The city has a young, motivated, and technologically savvy workforce," he explains.
Education reform at grade school level continues. In 2010, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million to the Newark public school system. That has spurred others including Audible to get behind the cause through donations and scholarships.
The city’s turnaround also includes the development of desirable residential spaces. "More than 3,000 loft spaces will become available in the next three years," adds Thornton.
In July, Prudential – which has been in the city since its founding in 1875 – and Audible announced a partnership on Newark Venture Partners, an investment fund that will provide capital and a collaborative 25,000-square-foot workspace for tech startups.
"Companies that are part of the creative economy can really thrive here," says Thornton.
1. Thomas Edison set up his first workshop in Newark in 1870 manufacturing stock tickers. In the nearby village of Menlo Park, Edison invented the light bulb
2. Newark’s 2014 population was about 280,579, according to the US Census Bureau. It is the largest city in New Jersey
3. The city’s police department plans to add 250 recruits next year. Newark continues to struggle with gun violence. There have been 161 shooting incidents as of August 9, 2015, a 45% increase versus the same period a year prior, according to The Wall Street Journal
4. When work on the Bayonne Bridge is completed in 2017, allowing larger ships to pass under, local officials expect the port to double in size over 10 years and create more job opportunities
5. The city’s unemployment rate in 2014 was 10.2%, compared to 14.2% in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
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