Gov. Chris Christie, Lt. Gov Kim Guadagno and Madison Mayor Robert Conley stood with silver shovels over a pile of dirt Wednesday morning to mark the .
The international .
"Think about where we were two years ago," the governor said before a crowd of state and local officials and members of the business community.
"The responsiveness or lack thereof of state government was so bad, that a worldwide company like Realogy, which we were fortunate to have headquartered in New Jersey, was literally ready to walk out the door without any type of reaction from the governor's office."
Two years ago, the Parsippany-based global parent company of Century 21, ERA, Coldwell Banker and a host of real estate successes, had all but decided to move its headquarters to North Carolina.
"We were on our way to North Carolina. We literally had one foot out the door," Realogy CEO Richard Smith said in remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony.
The , and because of the economy, it needed to move. During the Gov. Jon Corzine administration, Smith said he asked for help that never came.
Then, after the Christie administration came into power in January 2010, he bumped into state Department of Transportation Commissioner James S. Simpson at lunch and wished him farewell. After hearing Realogy's story, Simpson got in contact with Trenton.
"With that simple exchange, which immediately went to the lieutenant governor and then the governor, they worked extraordinarily hard to keep the 1,300 employees that would have moved to Charlotte [instead] here to Madison, New Jersey," Smith said.
Guadagno, whose focus is economic development, called it "the state's first retention save."
The "save" was made possible through incentives from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, aided by the New Jersey Business Action Center.
"We had a pretty rich incentive package for companies that wanted to come to New Jersey, but over the last 10 years we lost hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs because we did not have [incentives] for companies to stay here and grow here," Guadagno said. "Through the governor's efforts we were able to pass a statute that incentivized companies of the size of Realogy to stay in New Jersey.
"As a result, two years later, we are standing here signing a lease and literally building a building out of a bunker."
Realogy has signed a 17-year lease to rent the building from Hampshire Companies, a real estate management firm based in Morristown.
"We've undertaken this particular project as well as others in the state to help transform what we do here in business and in the community," said Jimmy Hanson, president and CEO. "We get great support from the governor's office and the lieutentant governor's office in helping us to attract, reatain and keep quality tenants in our marketplace, as represented by Realogy."
Hampshire Companies is renovating Madison's former Verizon structure into a 270,000-square-foot, LEED Silver-certified office building. Completion is slated for the fourth quarter of this year. The building will host more than 950 employees of Realogy. The move could take place anywhere from late 2012 to early 2013.
Conley, who was sworn in as Madison's mayor last month, described the vacant site Verizon left behind as "a bunker."
He said the project will be a big win for Madison.
"There has been a little tension over construction noise, but [the residents] have been great to work with," Conley said. "I think they recognize that this is an improvement for Madison. Bottom line, it's a rateable we'll be able to see. It's 900 people coming in on a daily basis who'll get to know our great downtown and enjoy our restaurants and see some of our great neighborhoods and maybe move to Madison."
"I think we need to thank the governor and his administration for their aggressive, proactive economic development policies [that] keep business here," Madison Borough President Jeannie Tsukamoto said. "The old Verizon building was for a different use and of a different era. It was vacant for a few years and I'm just glad they're using it."
Christie thanked Hampshire Companies "for continuing to invest and work and employ in New Jersey."
"I simply would not be the governor of New Jersey if it wasn't for the support and the assistance of the Hanson family in many ways," he said.
Christie said Realogy's decision to remain in New Jersey shows the state is coming back as an economic force thanks to his pro-growth, pro-business agenda.
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