A few weeks ago, I had the honor of standing with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Councilman Joe McCallum and other officials at an event at PSE&G’s new Fairmount Heights electrical switching station in the city’s West Ward. Although I have attended numerous dedications to celebrate completion of energy infrastructure over the years, this one was a unique opportunity for me – and PSE&G — on a number of fronts.
First and foremost, we had gathered to unveil more than a dozen specially crafted works of art installed on the protective wall that surrounds this new station. The “art wall” is a 30-foot-high canvas for 14 internationally accomplished artists – about half from Newark – whose works now beautify a single square block. The station’s unique promenade also invites people to visit and experience the artwork – turning the site into a destination for the community, city and beyond.
But when a hundred or so people gathered on that April morning, we collectively celebrated more than completion of the art wall, and the modern switches, breakers and transformers that lay beyond it. We joined with the community to celebrate the partners and partnerships that have made this project possible.
We hailed the success of a local hiring program. With the help of our contractors, we met our commitment to ensure that at least 30 percent of the work hours would be performed by local residents – including females, people of color and those living in the West Ward. As a result of their employment, two workers secured their union books; two were able to buy their first homes; three people were trained in construction site management, and yet another – fully trained in construction safety – has been tapped for other projects.
In addition to jobs, we also celebrated the more than $12 million that has been put into the local economy through local contracts and spending on everything from food vendors and hardware stores to local trucking companies. The project was managed by a local, minority-owned architectural and construction management firm.
As Mayor Baraka and others noted, the Fairmount Heights switching station enabled us to put a check mark in multiple “win” columns – jobs, supplier spend, community benefits and, of course, electric system reliability and resiliency.
For PSE&G, being a strong community partner is nothing new. It’s in our DNA to do more than merely maintain the pipes and wires that provide homes and businesses with safe, reliable electricity and gas. We donate to charitable causes, encourage employees to volunteer, and support local economies.
PSE&G serves 300 municipalities – including eight of the state’s 10 largest cities by population. Collectively, these eight urban centers are home to about 1.2 million people who depend on our cities to be the kind of places in which they want to live, work and raise a family.
I believe we can – and should – do more to strengthen our cities and help them solve some of the challenges they face.
It starts with asking local leaders and officials, “How can we be helpful? What kind of mutually beneficial partnership can we develop?”
I expect the answers will be focused on how we might hire local talent to help construct energy infrastructure, or procure more products from local vendors. Perhaps it’s working with educators to support STEM programs that are preparing our future energy workforce. Maybe the focus is on how a city might attract a large, Internet-based corporation to locate there. Or it could be as straightforward as having one of our energy efficiency experts audit a municipal building and recommend ways to save energy and money.
The ideas will undoubtedly be as different at the cities themselves. But the end game should be a partnership that advances sustainable growth, supports community development and fosters corporate citizenship – all while supporting PSE&G’s efforts to maintain and upgrade its infrastructure, like we did in Newark’s West Ward.
Effective partnerships don’t come easy – nor do they happen overnight. Although PSE&G employees engage with municipal leaders all the time, we are in the early stages of creating an urban plan or model that will further guide our conversations and drive a thoughtful approach to solving issues.
I personally look forward to meeting with municipal officials during the coming months to find new ways to engage people and communities, strengthening PSE&G’s ability to live up to our founder’s credo for the company he named Public Service – “to make New Jersey a better place to live and to work.”