Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver – A Voice for All People
TRENTON, N.J. (February 26, 2021) – Throughout her entire career, one word has defined Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver – trailblazer. As New Jersey’s first Black Lt. Governor, Oliver is forging a new path and working daily to ensure that those who have been historically underrepresented know they have a voice – and an advocate – at the highest levels of state government.
Lt. Governor Oliver has worked side-by-side with Governor Phil Murphy over the past three years to create a stronger, fairer, and more equitable New Jersey economy. Under their leadership, New Jersey has taken a whole-of-government approach to transforming struggling communities into thriving centers of employment and economic growth. As the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (NJDCA), Lt. Governor Oliver plays a key role in these efforts.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) works closely with its partners at NJDCA, the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority (NJRA), and the New Jersey Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency (NHHMFA) to roll out initiatives for local communities, developers, businesses and investors to improve the quality of life for New Jersey residents. Through this collaboration, the agencies have created programs designed to bolster investment in Opportunity Zones in 75 municipalities spread across New Jersey’s 21 counties, increase access to capital for small businesses, and foster the revitalization of the state’s distressed neighborhoods.
Throughout COVID-19, NJDCA, NJEDA, NJRA and NJHMFA have been at the forefront of helping small businesses weather the economic effects of the pandemic. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on minority-owned businesses and businesses in historically disadvantaged communities. The State’s response includes a particular focus on supporting the recovery of these businesses.
“The Lt. Governor’s commitment to bolstering opportunities for small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color, has been unwavering and a tremendous asset to the economy,” said NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan. “COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the inequities that exist in the Garden State and we could not ask for a better champion as we work to rebuild New Jersey’s economy in an inclusive manner.”
Late last year, Lt. Governor Oliver joined with Sullivan, NJRA President and CEO Leslie Anderson and now-retired NJHMFA Executive Director Charles Richman during a podcast to discuss the State’s comprehensive response to the pandemic. A recording of that podcast can be found here.
Prior to becoming Lt. Governor, Oliver served in the New Jersey Legislature for 14 years and was the Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly from 2010 to 2014. She was the first Black woman in state history to serve as Assembly Speaker. Last year, Lt. Governor Oliver was honored with the Black Excellence Award by the New Jersey Black Legislative Caucus (NJLBC) for her continued work in promoting public policy by encouraging the interaction of the community with legislators and members of the government at all levels.
Lt. Governor Oliver is a proud alumna of the Newark public school system and has lived in East Orange for more than 40 years. She graduated cum laude from Lincoln University and received her Master of Science Degree in Community Organization, Planning and Administration from Columbia University. She has received honorary doctorates of humane letters from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Lincoln University, Montclair University, and Berkeley and Essex County Colleges.
Q&A with Lt. Governor Oliver
Of all the programs the State has launched while you have been Lt. Governor, which do you see as the most impactful for small business owners, and particularly those in historically underrepresented communities?
It is hard to select just one! New Jersey has produced a wide array of successful programs that are targeted at helping small businesses in underrepresented communities. I have been particularly impressed by the NJEDA’s partnerships with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), which routinely work with micro-enterprises and small businesses that may not qualify for traditional banking. Through its CDFI Loans to Lenders Program, the NJEDA provides financing to CDFIs to administer term loans or lines of credit to qualified micro-enterprises and small businesses. During COVID-19, the NJEDA has partnered with six New Jersey-based CDFIs to support pandemic-impacted micro- and small businesses and nonprofits. Since the start of the pandemic, the six partner CDFIs have provided 301 loans worth a total of more than $7.6 million. Nearly two-thirds of the loans went to women-, minority- and veteran- owned businesses.
I’m also a big fan of New Jersey’s Set Aside Program, which mandates that the State set aside 25 percent of its purchase order dollars for Registered Small Business Enterprises that can help small businesses compete for government contracts. This program also helps create equal contracting opportunities for socially and economically disadvantaged firms that seek to do business with the State, including women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses.
What advice do you have for the next generation of Black and Brown business owners and entrepreneurs starting out in business today?
To young aspiring Black and Brown business owners embarking on a new entrepreneurial journey, I would say make it your business to first and foremost know your strengths and weaknesses. Then use those strengths to grow your business by capitalizing on your craft.
I would also impart that as a business owner you must be willing to embrace new and emerging technologies to build up your infrastructure and capacity. Many businesses will often miss opportunities because they aren’t willing to learn the technologies that are needed to thrive in the market. We live in a digital era and you must be able to respond to customers quickly. You also need to be in the know and prepared to apply for programs that the State or other entities may offer to help you succeed. Don’t be afraid to apply for help!
On a personal note, who have you looked to for inspiration throughout your career?
I have always followed closely the life and career of the first African American Congresswoman in the United States Congress, Shirley Chisholm. I often quote and live by her adage, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” She was never afraid to voice her opinion and her tenacity drives many of the decisions I make in my career and life. As a woman of color there are many issues that would never have been addressed in the state legislature or in state government if I hadn’t been in the room.
About the New Jersey Economic Development Authority
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) serves as the State’s principal agency for driving economic growth. The NJEDA is committed to making New Jersey a national model for inclusive and sustainable economic development by focusing on key strategies to help build strong and dynamic communities, create good jobs for New Jersey residents, and provide pathways to a stronger and fairer economy. Through partnerships with a diverse range of stakeholders, the NJEDA creates and implements initiatives to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life in the State and strengthen New Jersey’s long-term economic competitiveness.
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