Caren Franzini (Courtesy: New Jersey Office of Information Technology)
By Joshua Burd
Caren Franzini, who led the state’s Economic Development Authority for nearly 20 years and was among New Jersey’s most revered and well-respected business leaders, died Wednesday.
Published reports said Franzini, 58, succumbed to an illness early in the day at her home in Lambertville. Melissa Orsen, current CEO of the EDA and Tim Lizura, the authority’s president, issued a statement Wednesday mourning the longtime chief executive.
“Those of us who knew Caren Franzini already recognize the magnitude of this loss,” they said. “Caren was a personal hero to so many of us, and a true friend to those who had the privilege of knowing her. Her legacy lives on in the culture she built at the EDA over two decades; a culture she inspired with kindness, loyalty, enthusiasm and integrity.”
Orsen and Lizura said the Atlantic City native, who led the EDA from 1994 to 2012, leaves a mark that “will be everlasting, as will her impact on economic development across the State of New Jersey. The resurgence of cities like Camden, Trenton and Newark; the fostering of innovation, through the development of the Technology Centre of New Jersey, the Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies and the Waterfront Technology Center at Camden; and her focus on small business and entrepreneurship, are all significant landmarks that will pass from this generation of New Jerseyans to the next.
“Caren’s career and influence were truly outstanding, but we will miss her most in far less quantifiable ways. She never forgot a birthday or to ask how your kids were doing. She was the first to say thank you and to give her staff credit. She was the State’s and the EDA’s greatest cheerleader and advocate, and a champion for doing the right thing, always. We all are better people, personally and professionally, for having known her and there is no doubt that the State of New Jersey is a better place because of her.”
Franzini, who served seven governors while at the EDA, founded Franzini Consulting after stepping down from the authority in 2012. She continued to be a fixture in the state’s business and real estate community, appearing at industry events and having a hand in some of the state’s most important development projects.
In 2014, Franzini was given the Service to the Industry Award at the annual banquet hosted by Monmouth University’s Kislak Real Estate Institute, an event that drew some 500 industry leaders. Last year, she became one of the founding co-chairs of Greater Trenton, a nonprofit aimed at promoting economic development in the state’s capital city.
News of her death rippled through the state’s business and political communities.
“Today the State of New Jersey mourns the passing of Caren Franzini, an outstanding person, professional and leader,” said Debra DiLorenzo, CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey. “During her two decades as CEO of NJ’s Economic Development Authority, Caren was a highly effective and visible advocate for business. She embodied everything one wants in a public official—integrity, intelligence, compassion, diligence, innovation, and accessibility.”
Wednesday’s statement from the EDA included a quote from Franzini’s favorite poet, Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” It was one of many that she had shared with her staff at the EDA.
“Caren’s life has inspired all who knew her to value people above all else, to recognize what is truly important, and to live life with meaningful purpose,” Orsen and Lizura continued. “By every imaginable measure of a person, Caren was a remarkable success.”
Newark Regional Business Partnership Executive Vice President Barbara Kauffman recalled meeting Franzini, then an assistant state treasurer, 27 years ago in Newark to launch an arrangement through the state to occupy three underutilized buildings with state offices. She said the deal “contributed to the city’s resurgence at a time when businesses were not interested in coming to Newark.”
“My bond with Caren grew strong in 1991, when we were in the Leadership New Jersey class of 1991, and from then on she was a friend as well as a professional colleague,” Kauffman said. “From the start of her career and that first meeting in Newark, she demonstrated the qualities that we all knew and loved.”
She added that Franzini was “blessed with a tremendous talent to understand complex financial transactions and make them simple to understand, she had a unique ability to bring together disparate groups to accomplish some of the state’s most significant projects.”
“Her indomitable spirit, which she attributed to her close knit family, carried through to everyone in her life, Kauffman said. “As many women struggle to balance work and family, she was as devoted to her home life as she was to her professional career. We are all heartbroken at her passing, and I feel so lucky to have had her in my life.”
There will be a service for Franzini at 1 p.m. Friday at the Adath Israel Congregation, 1958 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville.