Newark, New Jersey – Audiobook company Audible is helping transform Newark, New Jersey, bringing in jobs and hope for residents. It’s become the city’s fastest-growing private employer, with a workforce of more than 1,600.
The company’s new home is a once abandoned 100-year-old church. They call it the “innovation cathedral,” “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Michelle Miller reports.
“What are people doing here essentially?” Miller asked.
“They’re building various technologically oriented products. These are mostly software development engineers,” said Audible founder and CEO Don Katz.
Audible, which moved from neighboring Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Newark in 2007, is a key player in Mayor Ras Baraka’s goal of having Newark-based corporations hire 2,000 local residents by next year. “We need to make sure they train and work with Newark residents. We need to make sure they help us in the schools to get kids prepared,” Baraka said.
More investment in the city is helping to erode the stigma associated with Newark’s past, including a 1969 uprising, which exposed police brutality and job inequality. The uprising also drove thousands of residents out, draining the city of its tax base and political accountability.
Baraka hopes to ensure his city’s comeback won’t leave those who’ve always lived there behind.
“If the economy grows in the city, it’s our job as leaders and electeds here in the town to make sure that wealth that comes in the community is redistributed in such a way that the majority of residents can see some benefit from it,” he said.
Aiyonnah Post is an example of that. She found a job at Audible a year ago after struggling through a tough adolescence.
“I was living in a homeless shelter here in Newark called Covenant House, and they have a program here at Audible called ‘Hire Local,’” she said.
Post will enroll in college next year thanks to another Audible program that pays for the majority of tuition for all employees.
“They help me shape my future now by investing their training, their hiring, their programs. Everything they’ve done has helped me achieve what I am today,” Post said.
Katz said he wants to create jobs “at all levels for all kinds of people.”
“We basically said as long as you’re bright and gregarious, we’ll take it from there,” he said.
Audible also has partnered with the city’s education system, donating more than $4 million over the past year into local schools by giving Newark public high school students an Amazon tablet, headphones and an audible subscription. It also offered students like Nicole Ransome internships.
“I started out with $14 an hour, so that’s a lot … a pretty good investment of my time,” Ransom said.
Katz got his start as a journalist, but developed into a tech innovator. He’s credited with creating the first digital audio player back 1997, four years before Apple came out with the iPod. “I was supposed to do a book about the digital media revolution like 25 years ago,” he said. “And instead of writing the book. … I saw that people would be running around with little digital devices filled with civilization. They’d be in your pocket. … One thing came after another and I decided to create a company instead.” Audible grew so fast that by 2008, Amazon paid a reported $300 million to buy it.
“How much did Amazon change the equation?” Miller asked.
“The beautiful thing is that we have an incredibly independent culture, brand and business model,” Katz said. “They very much support what we’re doing in Newark. … Do they necessarily agree with everything we’re doing? I don’t really know. All I know is that we’ve had an amazing run here.” And as Audible continues to change the way people enjoy books, it’s helped open up a new chapter for the city of Newark.
“Everyone in America loves a comeback story. It’s one of a great kind of storytelling kind of tropes and being part of it actually has a real lot of meaning and uplifting character,” Katz said. “The fact that so many people want to work here is justification enough to continue to try to help the city.”
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