Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


Wendy Kelman Neu, an Entrepreneur With a Mission

Smart Growth Award Category: Cary Edwards Leadership Award
Recipient: Wendy Kelman Neu, Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer, Hugo Neu Corporation; grassroots community organizer and activist


The Cary Edwards Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have an outstanding commitment to improving quality of life and promoting smart growth in New Jersey through sustainable land-use policy and practice.

By Wendy Neu’s own testimony, she is not a real estate developer.

Rather, she’s a no-one-left-behind, take-care-of-the-environment, sustainable-future entrepreneur. She has spent her career proving that social justice and environmental responsibility are not antithetical to sustainable growth, but rather in fact essential ingredients. She is an entrepreneur with a mission.

Her firm, Hugo Neo Corporation, builds, operates and invests in innovative environmental resilience and other public-benefiting ventures. Just look at Kearny Point, a 2017 Smart Growth Award winner and perhaps her firm’s best-known project — a repurposing of a Hurricane Sandy-ravaged warehouse facility into an innovative series of flex-, co-working, industrial and event spaces that provide small and start-up businesses with affordable office and manufacturing space and are generating meaningful economic development in the region. The first building to be redeveloped is now home to more than 100 small businesses, more than 70% of which are women- or minority-owned, employing more than 450 people. Complementing the workspaces and helping to establish a sense of community are a bistro, shared communal spaces and a full calendar of events and activities designed to make the workplace more productive and fun. Future buildings will cater to a mix of businesses that share Kearny Point’s values, including companies focusing on cleantech, solutions to climate change, and environmental innovation. When complete, the project is expected to create more than 10,000 jobs.

Acknowledging its environmental vulnerability, the facility also has extensive and innovative green stormwater-management installations, including a living shoreline and park, that are helping to reactivate its waterfront as a public open-space amenity and that will help protect it against the impacts of a changing climate.

For Wendy Neu, Kearny Point is more than a real estate project: It manifests her vision of sustainable entrepreneurship and growth, and serves as an exemplar of how environmental integrity and a commitment to equity can guide development and redevelopment to meet the changing demands of the economy, of people, and of the planet.

Wendy Neu is also in this for the long haul; she has no desire to sell her investment. She knows she needs her business to be profitable, but she wants Kearny Point to be a garden in which other businesses — the ones started by women or minorities, the ones that employ ex-offenders, the ones that need inexpensive but inspiring space and community to incubate entire new industries — can be planted and prosper.

And she is not limiting entrepreneurial leadership to Kearny Point. She is a lifelong animal advocate. In 1986, she cofounded Companion Animal Placement (CAP), an animal welfare organization. After Hurricane Maria, CAP collaborated with other animal groups to airlift animals from Puerto Rico, and in 2018 the coalition spayed/neutered tens of thousands of animals on the island.

Wendy Neu serves on the boards of the Basel Action Network, a global environmental health and justice organization; the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; and Natural Resources Defense Council; and she is a former board member of NY/NJ Baykeeper. On a larger scale, her goal is to be an accelerator for a sustainable model of business growth that integrates economic development, environmental stewardship and social justice. She helped to found one of the East Coast chapters of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a group of business leaders, professionals and investors who advocate for policies that bring economic growth while also being good for the environment. Nationally, E2 has founded more than 2,500 companies, created more than 600,000 jobs, and manages more than $100 billion in venture and private equity capital. For Wendy Neu, it is investments like these, and like the one she has made in Kearny Point, that will power sustainable growth for generations to come.

See all 2019 Smart Growth Awards

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