Beyond the Ballot: Economic Development

Wednesday, Dec 9, 2020
by Oyin Sangoyomi '23, Student Correspondent

Beyond the Ballot highlights the actions that the Princeton community is taking to address issues they care about, as well as the ways people are becoming more informed on these issues. We recently spoke with Emily Apple, a 2020 graduate of Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), from which she received her Masters in Public Affairs. While at SPIA, Apple was part of the Students for Educational Equity and Diversity group.

Prior to attending graduate school, Emily Apple grew up in and worked for New York City. It is this background that drove her to policy school to pursue her interest in issues pertaining to anti-racism, particularly anti-black racism. “To live in New York is to experience inequities on a daily basis, and to see the tale of two cities in action,” she affirms. “And so I think you can’t live in New York for your whole life, and not experience that on a daily basis, and be motivated to do something about that.”

Now in the field of economic development, Apple’s time at Princeton is what urged her to focus, not just on businesses and real estate development, but also the people at the heart of it. She is always conscious of implementing this idea in the work she currently does with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA). There, Apple focuses on economic recovery, and she works with communities that have been disproportionately impacted by various inequities, which tends to be black and brown communities.

For current Princeton students, Apple emphasizes that a great way to prepare for political engagement is to get experience with organizing and to get involved in a campaign, whether it be a political campaign or an issue campaign. She also believes that volunteering or interning can often be undervalued, but it is important to remember that aspects of civic engagement outside of campaigns such as these are very important. 

In regards to the 2020 presidential election, Apple reflects, “The election obviously was quite consequential for [NJEDA’s] work, and will be moving forward, but ultimately the economic recovery and just sustaining people and businesses in [New Jersey] is going to be a long-term undertaking that is separate from the election.”

And certainly, as the 2020 presidential election comes to an end, Apple’s work continues on. A recent program that she has been working on is one in which she works with organizations throughout New Jersey to buy meals in bulk from restaurants who are struggling economically and distribute those meals throughout the state at zero cost. This both helps keep the restaurants open and ensures that people are fed through times of economic hardship.

Having graduated in June 2020 and started her job in September 2020, her work on economic development issues has been particularly interesting while in the midst of a crisis. The long-term thinking that is often central in economic development has been limited this year; this year, her and her colleagues have been focused on making sure a business can have its doors remain open or a person can keep its lights on. However, this year’s circumstances have prompted a lot of creative thinking and rethinking about the way that the government operates, an aspect that Apple is excited to continue exploring.

Ultimately, Apple emphasizes focusing on issues rather than the politics themselves. If she could tell her younger self one thing, it would be that, “Politics are really important, but if that is not what gets you out of the bed in the morning, that’s okay. There’s a lot of other ways to get involved and still make progress on the issues that you care about and impact you and your community day-to-day. Focusing on those and not the machinations of the political cycle is okay.”