By John Burton |
FAIR HAVEN —Fair Haven’s River Road might be a long way from Northern California’s Silicon Valley, but with his expansion plans for his tech business and his vision for his employees, Michel Berger can see a day when the area could be a haven for this industry.
“This will be known as Silicon River,” Berger said with his French accent and a chuckle, looking out at where the Navesink River flows, just a short distance from his current and future headquarters.
Berger is the founder, co-owner and president of ForeFront, 800 River Road, a cloud storage, custom software development and systems integration firm, currently operating in the borough’s downtown area. Berger has begun construction on a new location for his business, literally a stone’s throw from his current site.
Berger has spent about four years planning the construction of his new offices, which will cost approximately $4 million to build.
The proposed roughly 8,900-square foot facility, situated at 810 River Road, is being undertaken because, “We have opportunities to grow,” his successful operation.
“We have a lot of marking possibilities,” with the new site, he added.
For the technology-uninformed, Berger explained his firm provides for businesses to corral all the different pieces, the data, of the modern, digital world that are being used and collected. “At one point, you have to integrate all this stuff,” that is being collected and generated by the various businesses’ efforts, he said. In a way, he said, “It’s putting together the puzzle.”
Berger and his wife and co-owner, Ann Marie, have been running ForeFront for about 30 years, most of those years here in Fair Haven, having started their business in their home. And they now count as clients such heavyweight corporations as General Electric, Walmart, IBM, Ricoh and Bayer.
ForeFront now has offices in New York City; West Palm Beach, Florida; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Boston; and most recently in Krakow, Poland, which provides access to some area universities and its talented engineers, he noted.
The new facility project will incorporate one of the properties existing structures, an aging late-1800s building that had been used as a home and business location in the past. The intention, Berger explained, is to renovate and restore the building to preserve a piece of history for what is Fair Haven’s historic district.
The new facility will offer employees a number of amenities, such as a yoga space, a nurturing and nursing room and a quiet room, along with other desirous benefits.
The idea is, he said, is to offer his young, talented and highly sought-after engineers some of the “work/life balance” attractions that have become expected in the high-tech field.
“We are competing in the technology industry to get the best of the best,” he said.
And that brings the story to Fair Haven. Berger, 62, a Paris, France, native, has been the president of the Fair Haven Business Association for about a decade, and he and his wife have called the borough home for decades, raising their family here. When contemplating a new location, he gave thought to relocating either to the new Bell Works development at the site of the former Bell Labs, in Holmdel, or to the former Fort Monmouth. And the rising number of tech businesses relocating to these sites are contributing to making Monmouth County a burgeoning sort-of Silicon Valley east, he observed.
Ultimately, Berger decided to stay in the borough. The reason is because of many of the same reasons he and his family stay: the community atmosphere, along with the ability of employees to walk and enjoy the area, the local parks, to grab lunch or socialize afterhours. About 75 percent of his local employees live in Monmouth and Ocean counties, but others do commute, he said, but appreciate the closeness of New York City and what this area has to offer.
Berger had been working in France as an engineer, when he had a chance to work on a project in the U.S. more than three decades ago. That project took him to Akron, Ohio—culturally and literally a world away from his Parisian home, he acknowledged. But he came to like the region and its people and stayed when he had the opportunity. That led to a job in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he and his Ann Marie (who is originally from County Cork, Ireland) continued to become initiated into American life.
On a trip to New York City on business, Berger recalled looking at a regional map, discovering the peninsula area here in Monmouth County. He was first struck by the fact it is surrounded by water, not unlike Minneapolis, where he became interested in some of the outdoor activities that those residents enjoyed. And then a trip here, won over his wife, who was impressed by quality of the local schools and the area’s quality of life, Berger remembered.
“It was the right decision,” to move here, he believed. “It’s a lot of positive stuff.”
Berger anticipates the new facility to be completed by approximately March 2018.
This article was first published in the Aug. 31-Sept. 7, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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