Born in China, Barry Zhang came to New Jersey in 1988 to study at Princeton University, where he gained a PhD in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Zhang was able to remain in the United States because of his wife, who gained a green card through her employer. After graduating, he launched a small but successful fiber-optics startup. “Entrepreneurship must be in my blood,” Zhang says. “I wanted to build something of my own.”
Three years after selling his first business, Zhang launched Princetel, a manufacturer of sophisticated fiber-optics components used in telecommunications, biomedical devices, and military hardware. With revenues of over $10 million, Princetel now employs around 80 people in Mercer County, and Zhang is proud to have survived the pandemic without having to cut pay or lay off workers. “In fact, we’re hiring right now,” he says. “Compared to this time last year, our headcount is up 10%.”
Our foreign-born workers grew up using their hands, and we need their skills so we can keep growing and creating jobs for everyone.
The company is also expanding in its physical footprint. Zhang recently purchased a midcentury industrial facility in Hamilton, which he plans to convert into a 70,000 square foot advanced-manufacturing facility. “Hamilton township officials rolled out the red carpet for our expansion,” Zhang recalls.
Princetel will hire around 100 new employees in the next 3-5 years—something Mercer County’s diverse labor pool makes possible. Currently, Princetel’s workers come from 17 different countries. “We don’t specifically set out to hire immigrants, but the people with the skills we need often come from overseas,” he says.
Sometimes immigrants bring advanced technical expertise, Zhang says, but just as often they bring simple but essential manual skills that many Americans now lack. “Growing up in China, we fixed our own bikes and radios and plumbing — but in America, if something breaks you pay someone to fix it for you,” he explains. “Our foreign-born workers grew up using their hands, and we need their skills so we can keep growing and creating jobs for everyone.”