N.J. going back to the future to revive high-tech economy
NORTH BRUNSWICK – For the second straight day, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bipartisan bill Wednesday aimed at helping the state’s economy.
The latest law brings back the Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology, an idea that dates to 1985 but went dormant in 2010.
Murphy said New Jersey’s dominance among high-tech companies has eroded, though not only because of the demise of the science and technology commission. The new version will be slightly different – adding "innovation" to its name and requiring it to have a council focused on stimulating the transfer of technology from research colleges to industry.
“We’re getting back to our core mission of making New Jersey the home for cutting-edge research and innovation that improves and saves lives, creates good jobs and changes our world for the better,” Murphy said.
“There are few places better positioned in this country to benefit from the innovation economy than North New Jersey,” Murphy said.
The bill, A3652, was passed 39-0 in the Senate and 64-7 with three votes to abstain in the Assembly.
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Somerset, the chairman of the new Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, said he was told at the new panel’s early meetings that more should be done to brand the state as high-tech friendly.
“We’re the Garden State where ideas come to grow. Where entrepreneurs come to grow. Where businesses come to grow,” Zwicker said.
At the bill signing, Murphy also announced that science, technology, engineering and math experts from Montclair State University will be added to a new public database of 3,500 other researchers from NJIT, Princeton, Rowan, Rutgers and the Stevens Institute of Technology.
The goal of the Research with NJ portal is to make it easier for industry and investors to know what types of scientific research are being done in the state.
Since its launch two months ago, the site has had more than 2,700 unique visitors, said Economic Development Authority spokeswoman Virginia Pellerin.
“Where else in America or where else in the world is this being done? It’s being done in a couple places, but not many,” Murphy said. “And so this is one of the things we are hoping to get out ahead of things. I’m sick of being 50th, I want to be first in stuff. And this is an example.”
Visikol Inc. chief executive officer Michael Johnson said the website can be a boon. His Whitehouse Station-based biotech company developed from an idea in a closet at Rutgers University in 2012 – with a lot of outside help, he said.
“There’s this myth of the entrepreneur who’s pulling themselves up by the bootstraps all by themselves and willing their startup into existence. And this really is not the case at all,” Johnson said.
Johnson was able to bring in business, finance and accounting help – all areas where he and Visikol co-founder Tom Villani had no expertise. He said Rutgers researchers assisted and that the state’s online database can assist by connecting researchers at different universities.
“It’s very hard to take an idea from the back of a napkin to a commercial product, and you need help along the way,” Johnson said.
Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said both efforts can help the state’s fiscal situation by adding high-paying jobs that produce tax revenues.
“As we deal with legacy budgetary problems in the state of New Jersey, one way to deal with that is by growing the economy,” Sarlo said. “And the innovation economy is one great way of working our way out of legacy budgetary problems.”