Here’s the state’s plan to jump-start an innovation economy

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

It’s a line you’ll frequently hear from Gov. Phil Murphy.

“New Jersey was Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley. We’ve lost a little bit of that leadership position, but we still have great, tremendous assets,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

It’s part of the sales pitch for growing his so-called stronger and fairer economy through innovation. How’s that going, and what does it look like nearly a year into his administration?

“We think we have room to grow. We need to recapture our leadership position. We’ve fallen off in venture capital investment to New Jersey companies, and we think its really important to recapture our leadership position there,” said Sullivan.

Friday Sullivan laid out a plan to a room full of business innovators at NJIT. It includes bringing $625 million in venture capital to the state by 2025, along with five other specific goals which include:

  • Creating 300,000 new jobs;
  • Increasing the annual median wage by $1,500;
  • Diversifying what they call our innovation ecosystem by bringing 40,000 more women and minorities into STEM fields;
  • Closing the racial, gender wage and employment gaps by employing 42,000 more women and minorities and increasing their annual wage by $15,000 to $23,000;
  • Investing in more inclusive communities that reduce the urban poverty rate to today’s statewide average.

“Certainly we’re looking for companies that do a lot of R&D, whether that’s scientists or coders or engineers or computer scientists inside their workforce,” said Sullivan.

“We’re trying to accelerate the process of bringing together the existing corporations who have needs in innovation, with people who have exciting ideas and prospects and see what we can do to make that grow faster,” said Donald Sebastian, president and CEO of the New Jersey Innovation Institute.

The New Jersey Innovation Institute hosted the event. Sebastian says there’s a big focus on getting back to the business of making things.

“Manufacturing is a wonderful multiplier,” he said. “Every job in the production sector, they used to say created four jobs in the private sector. Now, with more automation it could even be 6 jobs in the private sector. This is how we think we re-power the New Jersey economy. In a way it’s back to the future because it’s how we built the state.”

“To a large degree this is the wild West. There’s a lot of things that can be done, and the more interest we can generate with businesses of any size, is good for all of us,” said Thomas Motyka, senior executive director for smart infrastructure at the New Jersey Innovation Institute.

So they’ll do things like making smart cities, include computer science in all school curriculums, free community college and create an apprenticeship network to fuel jobs and ideas, and continue tax credits for businesses in the innovation industry.

“We think it’s incredibly important that we grow more homegrown New Jersey success stories. The great companies that are here now, almost all of them are New Jersey success stories, but they’re from the 19th and early part of the 20th century. We love them and that’s wonderful, but we’re not seeing new, young companies growing and scaling from start up into large companies,” Sullivan said.

It may sound odd from an administration fresh off a trip to Europe luring international investors. But as any savvy economist will tell you, success comes from a diverse portfolio.