Murphy unveils plans for innovation ‘hub’ in New Brunswick

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Gov. Phil Murphy often talks about the innovation economy. Monday, he took a step in that direction. In a room full of government officials, academics and corporate heads at Rutgers University, Murphy announced plans to turn a hole in the ground, known in New Brunswick as “The Hub,” into a large incubator for scientific and technological research.

“We campaigned and we’re governing now on this notion of a stronger, fairer New Jersey that works for everybody. On the stronger side, that’s growing the darn economy. And we think the two big economies that have the most upside are the infrastructure economy, and there’s lots of infrastructure that goes with this, and the innovation economy, basically reclaiming our rightful space,” said Murphy.

The Hub sits directly across the street from the New Brunswick Train Station. The city’s longtime mayor, Jim Cahill, says he’s fully on board with the plan.

“The city and its redevelopment partner, Devco, have primed and earmarked a 12-acre redevelopment area in the heart of downtown New Brunswick for job-creating development as a center for innovation for health care, biosciences, technology, AI, big data and analytics,” said Cahill.

New Brunswick’s economic development guru Chris Palladino sees it as another step in revitalizing both the city and the state.

“We need to create places where people can talk, where people can share ideas. If Wozniak and Steve Jobs hadn’t have lived in the same neighborhood you may not have Apple. As I said before, Thomas Edison used to come here with the Johnson brothers and talk about manufacturing. We want this to be the place, not just in the state, but in the country, where innovation happens, and that happens collaboratively. And that happens when people share ideas,” said Palladino.

The planners foresee 2 to 4 million square feet, 40 percent of it already shovel ready,they say. Rutgers University President Robert Barchi gave his stamp of approval.

“You know, as an educator and as a scientist myself, and now as a university administrator, I’m certainly committed to producing the workforce for the future. But we’re also deeply committed to producing the ideas for the future, and it’s that idea economy, that technology, that new innovation that needs to get out from the university to the surrounding community,” said Barchi.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin lent support saying, “I think it’s going to be a wonderful economic driver in the continued development of New Brunswick, who just has a tremendous history of reinventing itself.”

If it happens, it means construction jobs and permanent jobs, and maybe some big ideas.

“We have 15 incubators. Our friends in New York have 179. This is one way, directly, to get new startups,” said Murphy.

Part of what Murphy has been selling is a vision of New Jersey as the innovative state it once was. Although he doesn’t use the phrase, what he wants is to make New Jersey great again.