Campus & Community

Restore Funding To Turbocharge N.J.’s Research And Development

Published in The Sunday Star-Ledger, August 13, 2017

By Raj Mukherji, Troy Singleton and Nariman Farvardin

One need only to look at the top performers in the S&P 500 — Amazon, Apple, Google parent Alphabet and Facebook — to confirm an indisputable fact about our modern economy: Technological innovation is the key driver of economic growth.

Policymakers who ignore technology’s disruptive impact on markets, industries and jobs do so at their constituents’ peril. (Think Amazon’s impact on the retail industry.) Forward-looking policymakers as well as industry and higher education leaders must work together to develop and execute strategies that will enable innovation, translate laboratory innovations into start-up businesses and create a nurturing ecosystem that will to allow these businesses to grow, thrive, and produce jobs and wealth for local economies.

A McKinsey & Co. report affirms New Jersey’s economic strengths: strong positions in knowledge-intensive industries, a highly educated labor force and an advantageous location. However, New Jersey lags behind the rest of the United States in productivity, employment growth and the percentage of start-ups that grow and succeed. The percentage of New Jersey-born start-up companies that scale up to larger businesses is less than half the national average: 5 percent of companies with at least 500 employees are less than 10 years old, compared with 11 percent across the United States. These young, fast-growing firms create most of the jobs in the U.S.

A focused effort is urgently needed to couple university research with industry partners with the specific goal of spawning and nurturing early-stage companies that have great potential to contribute to New Jersey’s economy. The time has come for the state to invest in research and development, with an increased focus on industry- university partnerships for technology- based companies.

For 25 years, New Jersey benefited from the work of the Commission on Science and Technology. The commission’s work promoted industry-university collaborations with the goal of accelerating commercialization of new technologies and supporting the emergence of science and technology- based businesses to create economic opportunity and job growth.

In 2009, 30 grants and $2.5 million in commission funds were leveraged to generate an additional $3.5 million in private and federal funds and led to the creation or retention of over 2,000 high-paying science and technology jobs in the state. Awards included dental bone grafts, cardiac-monitoring devices and novel methods of drug discovery and delivery, among other life-changing innovations. Unfortunately, due to severe budget restrictions, the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology was defunded with the passage of the fiscal year 2010 state budget.

The strategic importance of initiatives such as these to revitalizing New Jersey’s economy cannot be overstated. Assembly bill A5123, which two of us who serve in the Legislature sponsored, would establish the Edison Innovation Science and Technology Fund, which would restore a key priority of the commission: industry-university partnerships whose products have significant potential for commercialization and the creation or expansion of technology-based businesses — the very businesses that are leading across all sectors of the economy in creating market value and jobs.

These grants would strengthen industry- university research collaborations and create the increased potential for attracting federal funding and private investment. Seed funding would allow new businesses to blossom while supporting research and innovation across the state, attracting talent and addressing significant workforce needs.

Now is the time to reaffirm New Jersey’s commitment to science and technology, a crucial element of a statewide strategy to reposition our economy in order to succeed in a global, high-tech economy. The proposed Edison Innovation Fund will be an important tool in this strategy. As concerned New Jersey residents, we look forward to seeing the impact that investments in science, technology and innovation will have on the economic vitality of our state and on the lives of fellow New Jerseyans.

Assemblyman RajMukherji (D-Hudson) represents NewJersey’s 33rd Legislative District. Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) represents NewJersey’s 7th Legislative District. Dr. Nariman Farvardin is the president of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.