By SARA BLUHM
Despite the economic downturn, New Jersey has a better chance than its neighbors to capture the updraft of a recovery and create new businesses and jobs.
That statement may seem astonishing – or at least wishful thinking – given the fact the state has had little private sector job growth over the past decade.
But there is a new mindset in Trenton and many corners of the state – recognition that New Jersey’s future is tied to the health of employers. The question is how to jumpstart such growth.
One way is by leveraging our natural strengths.
In fact, two of our greatest advantages are our high-tech companies and nationally-recognized research universities.
New Jersey still has many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies residing within its borders; communications, bio-tech, and other cutting-edge companies are also present.
Alongside them are the heavyweights among national academia: Rutgers, Princeton, NJIT, Stevens, UMDMJ and others.
Granted, over the past few years, we have taken our eye off the ball. According to the National Research Council, New Jersey today is in the middle of the pack of states when it comes to university research funded by private industry. We’re behind our competing neighbors New York and Pennsylvania
But this can be corrected. In fact, we’re already seeing the beginnings of a change. The Governor's Economic Development transition report called for higher education to have a more prominent seat at the table when it comes to economic development. It also asked higher education institutions to better incorporate incubators and start-up businesses into their missions.
As important, with the recent creation of the “Choose New Jersey” coalition and Governor Christie’s “Partnership for Action,” there is an opportunity for state leaders to encourage collaboration between the private and academic sectors.
Such ties can be accelerated by tapping an already-existing state agency to be the liaison between higher education and business, maintain a database of university Research & development (R&D) efforts, and effectively manage the federal dollars that New Jersey receives for research efforts.
We also need to find new ways of bridging the funding gap between early research and later business support. As important, the Partnership for Action should use business-academic partnerships as a way to attract new businesses to the state.
What do these partnerships look like? One example is how UMDNJ and Novartis are working together to build clinical trial capabilities. If successful, this program could be a significant source of sustainable revenue.
Another is collaboration between a European food company and the Rutgers Innovation Food Center. If the joint effort produces results, the company may open a facility in New Jersey and with it 100 new jobs.
Our economy today relies more than ever on innovation to drive its growth, especially New Jersey’s high-tech economy. Our universities need to collaborate with business to help meet their strategic and research needs. As important, higher education institutions must serve as the foundation for research to support innovation.
In other words, New Jersey’s economic future resides, in part, in the laboratories where ideas flow when our businesses and universities work together.
Sara Bluhm is executive director of the New Jersey Policy Research Organization. A report on business-university collaboration can be found at http://www.njprofoundation.org/pages/bridges.htm
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