“Innovate or Die” is the title of a recent blog post by MAACO President Jose Costa. He concluded, “We have to innovate every day, regardless of our respective industries. … If we don’t, we become obsolete and irrelevant to consumers.”
In today’s business world, constant innovation is a critical challenge. Whether it’s the renowned Apple Inc. or our many small manufacturers in New Jersey, they must develop new and improved products or find creative solutions to old problems to be successful. To help them, I believe we need to create an environment that promotes creativity, innovation and risk-taking, not just for their sake, but for the sake of our economy. Just like businesses, the states that meet this innovation challenge will thrive economically.
Nothing is more important to this effort than developing a strong innovation ecosystem – an environment in which business, academia and government work together to develop new ideas into practical products and services and then bring them to market. An innovation ecosystem will help build new industries, attract successful high-tech companies and increase both public and private investment in research and development.
New Jersey has begun the groundwork for building a better innovation ecosystem. The state has created an Innovation Council that is led by the Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks and restructured higher education to put a greater emphasis on research, particularly in bio-technology. The new Angel Investor Tax Credit has boosted new private-sector support for innovation-driven companies.
Universities have stepped up as well. Rutgers University’s five-year plan includes simplifying and standardizing research agreements between colleges and businesses, and greater coordination between academia and the private sector. These recommendations come from a report by NJBIA’s research affiliate NJPRO (The New Jersey Policy Research Organization) called Building Bridges II.
Additionally, Rowan University and Lockheed Martin have an innovative, strategic partnership to develop new technologies for a broad range of radar system applications. In North Jersey, the New Jersey Institute of Technology has launched its Innovation Institute to find technological solutions to meet the needs of several industries.
More needs to be done, though. Throughout the 20th century, New Jersey was a leader in innovation-driven businesses, being home to companies like Johnson and Johnson, and Bell Labs. But other states have been aggressively pursuing and, in some cases, overtaking New Jersey’s position.
The state still has a lot going for it. New Jersey maintains its reputation as the nation’s medicine chest, serving as home to 17 of the world’s 20 largest pharmaceutical companies, and is a leader in biotechnology with more than 1,300 establishments. According to various sources, New Jersey is ranked sixth in space and defense manufacturing employment, third for broadband telecommunications, second for business R&D investment, and the list goes on.
NJPRO’s Building Bridges report lays out the steps the state needs to take to maintain our status for decades to come. They include easier and more efficient collaboration between research institutions and business, and greater communication about research projects that could prove to be valuable to the private sector.
Scientific advancement. Growing the economy and creating jobs. Improving the quality of life. These are the rewards a robust innovation ecosystem can offer. Utilizing academic resources for economic development has proven highly successful in attracting and retaining industry investment. I for one believe New Jersey is up to the challenge.
To learn more about the Building Bridges reports, visit the NJPRO website at www.njprofoundation.org.