Union-based Kean University is one of 25 colleges and universities nationwide selected for a U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Center grant to promote innovation and strengthen regional economies.
Through the more than $1 million, five-year grant, Kean will create the Center for Business/Workforce Development, Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship, the first of its kind in the state. The Center will work to strengthen regional economies statewide by providing support, expertise, applied research and technical assistance to identify and address the specific regional needs of urban centers.
“This is exciting news for Kean University as we move toward becoming the state’s first urban research institution,” said Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D. “This places the University at the forefront of supporting innovative economic development research and sustainable solutions to strengthen the economy throughout New Jersey.”
Kean will receive $101,000 each year for five years from the EDA and will provide matching funds. After the end of the grant period, Kean and the other EDA University Center institutions may re-apply for an additional five-year grant.
“Kean University is one of the most diverse universities in the nation and is committed to empowering its students and surrounding communities,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). “This funding will ensure the university has the resources to spur economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship while lifting up residents across New Jersey.”
Kean was selected for the competitive grant along with other institutions in the Chicago and Philadelphia regions. Selected with Kean in the Philadelphia region are Cornell University, Penn State University, the University of Maryland, Lehigh University, Virginia Tech and others. A total of $2.5 million was awarded.
“EDA University Centers are important partners in locally driven economic development strategies,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “These institutions of higher education will provide critical technical assistance to support regional efforts to boost innovation, create good-paying jobs and ensure American competitiveness in the global economy. President Biden is committed to building our economy back better, and these grantees will play a vital role in that at the local level.”
Roughly 60 University Centers are in operation at any given time in U.S. states and territories. The grants are awarded through an open and competitive process in five-year cycles across all six economic development regions as designated by the EDA.
“Kean University will leverage its research capabilities, state-of-the art technology labs and faculty expertise as resources that can be used to respond to the economic development needs of local and regional communities,” said Joseph Youngblood II, Ph.D., Kean senior vice president for external affairs. “We will be partnering with multiple state and federal agencies in the region to leverage university assets and build regional economic ecosystems that support innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship, resiliency and inclusiveness.”
Kean’s center will focus on specific economic sectors in different regions of the state — agriculture in South Jersey, advanced manufacturing in Central Jersey, and small businesses in North Jersey.
“Our goal for small businesses is to promote growth through resiliency so that these important drivers of the economy can withstand natural disasters and other challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Barbara George Johnson, Kean vice president for the John S. Watson Institute and urban policy and research.
The Center will work with Kean partners — the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy, the College of Business and Public Management, the Small Business Development Centers of New Jersey, and the Institute for Life Sciences Entrepreneurship (ILSE) — as well as external partners, including the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, the New Jersey Manufacturing Exchange Program, and the African American and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce of New Jersey.
“Partnering with local institutions to support urban centers and foster regional economics as they rebuild in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic is one of Governor Murphy’s top priorities,” said New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan. “Kean University’s Center for Business/Workforce Development, Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship is a unique initiative that will play an important role in growing New Jersey’s economy, with a specific focus on the Governor’s targeted sectors.”
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the president of the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, said underserved communities will benefit from the Center’s work.
“The University Center will provide support in economic development initiatives to the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association cities, continuing the Watson Institute’s longstanding commitment to urban and urban/rural communities across New Jersey,” Baraka said. “It is critical and timely that attention is focused on providing the tools for economic growth to some of the most underserved communities in the state.”
“We are truly thrilled to be part of Kean University’s effort and initiatives in creating innovative, collaborative and sustainable opportunities that will yield significant societal impact in New Jersey and beyond,” said Jin Wang, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business and Public Management at Kean.
John E. Harmon Sr., founder, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ), called the Center “a transformational initiative.”
“The opportunity to bring together the talent that exists within this phenomenal educational institution with their research and academic abilities to focus on strengthening our economic ecosystem can serve not only as a model for success for New Jersey but also the United States,” Harmon said. “I am confident that those sectors of our state’s economy that have been overlooked will now have access to resources, opportunities and information that will enable them to realize their personal goals and business objectives.
Carlos Medina, president and CEO of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, offered his congratulations to Kean.
“Kean University’s EDA University Center will be an important part in the economic development and building of our communities here in New Jersey, and we are very proud to be a partner and collaborator on this project,” he said.
ILSE, a nonprofit business incubator located on Kean’s Union campus, works in the life science sector and is a partner of the Center.
“As an institute dedicated to entrepreneurship, ILSE is excited to work with the new center and promote its important mission,” said ILSE President Thomas Richardson, Ph.D. “We congratulate all of our collaborating partners and look forward to working together to build New Jersey’s innovation economy.”
BCT Partners, based in Newark, will apply its data-driven tools and insights to the Center’s initiatives to advance equity in the workforce.
“We are so proud to be partnering with Kean University on this EDA University Center grant,” said Lawrence M. Hibbert, BCT Partners president and managing partner. “We know that drawing insights from economic data will be key to unleashing the power and potential of this region.”
John W. Kennedy, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, said the partnership with Kean University is an “exciting step forward in New Jersey’s push to strengthen the workforce.”
“NJMEP is thrilled to collaborate with Kean to ensure the very best professional development opportunities are offered and utilized. Without partnerships like this, our state and nation will continue to fall behind,” he added.
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