In July, the EDA launched an Innovation Challenge which offered individual communities or teams of municipalities and their partners an opportunity to compete for planning awards of up to $100,000. The awards were designed catalyze the growth of local ecosystems throughout New Jersey.
“We designed the Innovation Challenge to help communities take the next step forward in building an inclusive, sustainable culture of entrepreneurship and innovation – whether they already had an established ecosystem or were just beginning,” said EDA CEO Tim Sullivan. “The uniqueness and quality of the proposals we received illustrates New Jersey’s spirit of innovation, from the south to the north. We look forward to working with these communities as they turn their plans into reality.”
Sullivan added that there were more awards to come. Most of the Innovation Challenge awards given so far involve technology of one kind or another. The awards include:
City of Bridgeton
- “Bridgeton: A Center for Smart Food Manufacturing” is a project that seeks to establish a technology hub for the food industry cluster in Bridgeton. The plan calls for creating a 15,000 to 20,000 square foot facility dedicated to development, testing, and training on the latest cutting-edge technology to make food production, processing, and packaging safer and more efficient.
City of New Brunswick
- The City of New Brunswick, together with its partners, is addressing two issues which it sees as essential components to growing the local innovation economy. First, the Center for Advanced Infrastructure & Technology (CAIT) at Rutgers University will direct a project focused on improving mobility through universal connectivity. Second, the partnership will work with an architect and lab planner to design a prototype “Lab of the Future” for start-up companies that require the availability of flexible lab spaces.
- The County of Passaic, City of Paterson, and City of Passaic will develop a needs assessment to evaluate options to install a high-speed 5G fiber network in the commercial and industrial areas of Paterson and Passaic so they can better attract and support entrepreneurs and emerging sector employers.
City of Trenton
- The City of Trenton will look at the feasibility of implementing a Trenton Production and Knowledge Innovation Campus (TPKIC) in the city’s creative, education, and transit districts, anchored by a build out of Mercer County Community College’s James Kerney Campus. The campus would act as a multi-university collaborative hub and including a new research and commercialization nexus near Trenton Transit Center. They envision a research-driven incubator and maker’s campus for existing and start-up businesses, local creators, students and faculty at partner colleges and universities, as well as Trenton Public Schools students and recent graduates.
- The Atlantic County government, with its partners, proposes funding a Strategic Plan and Action Agenda for the location, design, and development of the Atlantic County Aviation and Technical Academy near the Atlantic City International Airport, to provide an adequately trained workforce to serve these facilities and address the current and emerging needs of the aviation industry.
City of Atlantic City
- Atlantic City and Stockton University propose a Center for Marine & Environmental Science to be located in Atlantic City, potentially on the waterfront at Bader Field. The Center will be a multi-story, multi-tenant building serving as the home for its Center for Marine and Coastal Sciences, office and lab space for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, and a coastal resilience/Blue Economy Coastal Research Incubator.
- Camden County and its partners will seek to demonstrate and evaluate a holistic, integrated approach to improve downtown Camden’s surface transportation performance and integrate this approach with other best practices involving public safety. Camden County intends to address how emerging transportation data, technologies, and applications can be integrated with existing systems to address Camden’s transportation challenges.
Township of Union
- Union Township has a plan to expand the current incubator housed at the Institute for Life Science Entrepreneurship (ILSE) at Kean University. ILSE operates an 8,000 square foot business incubator for startups and for companies relocating or expanding into New Jersey, provides business accelerator services, hosts industry events, and conducts R&D through its research unit.
- Monmouth County is seeking to facilitate the growth of an emerging technology cluster at Fort Monmouth, which already includes three tech company headquarters with over 1,000 employees currently located on the former Fort.
Proposals were scored against pre-established evaluation criteria, the EDA said, including “the plan’s ability to achieve one or more goals of the Innovation Challenge, strength of the established partnership, commitment of additional funding from partners, presence and strength of a defined collaborative stakeholder engagement process, evidence of the plan’s ability to grow the number of small businesses/attract employers, planning for solutions based on the use of new and emerging technologies, and an ability to execute the project or viability of the planning project.”
Those who applied also received points based on their Municipal Revitalization Index (MRI) ranking. MRI is the State’s official measure of municipal distress. The MRI ranks New Jersey’s municipalities according to eight separate indicators that measure diverse aspects of social, economic, physical, and fiscal conditions in each locality.