A Tale of Two Cities: Newark and New Brunswick Further Their Goals to Become Tech and Innovation Centers

Photo: Newark Mayor Ras Baraka at the State of the City speech. Governor Phil Murphy announcing the state's support for The Hub @ New Brunswick Station. Photo Credit: Courtesy City of Newark and Murphy on Flickr
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka at the State of the City speech. Governor Phil Murphy announcing the state’s support for The Hub @ New Brunswick Station. | Courtesy City of Newark and Murphy on Flickr

Last week Newark and New Brunswick took major steps toward their stated goals of becoming tech hubs in New Jersey.

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced in his State of the City address that the city had been selected as the site of the “Voice” natural language processing summit, to be held in July.

Governor Phil Murphy said that the state, through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), would be supporting the construction of The Hub @ New Brunswick Station, a commercial development adjacent to New Brunswick’s train station that’s intended to be a destination for tech companies and innovators.

Baraka: Newark as Silicon Valley of the East Coast

In his State of the City address, Baraka said that Newark has a “conscious strategy of making Newark a center of the new high-tech economy, the Silicon Valley of the East Coast.” He said that the strategy is already proving successful.

Mentioning the bidding for Amazon HQ2, in which Newark came out in the top 20, he said, “We prepare for Amazon, whether we agree with them or not, and if they don’t come, we prepare anyway for a new tech economy.”

He noted that the city has put NAN centers in every ward. NAN Newark Tech World is the brainchild of the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network. Tech World is focused on basic digital literacy; intermediate and advanced computer skills; and the IT skills of coding, routing, switching and networking. Tech World community members will also learn about the ways in which technology can be helpful in their lives.

He added, “We built a smart city by leveraging our 27 miles of fiber. We use it to reduce crime, create jobs, solve problems and make our city more accessible.” Newark Fiber is a program that offers speeds of 1 gig (1,000 megabits) and 10 gigs (10,000 megabits) per second for buildings, parks, streets and, eventually, homes.

According to the Newark Fiber website, the fiber is available in five commercial buildings so far, including 2 Gateway Center, One Washington Park, Hahne & Company, 494 Broad and the Clinton Street Lofts.

Baraka also announced what he called “another milestone” in Newark’s growing importance as a technology hub. “We learned over the weekend that Newark has been chosen to host ‘Voice,’ a three-day summit at the forefront of natural language processing sponsored by Amazon’s Alexa. This is big. Voice technology will soon be the way the entire world communicates with computers, machines, cars, home appliances and more; and it will be the way these devices communicate with us.”

In addition, there will be more than 1,500 developers, designers, leading brands and agencies descending on Newark “to discuss and plan for how natural language processing and artificial intelligence will transform our world,” he said. “And they are coming together in Newark, New Jersey.”

The conference will be hosted by Modev (McLean, Va.), a tech-oriented event-planning company, and will be sponsored by Amazon, the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau, Audible, Newark Community Economic Development Corporation and MEDINA=CITI.

Murphy: Creating a Site Where High-Growth Industry Can Thrive

In New Brunswick, Gov. Murphy outlined his vision for The Hub @ New Brunswick, which a state press release called “a pivotal redevelopment site in downtown New Brunswick that will support New Jersey’s economic future as the state’s home for research and start-up incubation.”

Murphy said, “For too long, New Jersey has been left out of the growing national innovation economy. By creating a site where high-growth industry can thrive, New Jersey will begin to foster new ideas and take advantage of the once-in-a-generation chance to remake the state as an engine of economic opportunity.”

The Hub @ New Brunswick will include about 1.7 million square feet of mixed-use space on a four-acre site being redeveloped by DEVCO, the New Brunswick development corporation. The project website says, “The Hub’s location offers direct access to Rutgers University, one of the nation’s premier public research universities, a highly educated, skilled workforce, and mass transit options. This mixed-use project will be a hot bed for innovation.”

According to the state press release on this topic, Murphy directed the EDA to immediately begin a planning and implementation study. He also stated that there will be plans for the EDA to identify potential partners for the Hub.

Also last week, NJ Biz reported that Johnson & Johnson “hopes to construct a 35,000- to 40,000-square-foot incubation space in the new facility, to be built on a site in New Brunswick by 2019,” according to multiple unnamed sources.

“J&J, which is headquartered in New Brunswick, would make the business incubator part of its JLabs, a collection of eight incubators across the U.S., Europe and Asia. JLabs has produced more than 200 startup companies and was designed to create ‘economic ecosystems’ in communities by encouraging entrepreneurship, employment and economic growth,” NJBiz said.

No discussion of New Brunswick would be complete without determining how Rutgers will fit into the picture. According to the state press release, “‘Innovation is at the heart of what Rutgers does,’ said Robert Barchi, President of Rutgers University. ‘The university is excited about exploring the ways that the Hub could complement our strategic plan and fit into a vibrant partnership going forward.’”

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