Opinion: Driving Innovation at the State Level

Photo: Tyler Seville is Director, Technology & Workforce Development at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. Photo Credit: Courtesy NJBIA
Tyler Seville is Director, Technology & Workforce Development at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. | Courtesy NJBIA

When we think of new regulations coming from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding, or new drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we often consider how much influence the federal government has in driving (or stifling) innovation. However, when it comes to science and technology policy, it does not have to start and end with the federal government. In fact, states such as New Jersey have a unique opportunity to drive innovation policy.

The commitment our neighboring states have made to innovation should also spur us to act. States such as New York and Massachusetts made this a priority a decade ago and are now reaping the benefits. Businesses and tax revenue have left New Jersey, costing us additional opportunities to innovate. However, that’s not to say New Jersey has done nothing.

Our state and Association have made great strides in the past five years alone and we have begun to turn the corner. Business and academia are communicating more effectively, our leading research universities have been realigned, and the New Jersey Council on Innovation has been formed. And the trend will continue in the upcoming state budget, where we hope to have additional funding to establish New Jersey’s first private medical school, a statewide academic asset database and the expansion of our Angel Investor Tax Credit, which will enable high-tech startups to access the capital they need to grow.

At NJBIA, we are bringing innovation and technology to the forefront of New Jersey’s policy conversation. After surveying our members and aligning our 2016-2017 Blueprint for a Competitive Business Climate, our Association has begun to advocate in this space, where many have not. In fact, NJBIA recently launched an Innovation and Technology Policy Committee, where we have begun to formally educate our state policymakers on the importance of innovation as well as identified policies that will benefit the high-tech business community.

Moving forward, New Jersey has a great opportunity to begin to fill in the “gaps and valleys” between the federal government and our state’s innovation ecosystem. Although the communications gap between our academic institutions and businesses has gotten better, more can be done. While many universities can still offer more R&D facilities and expertise, all post-secondary institutions can build a workforce that can fill the “skills gap” that continues to exist. Likewise, implementing the state-driven Next Generation Science Standards can also help ensure that even high school graduates are ready to meet our high-tech workforce needs.

Our state can also be leveraged to overcome the notorious “valley of death,” where good ideas and innovations go to die without the right support. The federal government can be a good first funder for academic- and mission-oriented projects, but it has a poor track record for bringing ideas to market. With a better understanding of our native industries, New Jersey can offer connections and financing to bring more ideas to commercialization. By bridging federal funds, continuing to offer technical assistance, encouraging additional private funders and academic research partners, New Jersey can help its innovation ecosystem overcome almost any shortfall.

Washington D.C. may be able to spark innovation, but New Jersey can both spark it and foster it. With the right policies, our state and its high-tech industries could continue to be a proud innovation leader. Consider joining NJBIA’s Innovation and Technology Policy Committee and help us keep New Jersey innovating.

[Tyler Seville is Director, Technology & Workforce Development New Jersey Business & Industry Association]

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