Snapshots: 60 Seconds With Jose Lozano, Choose New Jersey

Jose Lozano, President and Chief Executive Officer, Choose New Jersey, Inc., discusses the state's workforce development plans, plus efforts to encourage its innovation ecosystem.

By the BF Staff
From the March/April 2019 Issue

Business Facilities: Gov. Murphy’s strategic economic plan for New Jersey calls for investments in workforce training. Is NJ preparing to introduce new and expanded training programs?

Choose New Jersey
Jose Lozano, President and Chief Executive Officer, Choose New Jersey, Inc.

Jose Lozano: As part of his NJ Talent initiative, the Governor has advanced several new programs to support apprenticeships and training. As part of his “Computer Science for All” initiative to advance STEM education, the Governor and the New Jersey Department of Education announced in January that the State will award $2 million in Advanced Computer Science Grants to 29 schools across New Jersey. The funding expansion marks the first time that New Jersey has specifically funded an expansion of computer science education and will give 900 additional high school students access to computer science coursework.

To better align secondary, post-secondary, and adult education and occupational training to the unique needs of Garden State employers, $3 million has been made available through the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to promote upward mobility and economic fairness through the newly formed Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education (PACE) Training Program. In October, the governor announced a new, multi-million-dollar grant program to spur the creation and expansion of apprenticeship programs in non-traditional business sectors.

BF: What are the critical elements needed to sustain and expand an innovation ecosystem in NJ?

JL: NJ Ignite: Technology and life sciences startups considering a move into incubators, accelerators or coworking spaces can now apply for rent support grants of up to nine months at eleven collaborative workspaces through NJ Ignite. NJEDA and each participating collaborative workspace share responsibility for grants, with NJEDA supporting up to six months’ rent and the collaborative workspace supporting rent for an additional half the length of NJEDA’s commitment. In return, startup businesses must commit to paying rent for a term equal to the NJEDA and collaborative workspace’s combined months of support.

This benefits the startups by providing opportunities to partner with other businesses and serves as a powerful tenant attraction tool for the collaborative workspaces in the program.

Last week the NJEDA announced that medical device manufacturer Carbon22 became the first startup company to benefit from rent support through NJ Ignite. Carbon22 recently moved into a creative ‘flex’ office space at Building 78 of Kearny Point.

Founders and Funders: Founders and Funders is a bi-annual program offered by the NJEDA through which entrepreneurs meet with angel and venture capital investors in 10-minute, one-on-one, “speed dating” sessions to discuss strategy, business models and funding opportunities. To date, more than 270 entrepreneurs have connected with investors through Founders & Funders. The next event will be held later in the spring.

Research with NJ: Montclair State University has now been integrated into the “Research with NJ” online database, joining the Garden State’s five other research universities—New Jersey Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Rowan University, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey, and Stevens Institute of Technology. Research with NJ is a collaborative effort by the NJEDA and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE) to forge stronger connections between New Jersey’s research universities and industry. Research with NJ includes nearly 3,700 faculty profiles, which collectively contain more than 210,000 published articles. Consolidating this robust body of research in an easy-to-navigate database will facilitate the kind of collaboration between researchers, entrepreneurs, and commercial enterprises that is necessary for building innovative businesses.

Research with NJ was developed under the leadership of an Advisory Board consisting of the participating research universities and industry representatives from the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, Choose New Jersey, BioNJ, the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, the R&D Council of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Tech Council.

BF: Is NJ’s economic development strategy targeting emerging growth sectors like cyber security and unmanned aerial systems?

JL: We are very focused on the cyber security and UAS as sub-sectors.

Cybersecurity Ventures predicts global cyber security spending will exceed $1 trillion from 2017 to 2021, and with attacks on our critical national and international infrastructure sparking regular headlines, the need for the protections offered by cyber security firms are on the rise exponentially.

New Jersey is located in close proximity to many of the most likely customers for cyber security products and services—including New York City’s financial markets and Washington DC’s government infrastructure. We can only see growth in the industry, and we want businesses to think about expansion in our State, and to talk about collaborations to ensure our residents, communities, businesses, and institutions are safer from cyber threat, particularly given our available work force and more affordable space than our neighbor across the Hudson River.

As you may know, in the Fall of 2018, Choose New Jersey traveled with Governor Murphy on an economic development mission to Germany and Israel. While in Germany, the Governor and the delegation met with the Digital Hub Cybersecurity in Darmstadt and toured their physical lab system. Digital Hub Cybersecurity is Germany’s leading innovation community of cyber security start-ups, founders, coders, investors and scientists, and during the visit a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with New Jersey Institute of Technology. Under the MOU, the two entities will facilitate joint research, exchange information, and make experts available for joint projects, and we feel these types of collaborations will help us best advance growth in this massive industry in New Jersey.

New Jersey must also leverage the incredible opportunities we have within the UAS sphere. For example, last year, Cape May County Airport was awarded a multi-million dollar grant for the development of a 20,000 square foot UAS testing and development facility. We must continue to work with our county and local partners to advance this incredible new technology.

BF: New Jersey has relied heavily in recent years on tax credits to secure new projects and retain existing businesses. Is that approach changing?

JL: We are excited about many initiatives currently in development, which will benefit New Jersey businesses and residents. This is likely to include new, more targeted incentives, which will serve as an economic development tool and not a standalone strategy. The new proposed programs will increase the focus on targeted industries, global/U.S. headquarters, R&D activities, and foreign direct investments. New job creation will be prioritized over job retention, and job creation and investment in urban centers and other distressed communities, including brownfield sites, will be encouraged. The proposed programs will include an annual award cap and enhanced measures to ensure financial sustainability and transparency. These incentives will reward companies that invest in employee skill development and other community-focused supports, including infrastructure investment and revitalizing historic buildings.

Offshore Wind Tax Credit. Companies making a capital investment in offshore wind-related facilities in the seven southern counties of New Jersey can now apply for tax credits through New Jersey’s Offshore Wind Tax Credit Program. Administered by the NJEDA, the Offshore Wind Tax Credit is a powerful financial tool designed to spur private capital investment and employment growth in major, land-based offshore wind industry projects by providing reimbursement for eligible capital investments in industry-specific facilities. Offshore wind is one of the high-growth, high-wage sectors the State identified in Gov. Murphy’s Economic Development Plan, and this program is carefully targeted to attract major projects that will spur job creation in the short term while paving the way for long-term economic growth by anchoring a broad offshore wind manufacturing supply chain in NJ.

Film Tax Credit. Film and television production companies can now apply for tax credits through the New Jersey Film Tax Credit Program. Part of the Garden State Film and Digital Jobs Act, the program encourages production companies to undertake projects in NJ.

BF: Is NJ producing enough graduates with STEM skills to maintain its leadership position in biotech and life sciences?

JL: If we’re just thinking about producing STEM grads, according to the National Science Board, NJ universities produced 16,000 science and engineering bachelor’s degrees in 2017. According to Jobs EQ, in Q4 there were approximately 37,000 openings for science and engineering jobs in NJ. At that time, there were also approximately 9,000 unemployed people in the STEM labor market, who are also vying for jobs. But even if you add the unemployed with the grads, it suggests a supply that is below current demand.

On December 14, Governor Murphy signed legislation establishing a STEM Loan Redemption Program that will help ensure New Jersey’s labor pool keeps pace with new career opportunities by strengthening the linkage between industry and academia. This program is administered by the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority; it will reduce State and Federal student loan obligations for college graduates in high-growth STEM occupations that choose to work in New Jersey. For current students, the NJ Career Accelerator Internship Program offers paid internships to be administered through the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.