Snapshots: 60 Seconds with Michele Brown, Choose New Jersey, Inc.

Michele Brown, President and CEO, Choose New Jersey, Inc. discusses incubators, innovation zones, STEM education, incentives and the Garden State in a post-Panamax world.

By the BF Staff
From the July/August 2016 Issue

BF: NJ has established five incubator centers in the state for tech start-ups. Are each of them targeting a different growth sector?

choose new jersey
Michele Brown, President and CEO, Choose New Jersey, Inc.

MB: New Jersey is committed to nurturing start-up companies in our key industries and has an extensive network of incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces to support them.

The Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies (CCIT) is one of the most significant incubation facilities in the U.S. dedicated to life sciences and biotechnology. Located in the heart of New Jersey’s research corridor in North Brunswick, CCIT currently has 22 tenants in residence. Its graduates include companies that are on the forefront of drug research and discovery, including Advaxis, Amicus Therapeutics, Chromocell and GENEWIZ to name just a few.

The Rutgers Food Innovation Center (FIC) in Bridgeton offers its clients business support, as well as access to a USDA and FDA-inspected food processing facility. FIC has served more than 1,500 clients since 2001. It’s the only “Soft Landing” incubator in the world devoted to food, a designation awarded to incubators that focus on helping foreign companies enter new markets. FIC was instrumental in assisting Dr. Schar, an Italian company that produces gluten-free baked products open its first U.S. facility in Swedesboro.

BF: The Waterfront Technology Center in Camden is located in a designated “innovation zone.” What advantages to new businesses are provided by this special zoning?

MB: Companies in Innovation Zones may be eligible for additional funds under the Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer (NOL) Program. The program enables qualified unprofitable New Jersey technology or biotechnology companies to sell their net operating losses and R&D tax credits for at least 80 percent of their value to unrelated unprofitable corporations, up to a maximum lifetime benefit of $15 million per business.

Since the Economic Opportunity Act was signed into law in 2013, companies throughout the State that create or retain jobs may also qualify for tax breaks under the Grow NJ Assistance Program.

Technology and biotech start-ups, as well as manufacturers, may qualify for tax incentives by creating as few as 10 full-time jobs or retaining 25 full-time jobs. Minimum full-time employment requirements are 1/4 lower and minimum capital investment requirements are 1/3 lower for companies that create or retain jobs in Garden State Growth Zones—including Camden.

BF: NJ has the highest concentration of scientists and engineers in the U.S. Are NJ’s high schools, colleges and universities increasing STEM-oriented curricula to maintain this advantage? Are NJ’s higher ed resources working with businesses to develop curricula that will produce grads with specific skills for emerging growth sectors?

MB: Access to a highly educated workforce is New Jersey’s calling card. It’s the reason many companies choose to locate or expand here. That’s why New Jersey schools are infusing STEM into their curricula at every level—from elementary school through university graduate programs.

New Jersey is ranked #4 in math nationally. Our STEM-focused high schools dominated Newsweek’s Top High Schools 2015 list, earning six of the top 10 spots.

To support the growth of STEM curricula in New Jersey’s colleges and universities, the “Building Our Future Bond Act” was signed into law in 2013. Much of the funding expands student enrollment in STEM education by building new state-of-the-art facilities devoted to life sciences, environmental sciences, chemistry and engineering at New Jersey’s top 2-year and 4-year higher education institutions.

The New Jersey Council on Innovation also was established 2013 to create an innovation ecosystem that fosters collaboration between higher education and industry. The Council brings together R&D leaders from the private sector and academia to guide curricula development so New Jersey’s students are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

BF: The 2013 Economic Opportunity Act streamlined New Jersey’s financial incentive programs to make it easier for companies to qualify for tax credits that are fully transferable. Have developers indicated that transferable credits are a major prerequisite for their site selection decisions?

MB: The ability to transfer tax credits is extremely important to many companies, especially if their corporate tax situation is such that they are unable to use them for their own tax filing. Additionally, unlike other states, Grow NJ tax credits can’t be sold for less than 75 cents on the dollar, ensuring a fair exchange value to the recipient.

Site selectors and company decision makers have told us that access to top talent continues to be the number one reason companies choose to locate or expand in New Jersey, followed closely by our strategic Northeast location, which gives companies easy access to one of the most affluent and concentrated consumer markets in the world. The tax credits help even the playing field regarding cost.

BF: The expanded Panama Canal is expected to be fully operational this month. When will the raising of the Bayonne Bridge be completed and will NJ be ready to service the huge post-Panamax container vessels that will be coming directly from Asia to the East Coast?

MB: The first containership to transverse the widened and deepened Panama Canal arrived in the Port of Bayonne on July 8 (2016). It will be the first of many super-sized cargo ships that will arrive at the Ports of Newark, Elizabeth and Bayonne in the neo-Panamax era.

While completion of the $1.3 billion project to raise the clearance of the Bayonne Bridge from 150 to 215 feet to accommodate the largest vessels is scheduled for late 2017, there have been a series of infrastructure improvements at the Ports and beyond to ensure New Jersey will be ready for the super-containerships. For example, concurrent to the bridge raising project, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Army Corps of Engineers have been working on a $1.6 billion harbor dredging project. The ExpressRail project at Port Newark will double its intermodal capacity to facilitate smooth sea/land connections; roads into and out of the Ports also has been expanded.

Additionally, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority has invested $2.3 billion on a widening project that is the largest ongoing roadway project in the Western Hemisphere. The project, which includes approximately 35 miles of road improvements to alleviate potential traffic from the Ports as well as points north and south, is nearing completion.