History is repeating itself as the state pivots back to its roots in the science and manufacturing sectors.
In the past several months — and amid a change in administrations — legislators and industry leaders have set the tone with meetings by three entities focused solely on growing the two sectors, with an eye on how innovation and technology are impacting both:
- A bicameral Manufacturing Caucus, which was created and met last year, will meet again next week;
- A Biotechnology Task Force, which was created in 2016 by the Legislature, met in January;
- A new committee in the Assembly, Science, Innovation and Technology, held its first hearing in January.
There has been some overlap in legislators serving on the caucus, task force and committee, as well as familiar faces testifying at all three hearings.
But the conversation taking place in all three groups is far from new. The industries have been discussing, along with academia, the challenges the state faces for some time.
As Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Skillman), who chairs the new committee, put it: “It’s now in a public space.”
Tim Lizura, chief operating officer of the state Economic Development Authority, said the EDA has long been a player and is eager to increase its involvement.
“The biotech community is so dense and so prevalent that it’s a little confounding that we don’t get credit for that,” he said.
Lizura serves on the task force along with Debbie Hart, CEO and president of BioNJ.
Hart agrees biotech is a growth area for the state.
“Looking at the growth of the industry, and the potential additional growth of the industry, we know we are leaving some opportunities on the table,” Hart said.
There was a bicameral, bipartisan task force, similar to the biotechnology task force, in the 1990s that resulted in significant legislation.
The goal is similar with the new task force, which held two days of hearings of the academic and industry sectors in January. Hart said the task force is accepting written testimony until the end of the month.
The result will be recommendations that will be sent to the Legislature with hopes of renewed support and new ideas for growth of the industry.
A need for refocusing on the sectors comes from the loss of major companies — or an inability to attract new ones — to places such as Massachusetts, North Carolina and California.
“New Jersey is a fairly small state, comparatively speaking, geographically, to other regions of the country,” Lizura said. “One of the things we don’t do a good enough job of is (touting the) strength of what is an impressive biotech and life sciences community.
“Some of that is because … we haven’t put a label on it. We haven’t done a good job of branding the industry in New Jersey the way other places have.”
And not because there haven’t been opportunities. The density of biotechnology and life sciences companies in New Jersey is well-known, but areas such as the greater Boston region have matched the Garden State in attention.
“I don’t know why we don’t get the panache for the industry,” Lizura said. “We are a home rule state and that tends to make people more inwardly focused on their community, and not the greater community. I don’t know if that’s inbred in the community in New Jersey or not.
“Of course, we are also a lot of other things. We are a little bit of a victim of our own success, because it’s not just the biotech community. We are a finance capital, we are a manufacturing and distribution industrial hub. It’s hard to brand yourself as one thing when you are so many other things as well. That is a challenge.”
In addition, there is no formal method of collaboration between the industry and academia, and not enough seed money to go around for innovation, according to experts at the task force hearings.
The EDA oversees two programs that can help with the latter problem.
The first is the Angel Investor Tax Credit, which was established in 2013 but saw a significant boost in the past two years.
According to the EDA’s website: “Since the program’s inception in 2013, the EDA has approved 673 applications for investment, with more than $220 million being invested in 51 New Jersey technology and life sciences companies. The program is available to all eligible taxpayers, including out-of-state investors. In 2016, 39 percent of Angel Investor Tax Credit Program applicants were from New Jersey, with the remainder coming from throughout the United States and abroad. Foreign investors came from multiple European countries, including Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands.”
And the second EDA program is the Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer (NOL) Program.
This, according to the EDA, “enables qualified, unprofitable technology and biotechnology companies to sell net operating losses and/or research and development tax credits to raise cash to finance their growth and operations.”
To date, $905 million has been provided to 500 technology and life sciences companies through the NOL program.
As for collaboration, Lizura said, the state can also help with that.
“Maybe through a forum or a more regular event hosted in New Jersey,” he said.
Senate: Joseph Cryan, Bob Gordon, Linda Greenstein, Steven Oroho, Declan O’Scanlon Jr., Nellie Pou, Ronald Rice, Robert Singer, Troy Singleton.
Assembly: Anthony Bucco Jr., Nicholas Chiaravalloti, BettyLou DeCroce, Christopher DePhillips, Ryan Peters, Adam Taliaferro, Benjie Wimberly, Andrew Zwicker.
Biotechnology Task Force
Senate: Linda Greenstein, Bob Gordon, Robert Singer.
Assembly: Andrew Zwicker, Christopher DePhillips, Gary Schaer.
Non-legislators: Debbie Hart, BioNJ; Daniel O’Connor, OncoSec Medical Inc; Timothy Lizura, EDA.
Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee
Andrew Zwicker (chair), James Kennedy (vice chair), Herb Conaway, BettyLou DeCroce, Christopher DePhillips, Tim Eustace, Britnee Timberlake.