Gov. Phil Murphy took his latest step focused on the innovation economy Wednesday by reinstating the state’s Commission on Science, Technology and Innovation.
The legislation calling for the 17-person commission, which has been defunct since 2010, was sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Monmouth Junction), a physicist, and Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), an engineer.
The commission became non-operational after its funding was eliminated in 2010, but it will receive $1 million in funding by the new administration to redevelop the infrastructure.
It will be comprised of 17 members including the Secretary of Higher Education, the Commissioner of Education, and the CEO of the Economic Development Authority.
After it was started in the late 1980’s, the budget for the commission grew as large as $30 million, but, by the late 2000s, it had dropped to less than half of that.
Donald Sebastian, CEO and president of the New Jersey Innovation Institute, said the commission will also help universities unite their voices.
“Universities speak with many voices, companies speak with many voices. This is a way of pulling all of those sort of competing interests together around a common goal and around common issues that, in the end, accrue back to the benefit of the individual companies and the individual universities. In the end there will be … partnerships between companies and researchers that form as a result of this, but you need to create a framework to make that happen,” he said.
“We are setting up to ensure the taxpayer dollars we spend are well-spent and actually have a positive return on investment. And you need this commission to be a focal point, to be a glue,” he said. “The commission is the hub.”
Off of the hub are spokes that include the groups and agencies that already focus on promoting the state’s STEM industries, such as the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, BioNJ, the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, the state Economic Development Authority, Choose New Jersey and the New Jersey Tech Council.
These spokes will help attract the money to the state, he said.
Jose Lozano, CEO of Choose New Jersey, said that, while his organization does prioritize the innovation economy, it has many other focuses.
“Where, for a lot of us, the innovation is a part of it, it’s not the only thing we are focusing on. The innovation economy is what we feel … will grow much faster than the other sectors we are focusing on,” he said.
Michele Siekerka, CEO and president of NJBIA, said the commission will help resolve ways to leverage the transfer of technology research between academia and industry. She also highlighted the Research with NJ portal, which was launched in April at the annual national BIO summit in Boston.
“Such academic-industry collaborations could be stimulated by way of advanced technology centers, innovation partnership grants, business incubation facilities and technology extension services. This added focus on innovation in this legislation falls in lockstep with one of NJBIA’s core missions of regaining New Jersey’s status as an innovation leader,” Siekerka said.
James Barrood, president of the New Jersey Tech Council, said the commission helps to align efforts in the state and create the perception and reality that innovation is happening and accelerating in the state.
“That’s the most important thing. It’s optics, it’s perception, and this goes a long way,” Barrood said.
The plan for the commission was also one of the recommendations for the state in the governor’s Biotechnology task force.
The new law was signed by the governor just days after appointing the state’s first innovation officer.
How the reinstated commission and Beth Simone Noveck will be working together is yet unknown. But discussions were taking place Wednesday to iron out the relationship.
Murphy said the commission would help the state re-establish itself as a dominant player in the STEM industries.
“Our dominance in innovation eroded even as competitor states like California, Massachusetts, Virginia and New York began their efforts to attract the companies and capital that once would have looked at New Jersey and nowhere else,” Murphy said.
And the onus of continuing funding during next year’s budget process now rests with the Legislature, Sarlo said.