The Hub: Four giant anchors — and plenty of room to grow

Murphy hopes center of innovation attracts companies big and small — and creates new companies in the process

A rendering of The Hub. (Courtesy rendering)

Thursday’s webinar to formally introduce the anchors of The Hub — a center of innovation in New Brunswick that has been on Gov. Phil Murphy’s wish list since his inauguration — included some of the biggest names in the state when it comes to higher education and health care.

Princeton and Rutgers universities and the Hackensack Meridian Health and RWJBarnabas Health systems were all present.

Missing were representatives from the state’s bio and life sciences industry, global names such as Johnson & Johnson and Merck. As well as leaders in technology or data analytics.

Murphy was quick to say it wasn’t an omission or an exclusion. More people are welcome at the party, he said, and he hopes they are coming soon.

“I will say that the door is wide open,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with them, and with many others like them, both big and small.

“The attention today is to announce the anchors.”

Murphy said The Hub has plenty of room to grow.

“This is a very large footprint that can be easily, like an accordion, expanded over time, with its own early success and with the participation of other partners,” he said.

While Murphy said he is eager to bring in some of the global giants that call New Jersey home, he emphasized the point of the project is to be a place for innovation at all scales.

Simply put, he hopes The Hub will help create the next Merck or J&J.

“This list I believe strongly will grow, both big and small,” he said. “One of the big outcomes from a successful hub is that companies disproportionately will be born in New Jersey. This won’t be a question of, ‘Should I move to New Jersey?’ They’ll be born here.

“And our explicit hope is to increase that rate meaningfully.”

While life sciences will be a big part of The Hub, they won’t be the only part. Murphy said he is hopeful that the research which takes place can lead to breakthroughs in new technologies, including artificial intelligence, as well as data science and analytics.

Murphy looked back to the original announcement, in 2018, when he talked about the state reasserting its global leadership in the development of new technologies.

“The notion was this is where startups would take roots and grow — and that vision is tangibly manifesting itself in The Hub, which would revolutionize research and development and reposition New Jersey as the global home of innovation.”

New Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said he feels The Hub is in position to do just that — and is eager for Rutgers to have a role in the process.

“We’re excited about the potential for this product to build on our already $700 million of annual research,” he said. “We think this will be an incubator and accelerator for us.

“New Jersey may look small on the map of the United States, but we’re outsized when it comes to intellectual capital and research strength. And the partnerships in this speak to that. Combine that with a commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation among the core partners and The Hub can lead to unimaginable new products and technologies across health care, artificial intelligence, data analytics, pharmaceuticals and so many other disciplines.”

Princeton Vice Dean for Innovation Rodney Priestley said the connections that can happen at The Hub are vital to the state.

“We understand that innovation is how we build a stronger future — and that, in order to do so, there must be strong connections between universities and the public sector,” he said. “These partnerships are what is going to make New Jersey one of the emerging centers of innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Chris Paladino, who is president of the New Brunswick Development Corp., which is developing and managing the project, said The Hub is ready for any and at all partners who want to join.

Paladino said the base site can handle approximately 1.7 million square feet, but it can be expanded to 4 million square feet.

“The way we have structured the first stage in this project is that we’ve created various levels for corporate partners to join us and to participate,” he said. “And those discussions are ongoing.”