Kean University named one of 25 colleges nationwide to lead economic development programs

Kean University said Tuesday it is one of 25 colleges and universities nationwide selected for a U.S. University Center Program | U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to promote innovation and strengthen regional economies.

Through the more than $1 million, five-year grant, Kean will create the Center for Business/Workforce Development, Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship, the first of its kind in the state. The center will work to strengthen regional economies statewide by providing support, expertise, applied research and technical assistance to identify and address the specific regional needs of urban centers.

“This is exciting news for Kean University as we move toward becoming the state’s first urban research institution,” Kean President Lamont Repollet said. “This places the university at the forefront of supporting innovative economic development research and sustainable solutions to strengthen the economy throughout New Jersey.”

Kean will receive $101,000 each year for five years from the EDA and will provide matching funds. After the end of the grant period, Kean and the other EDA University Center institutions may reapply for an additional five-year grant.

EDA recognizes that institutions of higher education are critical players in the development of vibrant economic ecosystems. Universities are sources of significant economic development assets — such as faculty, staff, students, research and proof of concept centers, laboratories and high-speed broadband networks — that can support regional economic growth.

Kean was selected for the competitive grant along with other institutions in the Chicago and Philadelphia regions. Selected with Kean in the Philadelphia region are Cornell University, Penn State University, the University of Maryland, Lehigh University, Virginia Tech and others. A total of $2.5 million was awarded.

Kean’s center will focus on specific economic sectors in different regions of the state — agriculture in South Jersey, advanced manufacturing in Central Jersey, and small businesses in North Jersey.

The center will work with Kean partners — the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy, the College of Business and Public Management, the Small Business Development Centers of New Jersey and the Institute for Life Sciences Entrepreneurship — as well as external partners, including the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, the New Jersey Manufacturing Exchange Program and the state’s African American and Hispanic chambers of commerce.

“Our goal for small businesses is to promote growth through resiliency so that these important drivers of the economy can withstand natural disasters and other challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Barbara George Johnson, Kean vice president for the John S. Watson Institute and urban policy and research.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the president of the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, said underserved communities will benefit from the center’s work.

John Harmon Sr., founder, CEO and president of the AACCNJ, called the center “a transformational initiative.”

“The opportunity to bring together the talent that exists within this phenomenal educational institution with their research and academic abilities to focus on strengthening our economic ecosystem can serve not only as a model for success for New Jersey, but also the United States,” Harmon said. “I am confident that those sectors of our state’s economy that have been overlooked will now have access to resources, opportunities and information that will enable them to realize their personal goals and business objectives.

John Kennedy, CEO of the NJMEP, said the partnership with Kean University is an “exciting step forward in New Jersey’s push to strengthen the workforce.”

To learn more about EDA’s University Center program, click here.