Newark port project named finalist, in contention for up to $100M in federal funding

Smart Port Regional Growth Cluster project, led by city and NJIT, advances to next round of $1B Build Back Better Regional Challenge

The proposed Greater Newark Smart Port Regional Growth Cluster is both a supply chain accelerator and job multiplier that will spur short- and long-term economic development throughout the region.

It is also now one of 60 finalists in the $1 Billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge — meaning it is in contention to be awarded up to $100 million to be implemented in the project.

The proposed project, led by the city of Newark, New Jersey Institute of Technology and a host of other coalition members (including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority), aims to transform the port facilities in Newark and Elizabeth by developing and implementing critical smart and resilient infrastructure through advanced engineering, innovative technologies for freight handling, transportation, tracking and delivery, and by supporting more efficient smart port operations to increase port capacity and security.

The proposed projects will create new jobs and business opportunities in a region with socioeconomically underprivileged communities while making a sustainable impact on the regional and state economy.

As one of 60 finalists out of 529 applications nationwide, the project is being awarded $500,000 to further develop its proposal. Applications for phase 2 of the program, where approximately 20-30 finalists will be awarded between $25 million and $100 million to execute their ambitious plans, are due March 15.

The project was the only one of four from the state to be named a finalist.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka obviously was thrilled by the news.

“We are humbled for gaining this award and are grateful for the support from our incredible federal and state partners as we work together to fulfill President (Joe) Biden’s promise to rebuild the backbone of our country,” he said. “The Build Back Better framework is the most transformational investment into our communities in generations.

“Port Newark is a major hub for regional, national and international economic activity, and it supports hundreds of thousands of jobs that range from high tech to service to the trades to labor and more. The projects that will be undertaken by this coalition will be catalysts for job creation and sustainable, long-term economic growth while also making a substantial and positive environmental impact.”

The city of Elizabeth, Rutgers University and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority also were part of the planning.

NJIT President Joel Bloom said it was a team effort — thanking Baraka as well as Gov. Phil Murphy, U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) and U.S. Reps. Albio Sires (D-8th Dist.) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.).

“It was at Congressman Payne’s initiative that NJIT began working with the Port months prior to the announcement of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant opportunity,” Bloom said. “I want to thank each of them, as well as our coalition partners and the many faculty and staff members from NJIT who worked incredibly hard to develop a proposal that will dramatically benefit our region.”

Bloom said NJIT is eager to get going on the next phase.

“As the state of New Jersey’s public polytechnic university and a partner with the city of Newark, NJIT will bring broad and deep expertise in the technological and innovative aspects of this effort,” he said. “The projects undertaken will be central to the operation of Port Newark and to growing its regional economic impact.

“New Jersey transportation and other regional port systems also will benefit through the establishment of a center for transportation innovation, commercialization and tech transfer.”