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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 17, 2000. All rights reserved.

Garden (?) State’s R&D Effort


Journalists like to latch onto catchy regional names

when they write a story about high tech business. So when an advertising

outfit from California came here five years ago with fancy maps of

the drug company territory and suggested the name "Pharm Country,"

we added that to our lexicon. Then a venture capitalist came up with

"Silicon Garden," to reference both the standard "Garden

State" expression and all the high tech electronic research being

done here. Another useful moniker. Someone coined the term "Video

Valley" to describe the multimedia and HDTV undertaken at places

like Sarnoff, Panasonic, Siemens, and NEC, and pretty soon everyone

was using it.

But outside New Jersey it is another story. People refer instead to

centers like Silicon Valley in California, the Research Triangle in

North Carolina, and Route 128 in the Boston/Cambridge area. References

to New Jersey are often limited to bad turnpike jokes. Is this blindness

based on truth — or ignorance?

Stephen R. Sasala of Prosperity New Jersey claims it’s ignorance.

After all, with a workforce of more than 180,000 scientists, engineers

and technicians, the state is first in technical workers per capita.

It ranks first for spending on both electronics research and electronics

innovations, and it is first in manufacturing pharmaceutical products.

In recent years, 40 percent of all new drugs approved by the FDA were

created by New Jersey companies.

Sasala has dedicated himself and the resources of his public/private

partnership agency to market the state as the premier destination

on the leading edge of research and development. "We need to change

this misconception if New Jersey is to continue to be a technology

leader," he says. He is building a partnership of New Jersey companies,

technology associations, and educational institutions to, as he says,

"help build an environment where technology can flourish and fuel

our state’s economy for years to come."

This is not a novel idea. Others have had similar goals. But Sasala

now has some money in back of him and has convincing plans to get

more. Last year when the Wall Street Journal snubbed New Jersey by

conspicuously omitting the state from a map of high tech centers,

Sasala turned that bitter lemon into lemonade. He knew the map would

infuriate Governor Christie Whitman, so he put it under her

nose, and she was indeed irate. Whitman was already supporting Sasala’s

cause, but she reportedly added more funds to sweeten the Prosperity

New Jersey pot.

But Sasala is realistic. As a veteran of state government he knows

that every dollar is hard to get. So he will use the name "Innovation

State" as a giant spotlight and hopes to put all kinds of helpers

— agencies and people and organizations and businesses and funding

packages — into that spotlight. "We’re soliciting the support

of partners to increase the visibility of New Jersey as a desirable

place for technology companies to do business," he says in an

interview at Research Way-based Princeton Partners, the ad agency

helping him with the makeover.

From Whitman came a proposal for a $165 million economic package called

New Jersey Jobs for a New Economy. Part will be used to double the

number of business incubators in the state and fund a new commercialization

center (like the New Jersey Technology Center in North Brunswick)

for companies that outgrow incubators. It can also go for high-tech

workforce development, matching funds for university research grants,

and seed money to help emerging technology companies attract private

venture capital.

But Prosperity New Jersey also seeks help from the private sector.

A company can support the concept merely by putting Innovation State

identification on its company stationery or website. Or when a company

goes to a trade show, it could provide a corner of its table to give

out Innovation State literature. Or it could offer assistance as a

"technology ambassador" to enhance the campaign’s presentation


Who is this knight on the innovation horse? A Pittsburgh native, Sasala

majored in economics at Duquesne University (Class of 1971), has a

master’s in urban and regional planning from the University of Pittsburgh,

and one in management from Rensselaer. He did post-graduate work at

Harvard, is a certified professional planner and has had a variety

of public and private sector jobs in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and

New Jersey. He was county administrator and treasurer in Camden County,

business administrator in Edison Township, and, from 1996 to 1999,

deputy commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

"I made a career as a change agent," says Sasala. When he

replaced Steve Kukan at Prosperity New Jersey eight months ago,

its annual budget after four years of existence was $200,000. Board

chairman T. Joseph Semrod, CEO of Summit Bancorp, asked to up

that to $1 million. "This year I got her [Whitman] to give me

$2 million," says Sasala. He will use this to get another $3 million

from public agencies in the form of gifts in kind — highway signs,

Innovation State logos, license plates, Port Authority signage, and

so on. "Then I can go out to the private sector to get hard cash

or barter to be cobranding."

The rebranding targets decision makers, not the general public. Let

the man-in-the-street laugh at New Jersey’s Mafia image in the HBO

show "the Sopranos." What counts is the opinion of the moguls

who decide where to move and grow their businesses.

Sasala is now in pre-campaign mode, aiming to do a soft launch by

sponsoring the New Jersey Technology Showcase to be held Wednesday

and Thursday, June 7 and 8, at the Garden State Exhibit Center in

Somerset (

At the actual launch in the fall, the Edison Partnership will come

forward to be counted. This impressive group has prominent co-chairs:

Harold Shapiro, president of Princeton University; Caren

Franzini, executive director of the New Jersey Economic Development

Authority; and Thomas M. Uhlman, president of the New Ventures

Group at Lucent Technologies. Also on the 14-member committee are

such heavy hitters as Sarnoff’s CEO Jim Carnes, NJIT’s president

Saul Fenster, New Jersey chamber president Joan Verplanck,

Steve Karnas of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Maxine Ballen

of the New Jersey Technology Council.

The Edison Partnership luminaries were shown results of exploratory

focus groups conducted by Opinion Research Corporation with executives

and relocation managers in high tech companies in four locations:

Washington Metro, Chicago, Austin, and Raleigh/Durham. New Jersey

as a high-technology area or even as a potential high-tech area was

not even on their radar screens.

The perceptions and images these focus group executives had of New

Jersey were the same tired negative lineup: the turnpike, Newark Airport,

refineries, high crime, and congestion. When they did manage to think

of something positive it was same-old, same-old: Atlantic City, Bruce

Springsteen, and the shore. Just two potential high tech factors were

mentioned: the trio of telephone companies (AT&T/Bell Labs/Lucent)

and Rutgers and Princeton universities.

Then these executives were shown some statistics from the high-technology

fact sheet:

With over $9 billion spent annually, New Jersey ranks fifth

in total funding for R&D.

Northern New Jersey has 3,000 more high tech firms than Silicon


New Jersey ranks fourth nationally for patent grants (more than

most other states see in a decade).

The state has produced more than 30 Nobel Prize winners and

has over 50 colleges and universities including the obviously prestigious


The reaction of those in the focus groups: unanimous surprise.

That gives fuel to Sasala’s fire: "My objective is to be bold,

not only in concept but in terms of the kind of money we are trying

to raise. My objective is to raise $45 million in three years."

Scheduled for June 28 is a 40-page business to business website:

with collaborative content and a virtual community. Princeton Partners

is doing this as well as other aspects of the campaign, to include

an impressive brochure, a CD-ROM summarizing quality of life issues,

direct mail, 30-second radio spots on current innovators, a speakers’

bureau, and more.

"We are making a bold attempt to rebrand New Jersey," says

Sasala. "We have to find something that resonates with businesses

at large. Perception is very much reality."

— Barbara Fox

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