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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
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
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
in total funding for R&D.
most other states see in a decade).
has over 50 colleges and universities including the obviously prestigious
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: www.innovationgardenstate.org
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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