Creating a high-tech hub isn’t a matter of site selection and zoning, like one would site, say, a supermarket. That’s why developers and policymakers who are working to make New Jersey a leading technology center talk about creating an “innovation ecosystem.” It’s something that is able to grow and thrive on its own, provided it has the right environment.
Four enterprises are cultivating that environment in Newark right now: Panasonic Corporation, AeroFarms, L+M Development and Rutgers University Newark. On April 30, they participated in a panel discussion led by NJ Tech Council President and CEO James Barrood at the NJBIA-Audible Tale of Tech Cities event.
In some ways, it’s as simple as providing widespread internet access. It is easy to overlook, but internet access is fundamental when it comes to creating a space for high-tech workers.
It’s a focus of L+M’s vice president of development Jonathon Cortell. As he explained, expansion of internet access is a part of their expanding affordable housing efforts. Promoting internet access as one of its amenities “sends the message that Newark’s affordable housing is not the run-of-the-mill variety,” he said. “We have tech in our blood.”
Rutgers’ Arcelio Aponte, senior vice chancellor of Economic Development & chief financial officer for Rutgers University-Newark, echoed the idea, noting about 50 percent of those in poverty don’t have access to the internet because of affordability issues.
Abundant internet access gives New Jersey more opportunities to promote tech talent from its native population. It’s important to remember, however, that talent isn’t reserved for those with advanced college degrees.
Apontepointed out about 20,000 jobs are available in New Jersey that involve some type of computer coding.
“It doesn’t mean that the person who fills that job has to be a graduate from a STEM field,” he said.
In fact, tech-based businesses provide opportunities for all levels of education. Ingrid Williams, head of human resources for AeroFarms, the world’s leading indoor vertical farming company located in Newark, noted that there is a mix of workers in their operation that offers opportunities for everyone along the skill-level spectrum.
“I think that’s one of the great things we are able to provide to Newark is that we are able to employ all of its citizens and all of the people who live here that are looking for a way to provide for themselves and their families,” Williams said.
That also means stemming the tide of New Jersey’s out-migrating millennial population. As NJBIA’s studies have shown, millennials are the largest segment of the population leaving New Jersey. Keeping them here is important for preserving the skilled workforce of the future.
Megan Myungwon Lee, chief human resources officer and vice president of Corporate Planning and Strategic Initiatives for Panasonic Corporation in Newark, approaches the how-to-attract millennials problem in a simple way: Listen to them. The goal is to not just teach millennials about Panasonic, but make sure the work environment is comfortable for millennials.