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Tech Hubs Sprout Innovation

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Tech Hubs Sprout Innovation

Seven centers are catapulting New Jersey into new realms of discovery in several high-tech centers, while creating a nurturing environment for entrepreneurs.

New Jersey, nicknamed the “Medicine Chest of the World” for its concentration of life sciences companies, is quickly adding a second distinction as “The Innovation Hub,” with seven projects that are bringing together giants in education, medicine, research, and technology in some well-placed areas across the state.

“We are the cradle of the pharmaceutical industry, and we have great academic institutions and more scientists per square mile than any other state in the US,” says Paul Hoffman, president and CEO of the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, part of the new SciTech Scity hub. “It’s a great basis to work from in trying to grow a startup and innovation early-stage company culture.”

In addition to SciTech Scity, the state’s other innovation hubs include the HELIX and Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center, both in New Brunswick, Northeast Science and Technology Center (NEST) in Kenilworth, ON3 in Nutley, Virtua & Rowan Medical School and Research Labs in Glassboro, and a new AI Hub at Princeton University. Each is an integral part of turning the state into a technology leader on the East Coast, nationally, and even internationally.

Sci-Tech Scity

In early 2015, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) designated Liberty Science Center as the master developer in charge of turning 16 acres of adjacent city-owned land into a science and technology hub. Almost 10 years later, SciTech Scity – described as a “curated community of tech entrepreneurs, scientists, students, and other forward-thinking people and organizations working together to create a better future for all” – is getting closer to a launch date.

In addition to Liberty Science Center, the 30-acre innovation campus includes $450 million in new construction. This includes: Edge Works, an eight-story business-creation center that includes laboratories, R&D spaces, office suites, a tech exhibition gallery, and a state-of-the-art conference center; Scholars Village, with 500 apartments for tech-forward families and individuals; Liberty Science Center High School, a new public magnet STEM high school; and Public Commons, which entails three acres of outdoor space for art installations, food trucks, and science festivals.

Though SciTech Scity’s 100 or so projected tenants won’t begin moving in until late 2025 and 2026, the transformative work has already begun, Hoffman says. Ernst & Young (EY), Bristol Myers Squibb, and RWJBarnabas Health are partners of the Healthcare Innovation Engine at SciTech Scity, which will bring health tech into the home, particularly in underserved communities. Another lead partner is Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, one of the top 10 hospitals in the world, which is building a medicine-of-the-future simulation center on campus.

The HELIX and Jack and Sheryl Cancer Center

In December, Nokia Bell Labs (NBL) announced plans to leave its historic headquarters in Murray Hill over the next five years to relocate to the HELIX in New Brunswick, a $2-billion life science center that aims to be a leader of translational research in New Jersey and throughout the East Coast. In addition to NBL, the list of tenants at the HELIX includes Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, which is expected to bring its first class to the site in the spring of 2026, RWJBarnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health, Rutgers and Princeton universities, a number of international organizations, and pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.

The HELIX is comprised of three towers and 1.6-million square feet of space. This includes: H1, a 578,000-square-foot structure – almost half of which is sophisticated laboratory space; H2, expected to be delivered in 2028 and where NBL will reside; and H3, a 42-story mixed-use facility that will feature 220 residential units and is tentatively scheduled to open in 2030. About 85% of H1 is accounted for, says Chris Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO).

According to Paladino, “What I’m envisioning with the HELIX is an ecosystem of scientists and researchers collaborating in a cross fertilization of different fields – from quantum computing, to the development of medical devices, to pharmaceutical research. If you look across these types of platforms in other parts the country and world, this is how new companies are started and how jobs are created.”

About a four-minute walk from the HELIX is the Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center, the state’s first and only freestanding cancer facility and one of 56 National Cancer Institute-recognized Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation. Set to open next spring, the $750-million, 510,000-square-foot building will draw on the resources of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health, bringing together research, prevention, and clinical care, including advanced imaging services, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgical treatments. The center will also include 10 state-of-the-art laboratories where teams of scientists will develop new treatments that can be transferred directly to clinical settings.

“For years, the refrain has been that patients with complex medical problems often traveled over bridges and through tunnels to go to New York or Pennsylvania. Now, we’re going to see the reverse,” says Steven Libutti, MD, FACS, director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “There are 96 private beds that will allow patients to seamlessly transition from in-patient care to outpatient care, and vice versa.”

NEST

Centrally located in Kenilworth is the new Northeast Science and Technology Center (NEST), a two-million-square-foot purpose-built research and development campus and the former site of Merck’s global headquarters. The property includes 1.4-million square feet of laboratory buildings; 500,000 square feet of professional office space; and 30 acres of redevelopment opportunities zoned for research, laboratories, and manufacturing facilities.

“We’ve heard for years how in demand lab/life science space is in New Jersey based on the education level of the population and the scientists who work in the area,” says Matt Flath, senior vice president asset management for property developer Onyx Equities. “It’s a really strong market pool and being on the Garden State Parkway and Route 78 gives us tremendous reach for an employee base.”

Onyx has been working on rebranding the campus – or “de-Mercking” it – and building awareness not only in New Jersey, but nationally and internationally. Planned amenities include cafeterias, a heliport, fitness center, conference centers, and green space, but Flath says potential tenants are most excited about the lab services and mechanical redundancies and backup that come with occupancy. Merck will be fully gone from the campus by early 2025, and Onyx expects tenants to begin moving in shortly after.

“The first priority is finalizing a deal with a major R1 research university in New Jersey and then populating the space with everything from startup, incubation, and mid-size companies, to Fortune 500 pharma and tech giants,” Flath says.

ON3

Formerly the site of Hoffmann-La Roche’s North American headquarters, ON3 in Nutley has been repurposed as a mixed-use campus attracting high-profile companies across various sectors, including Quest Diagnostics, Ralph Lauren Corporation, Hackensack-Meridian School of Medicine, Hackensack Meridian Health’s Center for Discovery and Innovation, Modern Meadow, Y-mAbs Therapeutics, Inc., and Seton Hall University’s Graduate College of Nursing and School of Health and Medical Sciences. ON3’s tenants now employ more than 5,500 people in the campus’s existing, fully occupied 1.45-million square feet of space. Two million-plus square feet of additional planned retail, hospitality, and residential space makes this New Jersey’s largest contemplated redevelopment.

“Location and lifestyle are central in establishing this world-class, multi-tenant hub,” says Edwin Cohen, principal partner at Prism Capital Partners, ON3’s owner and developer. “ON3’s strategic design and position on Route 3, just nine miles from Manhattan, has provided us with an opportunity to create a competitive property that speaks to the changing demands of New Jersey communities, residents, and businesses.”

The hub received major boosts in 2022, when leading pharma company Eisai relocated its North American headquarters to ON3. Last year, ground was broken on Hackensack Meridian Health’s 80,000-square-foot Ambulatory Care Center.

Virtua Rowan Hub

In 2022, Virtua Health and Rowan University announced their collaboration on a new academic health center to further establish South Jersey as a regional hub for innovation, research, and clinical discovery. This partnership has created the Virtua Health College of Medicine & Health Sciences of Rowan University, which includes an osteopathic medical school, school of nursing and health professions, and school of biomedical research.

The idea is to bring together leading clinicians and scientists to elevate care delivery, medical innovation, and education for New Jersey, with the first three research institutes focusing on cardiovascular disease, solid organ transplant and regenerative medicine, and primary care. A new biomedical research facility on Rowan’s West Campus is expected to be completed by next summer, and a recently released report says the collaboration should have a $2.9 billion economic impact on the region.

“Rowan is rapidly evolving – we’ve gone from a regional masters classified university to achieving a Carnegie Research 2 [classification], and expect to soon be a Research 1 [institution] – driving growth in the region as the population and businesses spread out of Philadelphia,” says Tony Lowman, Rowan’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Princeton AI Hub

In April, 600 leaders in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) gathered at Princeton University for the New Jersey AI Summit, where they explored AI applications in health, finance, sustainable energy, and technology, while also addressing opportunities to advance AI education and workforce development. Speakers included Gov. Phil Murphy and Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber. In December, both had jointly announced the development of a New Jersey AI hub at Princeton in collaboration with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA).

Experts say the AI hub is a natural fit for Princeton, which is already working with local communities, higher education partners and other New Jersey institutions to further AI innovation. “At a time when the future of AI has yet to be written, we in New Jersey can be its author,” Murphy said at the summit. “We want our state government to be a catalyst for bringing together innovators and leaders to unlock a new century of hope: from discovering new drugs and medical treatments to developing new personalized educational tools that help every student reach their full potential, and everything in between.” 


BY LISA GOULIAN TWISTE, CONTRIBUTING WRITER