Each time we tackle the state budget, we are reminded that it is a living, breathing document that, at its core, should fundamentally reflect our priorities. As we enter final deliberations in crafting this year’s state budget, that reminder is all the more potent.
One of the reasons New Jersey’s economy lagged far behind most of the nation after the Great Recession is because we failed to make the proper investments to capitalize on our strengths and leverage our assets to grow our economy. We cannot expect to move forward and grow as a state without planting the proper seeds.
We must recognize our strengths and continue to cultivate them. And in New Jersey, one of our greatest pillars is our formidable pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industry.
Recognizing that industry-academic partnerships are a growing key to our success, I have sponsored several bills to foster greater collaboration between these two sectors. First, A1668, which was enacted into law in February, establishes the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education and Business Partnerships to create a forum in which our business and higher education communities can maintain an ongoing dialogue on how to encourage collaboration and grow our innovation economy.
Second, I introduced legislation (A-4432) that would allow certain businesses that have collaborative research relationships with higher education institutions to receive tax credits under the Grow New Jersey Assistance Program. Lastly, it’s crucial that we partner with industry leaders and capitalize on our life sciences talent pool to further the growth of the biotechnology sector, which is why I also sponsored legislation (AJR-46) that became law last summer, which created a biotechnology taskforce.
In the early ‘90’s, New Jersey had almost 50 biotechnology companies located throughout the state. That number has since increased to 379, including many of the largest biotech companies in the world, in part because of various task forces created by the Legislature that fostered initiatives to bolster the industry in our state. Today, our biotechnology industry plays a pivotal role in New Jersey’s economy, representing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity and tax revenue each year.
Due to the pivotal role this industry plays, it is important that we learn and develop ways to retain and attract new companies and increase communication between state government and the industry. The nine-member task force created under AJR46 is charged with doing just that. I am eager to see the fruits of this innovative collaboration.
One of the key reasons this industry has flourished in New Jersey is because of our highly respected life sciences workforce, which is one of our greatest assets. And we need to ensure that we maintain a steady pipeline of talent to continue to support and grow the industry.
When it comes to planning for our future, the best investment we can make is in our people, which is why I’ve always championed education investments. In recent months, I introduced a comprehensive higher education legislative package focused on better preparing our high school students for college, making college more affordable once they get there, and tying higher education to the state’s economic needs to ensure that we are producing the workforce our industries need while creating employment opportunities for our graduates. Ultimately, we need to make sure we are investing in the workforce of tomorrow and not just today.
Financial crises like the Great Recession often force us to narrow our vision until we mitigate the crisis. With the recession firmly behind us, we can no longer afford tunnel vision when it comes to investing in our future. We need a blueprint for tomorrow and we need it today.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer is Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee and represents the 36th Legislative District in Bergen and Passaic counties.