Competing with New Jersey Agriculture: The Right Way to Come Back

Today’s announcement that Roche would be locating it’s new clinical transfer facility in the state of the art Alexandria  Life Sciences Center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side makes Lt. Governor Gudagno’s New Jersey’s agribusiness tour in August even more important, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more efforts like this.  

Having been heavily engaged in the Roche negotiations and losing should serve as a wake-up call to Governor Christie and his administration that competing for jobs in the knowledge economy requires investments in intellectual capital resources such as public universities and in developing regional economic clusters that build off of the state’s competitive advantages.  

Companies and creative class professionals want to locate near each other and not be reliant on traffic-choked highways to collaborate and meet.

By playing politics with the much-needed Rutgers University/UMDNJ merger last Spring, refusing to reverse the twenty-year decline in state funding to Rutgers, and killing transit projects, the Christie administration has failed to put together the basic building blocks needed to compete with a global city like New York for jobs and investments.  It’s no surprise that the pharma industry is following the communications industry out the door to other states when our state refuses to invest in the basics of success.  

Education, transportation, and open space in the nation’s most densely populated state are essential to retaining and attracting companies and educated professionals.  The days of growing an economy by offering tax incentives to build facilities in sprawling suburbs and on pancake flat farmland are gone.  Those chickens have come home to roost in the form of traffic-choked highways, crumbling sewer and water infrastructures and property tax burdens that can barely meet the needs of municipal budgets and schools.

However, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture under the leadership of Secretary Doug Fisher, along with Lt.  Governor Guadagno and her team, put together a tour of businesses in New Jersey’s agriculture and food sectors last August that highlighted this historic business ecosystem and the role it can play in New Jersey’s economic future.  Throughout the month of August Lieutenant  Governor Guadagno and Secretary Fisher visited both traditional and cutting edge food systems enterprises across the state.

New Jersey has 10,300 farms operating on roughly 550,000 acres of New Jersey’s 4.8 million acre land base and contributes annual sales of about $1.1 billion dollars to the state’s economy. The Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgton has assisted in the development of 40 new food products while serving 1,300 clients and training over 1,000 people since its launch in 2001. The open space and watersheds associated with New Jersey agriculture also help power a $45 billion dollar tourism, fisheries and marine industry.

New Jersey’s true competitive advantages can be found in the development of regional food systems that serve some of our nation’s largest markets. It’s going to become increasingly difficult to compete for intellectual capital driven businesses with New York and Philadelphia when we refuse to invest in our public colleges and universities and play politics with our flagship AAU-member state university.  

Losing Roche’s facilities to a city and state that is pursuing an aggressive and forward looking approach to developing overlapping ecosystems of knowledge-intensive industries should come as no surprise.  

While we need to invest in our own intellectual capital long-term, short and medium term solutions to New Jersey’s economic woes exist via our farms and food companies. Let’s make the right choices and invest in this industry and business ecosystem while protecting our rapidly dwindling land base and increasingly threatened watersheds.

Cross-posted at Pocket Farms-Keeping Jersey Fresh

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