New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy rarely misses an opportunity to point out the Garden State once was a hub for innovation — where Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and the incandescent light-bulb, and the birthplace of the transistor that paved the way for modern computers.
“This is a state that was a Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley,” Murphy told a crowd of entrepreneurs at Propelify, a tech festival on the Hoboken Pier in May.
But now, New Jersey lags behind. A 2017 study by consulting firm McKinsey found the state “has only 15 incubators and business accelerators, compared with 375 in California and 179 in New York.” The report also found there aren’t as many young companies in the state, in part because of burdensome regulations, a high cost of doing business and public policy that hasn’t been friendly to startups.
Propelify is in its third year, and it was the first time a New Jersey governor took the stage. Festival founder Aaron Price said the tech community finally has a friend in Trenton, after being largely ignored by the Christie administration.
“He wouldn’t engage with us,” Price, who also served Murphy’s technology and innovation transition team, said. “It’s frustrating when you see an opportunity and someone who may help move the needle, and you can’t get that person to be responsive.”
Price said he’d like New Jersey to take bold steps to catch up for lost time.
“I would love to see us be the most drone-friendly state in the country,” he said. “I think with all the warehousing space, we could do something to attract and incentivize e-commerce.”
But critics, like Sheila Reynertson of New Jersey Policy Perspective, say there hasn’t been much to show for it.
“These subsidies programs have not delivered,” Reynertson said. “If they don’t there’s absolutely no penalty.”
Reynertson said that’s especially true for companies who were given tens of millions just to move a few miles within state. Like Panasonic, which got more than $100 million to move from Secaucus to Newark. She said the focus and the funds should go to small businesses, especially startups that have a chance to grow.
“That’s where you get your real kick in the economy. Supporting small businesses and people who are bringing new, fresh ideas to New Jersey,” she said.