FORT MONMOUTH – Plans to solidify and expand former Fort Monmouth’s future as a technology and innovation hub have won a $100,000 state grant – the only Monmouth County recipient of the new statewide “Innovation Challenge” pilot program.
Nine awards of up to $100,000 were granted Sept. 13 to fund future-focused projects with demonstrable potential for success following a proposal process that began in July. The program is part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s “Stronger and Fairer” economic development agenda.
“Communities responded with a clear commitment to spurring innovation,” the governor said. “From the installation of a high-speed 5G fiber network to the creation of a collaborative research-driven incubator, and a maker’s campus, these plans will help further New Jersey’s ability to compete and win in the 21st century economy.”
The Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) – partnering with Monmouth County, the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), and the New Jersey Innovation Institute (NJII) – will utilize the funds to facilitate development of a 50-acre tech park at the fort’s former McAfee complex, already slated for technology-focused re-use. In August, FMERA hosted a showcase there, which officials said garnered “a high level of interest” from developers, real estate professionals and technology companies in attendance. The McAfee complex will be formally offered for sale by FMERA this fall. Built in 1997, the facility features a 6-foot loading dock, eight 2,400-square-foot raised floor labs, and an anechoic chamber designed to absorb reflections of sound or electromagnetic waves.
“The approximately 50-acre campus (named in the grant award), refers to the planned redevelopment of the McAfee Center and surrounding property in Oceanport and Eatontown,” said Sarah Giberson, FMERA senior marketing and development officer. “The McAfee Center is envisioned for reuse as a technology or research and development facility that will potentially include an accelerator, incubator and/or graduation space for entrepreneurs, startups and emerging tech companies.” Funding will be funneled through Monmouth County, which works closely with FMERA in myriad areas of the fort’s redevelopment and maintenance on a daily basis.
Initially, NJII will lead a Cluster Readiness and Feasibility Assessment to determine which tech sectors should be targeted, as well as identifying the area’s key assets and opportunities to attract business and investment.
“NJII, led by Drs. Donald Sebastian and Timothy Franklin, who also hold faculty and/or administrative positions at NJIT, is the state’s leader in cluster/regional development, distributed research, and transformative regional engagement,” Giberson said, adding that FMERA staff will participate and contribute at no cost to the county. The authority’s staff includes expertise in real estate development, engineering, planning, finance, marketing and economic development. A 20 percent funding match required through the grant will be provided as in-kind services, primarily in the form of faculty and staff time.
“Providing seed funding to catalyze planning and key investments is an important step in advancing Gov. Murphy’s mission of reclaiming the innovation economy,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), which oversees the Innovation Challenge. “This program will help our communities advance plans and build the capacity they need to drive innovation-centered economic development.”
Since initiating the fort’s redevelopment more than seven years ago, FMERA has ushered three tech companies through the processes to locate their headquarters on the 1,127-acre fort, which spans portions of Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls. To date, those firms employ more than 1,000 people.
Applicants for Innovation Challenge grants were limited to cities or partnered municipalities representing at least 25,000 people, or county or regional partnerships that collectively represent at least 100,000 people. Applicants were required to demonstrate “a viable path to bring ideas to implementation, including a collaborative stakeholder engagement process and strategy.” Economic and social impact, management experience and the strength of solutions based on utilizing new and emerging technologies were among the criteria.
Other awardees are: Atlantic City, Atlantic County, Bridgeton, Camden County, New Brunswick, Passaic County, Trenton, and Union Township. Atlantic City and Stockton University will create a Center for Marine and Environmental Science, while in Bridgeton, the new Center for Smart Food Manufacturing seeks to create a national model by using emerging technology to establish a futuristic hub for the food industry. Projects will be tracked and assessed to “inform the EDA’s own plans for economic development activities and programs, and will be shared with other local governmental entities to foster further innovation across the state,” Sullivan said.
“We owe our gratitude to Freeholder Lillian Burry and Monmouth County director of planning Ed Sampson for their overwhelming support of this initiative, as a county or municipal partner was an eligibility requirement,” Giberson said. “The county’s decision to partner with NJIT, its affiliate NJII, and FMERA indicates the significance of this grant and its potential impact on the fort and its surrounding communities.”