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Editorial: Innovation Park@Rutgers is huge step for state

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As small business owners know, one of the great challenges of growing one's company is maintaining the same agility as the company grows from a handful of ambitious founders to a sometimes-lumbering corporate giant.

That’s why we’re heartened to see federal money headed to Rutgers to help create the unfortunately named “Innovation Park@Rutgers.” A park like this is a huge step toward helping companies in New Jersey enjoy improved access to the powerful, useful research coming out of New Jersey’s universities.

The grant will be used to help plan the research center, to be built on 30 acres in Piscataway. The park itself will be home to some high-tech computing resources being funded by $10 million from the state’s Building Our Future bond.

Plenty of people in business scoff at the disconnected ivory tower of universities and shrug off the idea that anything practical can come of working with higher education.

Lately, though, those people are being outnumbered by those who realize the big companies that used to have enormous research departments can no longer afford such expenses, and that some of the most innovative and tech-driven discoveries are either coming out of university research labs or, increasingly, in instances where businesses and schools work collaboratively on such initiatives.

If the Rutgers center holds true to its proposed mission, we expect some exciting things to come out of researchers and executives working together to discover opportunities.

Frankly, this sort of development is long overdue at Rutgers — NJIT and Rowan have been home to similar research institutions for some time now — but with funding from the state still shrinking and increased pressure on schools to reduce the debt load graduates leave their hallowed halls with, it isn’t easy to find the cash to develop a center like this.

But we imagine this will be a win all around.

Rutgers should have no shortage of suitors eager to work with the school on research questions into real-world challenges facing businesses today, and we imagine the direct exposure to New Jersey executives will help ground researchers’ work into truly practical matters that make a difference for real companies. And, of course, we’re glad that Washington saw the value, too, and is contributing some money.

If this is as successful as we expect it to be, perhaps New Jersey businesses will have an edge in innovation that they won’t outgrow as they expand.

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