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New Jersey Manufacturers Seek Avenues to Capital and Expansion at Small Business Forum Hosted by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Don Sebastian, president of the New Jersey Innovation Institute, and John Kennedy, CEO of the NJ Manufacturing Extension Program

Dozens of manufacturers from the region attended a small business forum at NJIT on May 16 to discuss strategies to strengthen and expand their companies by locating public and private sources of capital and by developing new markets at home and abroad.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, the forum’s host, opened by pointing to what he called discouraging data showing declining investment by the U.S. in spheres ranging from research and development, to infrastructure, to education, that puts the country at a competitive disadvantage compared to other advanced economies.

“This is unacceptable. We should strive to be number one,” he said to the audience of about 150, including small business owners, entrepreneurs, government officials from agencies such as the U.S. Small Business Administration, and academics and researchers from NJIT focused on business innovation and technology development.

Donald Sebastian, the president of the New Jersey Innovation Institute, an NJIT corporation established earlier this year to spur business innovation by leveraging industry, government, and higher education assets and investment, said the country also needed to rethink the place of innovation in manufacturing.

“Too many people think of manufacturing innovation as an oxymoron. But there is real innovation in the way that we make things and not just the things we make.  It is all about doing things faster, smarter, better, and the production systems for even the most common household items have evolved over the decades to embrace the highest levels of technology,” said Sebastian, who moderated a panel Friday morning on innovation and growth.

Participants in the panel discussion included representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, Inc., the Manufacturing Institute, the Department of Supply Chain Management and Marketing Sciences at Rutgers Business School, and Eastern Millwork, Inc., a local manufacturer.

Pravina Raghavan, a panelist from the SBA’s Office of Investment and Innovation, said the agency not only coordinates significant funding for companies through the Small Business Investment Company, among other programs, but also works with them “to try to get them to the next prototype and help them commercialize their technology.”

A Newark manufacturer in attendance said he was hoping to make the case for expanding the government’s domestic procurement programs.

“If they give us that opportunity, we will have a fighting, fair chance. We are not looking for handouts,” said William Garrity, vice president of administration for Safer Holding Corp, a Newark-based textile manufacturer.

The panel on innovation and growth was followed by breakout sessions on manufacturing certifications and access to capital. Participants in those sessions included experts in certification and environmental compliance, efficiency experts from the manufacturing sector, private banks, and public lending agencies, among others. Dolcey Chaplin, the director of the Procurement Center at NJIT, which provides free assistance to small business seeking to sell products and services to large business and government agencies, took part in the certification session.

The small business forum was the third Booker has convened this year on college campuses.

“I am critically aligned with the idea that universities have to play a central role in expanding economic opportunity,” he said, adding, “There is enough raw material in this room to create a transformative future.”

Sebastian described advanced manufacturing as a “core competency” for the New Jersey Innovation Institute that is a necessary ingredient to foster growth in areas such as medical device technology, bio-pharmaceuticals, and sensor-based systems “enabling everything from energy-efficient buildings to free-flowing highways to combat soldier protection.”

In addition to the NJII, NJIT runs the campus-based Enterprise Development Center (EDC), a business incubator with about 90 tenant companies. The university’s Division of Continuing Professional Education heads the state’s Advanced Manufacturing Talent Network, one of seven networks designed to address the specific needs of industry sectors, including financial services; healthcare; transportation; logistics and distribution; life sciences; hospitality and retail; and technology and entrepreneurship. A central aim of the networks is to help current underemployed or unemployed workers develop relevant skills that lead to jobs and to in turn help employers find qualified workers.

“A forum like the one today provided companies with the opportunity to make immediate connections to resources and collaboration partners,” said Judith Sheft, associate vice president of technology development at NJIT.  “Many of the clients from the NJIT EDC program attended the session and found the information provide valuable.”