Two Modest Steps Toward Developing Murphy’s Cutting-Edge Economy in NJ

John Reitmeyer | August 9, 2019 | Budget
Governor enacts laws to establish ‘innovation districts’ and task force to study use of blockchain technology in government

Credit: Nokia Bell Labs
L to R; Aaron Price, NJ Tech Council CEO, Gov. Phil Murphy, and Marcus Weldon, president of Nokia Bell Labs discussed innovation.
Gov. Phil Murphy underscored his push to reposition the Garden State as a center for innovation and the development of cutting-edge technologies yesterday, announcing the enactment of two new related laws.

The first, a law establishing an “innovation district” program means that, at the local level, municipalities can now receive that designation if they meet certain criteria, such as hosting higher-education institutions and providing access to mass-transportation facilities.

The second establishes a new task force to conduct an in-depth study of blockchain, the sophisticated technology perhaps best known as the underpinnings of the digital currency Bitcoin.

Murphy announced the official enactment of both these new policies as he participated in a roundtable discussion at the sprawling Nokia Bell Labs complex in Murray Hill. The event focused on the “innovation economy” and featured robots and drones as examples of the latest technologies.

A first-term Democrat, Murphy said his overall goal for New Jersey is to “rip a page” out of a playbook that has been used in places like Boston and Silicon Valley as public officials there have successfully used science and technology to generate economic development.

The law establishing the “innovation district” program will allow communities to market themselves in a new way to businesses looking for places to locate. The program will be administered by the state Commission on Science, Technology and Innovation, with cooperation from the Economic Development Authority, and the departments of Community Affairs and of Labor and Workforce Development.

Necessary qualifications

To qualify for the special innovation-zone designation, municipalities are required to have zoning laws in place or a redevelopment plan that allows for mixed-use developments — as well as having within their borders a higher-education institution and “accessibility to mass-transportation facilities and services,” according to the new law.

The special designation does not qualify a municipality for any state grants, but it does require the state to publicize the program and provide application forms for the designation to be obtained online.

The law establishing a blockchain task force adds New Jersey to a group of states, including Delaware and Illinois, that are already looking at ways to use blockchain technology to enhance government services, including recordkeeping and election security.

Proponents of blockchain technology praise its security potential because it relies on a complex, cryptography-based system in which a shared database links or “chains” data together across many peers. That makes it virtually impossible to make any alterations without being discovered.

What has worked in other states?

The 16-member task force will be authorized to study both opportunities and risks associated with the technology and how applications that already are being used in other places could be implemented in New Jersey. The panel will also be required to produce a report that evaluates the costs and benefits to the state government of the use of blockchain technology. And it will be charged with making recommendations for how to implement and finance use of the technology.

The state’s chief innovation officer and commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance will be among the public officials on the task force. Other members will represent various county and municipal governments.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex)
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, a physicist who sponsored the blockchain bill, participated in yesterday’s roundtable alongside Murphy. Zwicker (D-Middlesex) said blockchain technology has “enormous potential” for improving government services.

In a statement issued later yesterday, Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union), another bill sponsor, said New Jersey should be “at the forefront” of the blockchain movement.

“The task force established by this law will seek out practical ways to implement this technology in a way that will benefit New Jersey’s taxpayers,” he said.