Looking for some e-trade; County applies for state grants to establish ‘cyberdistrict’

Although intrigued by the idea that the county could attract a whole new Internet-based industry, the Hudson County Board of Freeholders moved ahead slowly at first, saying they did not want to complete with the county’s municipalities for limited state grant money. The grant money is available through an initiative called the New Jersey Cyberdistricts Program that will help fund communities and qualified not-for-profit developers who want to create and market high-technology districts called “cyberdistricts.” Although every municipality except for Secaucus is eligible for state grants towards developing a cyberdistrict, only Bayonne, Jersey City, North Bergen and the county have pushed for the funding thusfar. But on July 17, the county applied to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority for state grant money for a feasibility study to determine if the county could be certified as a cyberdistrict. If they become certified, they believe they will have even higher priority regarding future funding, permitting and technical assistance for these new high tech sites. The focus will be on facilities, primarily former manufacturing facilities that are presently vacant that have the potential to be new homes for high-tech companies. Industries could include news media, software, telecommunications, computer services, advanced manufacturing and e-commerce. The feasibility study team will include representatives of Hudson’s municipalities, utility companies, academic institutions, the business community and labor unions. But county officials want to avoid competing head-on with towns who also want the funds. “Most of the county’s municipalities can apply for these grants themselves,” Freeholder William O’Dea said at a county freeholder meeting July 13. “We need to be careful we’re not completing with them.” Freeholder Chairman Sal Vega agreed, saying that county should not go into head to head competition with the municipalities. Towns that meet the requirements for assistance from the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority are eligible to apply for the cyberdistrict grants. In Hudson County, these include Union City, Weehawken, West New York, Kearny, Jersey City, North Bergen, Hoboken, Harrison, Guttenberg and Bayonne. Jersey City is apparently looking into various locations including the former American Can factory on Dey Street. North Bergen has filed a joint application with Bergen County for the funds. Secaucus is considered too wealthy a town to need the assistance. Tech hubs The program is part of a state effort to lure high-tech firms to New Jersey. The grants will go toward planning so that the communities may become technology hubs that can help small companies tap into high-speed connections. “Our cities were built by industry,” Gov. Christie Whitman said recently. “The goal of this program is to help them retool for the 21st century’s most important industry: Information technology.” State Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Jane M. Kenny said the Cyberdistricts Program represented an important new tool to help New Jersey’s cities continue the growth they have had in recent years. “New Jersey’s cities have made steady economic gains,” she said, “and we believe they can come back even faster by encouraging high-technology companies, such as data communications companies, software development companies and e-commerce companies, to set up shop there.” Governor Whitman allocated $2 million for the Cyberdistricts Program in her Fiscal Year 2000-2001 Budget. Of that amount, $1.5 million will be reserved for use within urban municipalities eligible for assistance from the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority (NJRA). There are currently 68 such NJRA-eligible municipalities throughout the state. William E. Best, the executive director of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority, said this effort encourages applicants to seek partnerships with such entities as telecommunications companies, Internet service providers, business associations, commercial and industrial real estate owners, college and universities and community development corporations. “We believe these sorts of partnerships will be critical to the success of a high-technology district,” Best said.


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