New Jersey Quietly Slices Out High-Tech Base in its Heartland
Drawn by universities, major electronics companies and research complexes are turning Route 1 into the most prominent high-tech corridor in the Mid-Atlantic states
PRINCETON, N.J. — JIM CLINGHAM is looking forward to May 26. On that day, the nearby township of West Windsor will be the first community in central New Jersey to carry a special sign identifying it as a high-technology community along US 1, the main east-west highway.
Mr. Clingham, who heads a local high-tech group, expects other towns here will soon display similar signs.
US 1 - or Route 1 as most folks here call it - is located just a few miles from downtown Princeton. The highway is becoming the most prominent high-tech corridor in the Mid-Atlantic states, similar to Route 128 in Boston, or Silicon Valley in northern California.
Route 1 slices its way southwest across New Jersey for 20 miles from New Brunswick to Trenton before crossing the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. In the 10- to 12-mile section between New Brunswick and Princeton are found the Johnson & Johnson headquarters, large facilities for Bristol-Myers Squibb, Siemens, the Forrestal (research) Center, the David Sarnoff Research Center, and Dow Jones & Co. A new color printing plant for the New York Times is located north of Princeton, a half hour drive off Route 1. No overall planning agency
"Route 1 is the classic case of trying to build a 21st century institution on the back of an early 20th century technological community and an early 19th century political environment," says James Hughes, associate dean of the School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. There is no overall planning agency for the Route 1 corridor, Mr. Hughes notes, reflecting New Jersey's historical distaste for centralized government.
Also along Route 1 are a number of major Japanese and Korean electronics firms, many of them arriving in the past few years. Following NEC in 1988, Matsushita Electronics, Hitachi, Samsung, and others have located nearby.
Dozens of smaller companies are located along secondary roads that intersect Route 1. Many are electronics firms specializing in research on high-definition television. The HDTV research under way here - much of it concentrated at the David Sarnoff Research Center, a subsidiary of SRI International - has branded the region Video Valley.
"The presence of the universities is the key to all the development," says Jay Brandinger, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, a state agency.
Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, is located at New Brunswick. Driving west, one comes to Princeton University. Other universities, colleges, and research centers cluster near Route 1, including the Institute for Advanced Study, where Albert Einstein once conducted research. Aspires to Silicon Valley
High tech has been in the region since the 1940s, when a number of think tanks were located in the Princeton area along with electronics laboratories. Most development, however, has occurred in the last two decades. Though Route 1 partisans love to compare their area to Silicon Valley, clearly this region is years away from assembling the concentration of high-tech shops seen in that part of California.
In recent years, Route 1 has become increasingly diverse. Firms include banks, back offices for brokerage houses, pharmaceutical companies, and laboratories involved with biomedical research, Mr. Brandinger says.
Still, planners and local political officials are not entirely sanguine about the concentration of facilities that have sprouted along or near Route 1 - now totaling more than 750. Traffic congestion, rising housing prices, and the encroachment on farmland is increasing the social costs of development.
Growth has put intense pressure on such regional planning bodies as the Middlesex, Somerset, Mercer Regional Council (MSM), made up of the three counties in the region. MSM gets high marks from most companies here. Yet planning is highly complicated; about 32 towns are included in the MSM umbrella, many of them with different development goals, notes Dianne Brake, president of the council. Many people in central New Jersey would agree with her, she says, in arguing that there is a need for greater region al coordination and planning on such issues as land use, traffic control, development, and over-reliance on local property taxes.
Yet engineers, researchers, and highly paid professionals appear eager to move to central Jersey because of the charm of many of the small towns in the region, the excellent school systems, the proximity to New Jersey's many fine beaches, as well as accessibility to New York and Philadelphia.
The state's economy has slowed considerably with the recession, which will dampen development. Hughes says there will be no major new projects along Route 1, but rather, "just a little filling out and some thickening" of existing office/research clusters.
The main spark plug for research continues to be the David Sarnoff Research Center - home of the famous RCA Labs, where color television and the video recorder were invented.
Today, the Sarnoff Center is considered the world's leading research lab on HDTV. That is one reason why so many Asian high-tech firms have rushed into Video Valley, Brandinger says: They want to ensure they share in any technological breakthroughs.