Jersey City Rising: A Tech Hub in the Making

Over the past decade Jersey City has morphed, undergoing a transformation into an emerging hub for tech and economic growth. The city rebounded from an economic decline, expanding into creative, tech, and business fields. Mayor Fulop, elected in 2013, has helped lead that charge by leveraging Jersey City’s assets to improve quality of place, and make the city’s growing tech sector a key priority. During his tenure, the city has encouraged business and tech growth while working to preserve its identity as a scalable, affordable hub with a community feel. Today, Jersey City’s waterfront Exchange Place is known as “Wall Street West.” Creative professionals are setting up shop.

The evolution of Jersey City is a case study in how other small and medium-sized cities can build themselves into tech hubs, but there’s still much more to be done. Below, the NYUSPS Urban Lab at the Schack Institute of Real Estate explores Jersey City’s tech transformation, and what steps it should do to secure and expand that position. Full paper available here.

Jersey City’s Tech Advantage

Jersey City has all the makings of a central tech hub: Since the recession, the city rebounded into a burgeoning center with companies including Forbes, Omnicom, and Ernst & Young moving in alongside biotech startups and coworking spaces focused on entrepreneurs. In the early 2010s, Jersey City’s population increased by 4.8 percent, and today, 40.8 percent of the city’s workforce are a part of the creative class, engaged in tech, science, arts, education and professional services. The tech sector is especially promising, with 16 percent of the city’s creative residents already working in computer and mathematics jobs.

Jersey City also ranks among the top cities for transportation access, with the Grove Street PATH station providing a 10-minute commute to Manhattan, and a fourth ferry terminal recently opened connects Harborside to Midtown Manhattan and Battery Park. Additionally, academic industry leaders are a part of the changing community. Research universities such as the Stevens Institute of Technology and the New Jersey Institute of Technology are in close proximity to the city. Liberty Science Center, a 300,000-square-foot complex with classrooms, labs, and exhibitions, is partnering with the mayor to develop SciTech Scity, a $280 million project that will develop the surrounding land into a mixed-used hub featuring a school, research facility, and residential community.

Yet with broad development comes challenges. As Jersey city seeks to cultivate its status as a nexus for industry, and scales up in doing so, it needs consider the ramifications to ensure inclusivity.

Affordability Challenges and Needs

Though Jersey City is known for its affordability relative to New York City boroughs, the average studio in Jersey City is still $2,100. The city is still expensive, and affordability is a central concern. Nearly half of city residents are “cost burdened,” spending more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing.

To help mitigate rising costs, the city partnered with the state to offer incentives to buildings in an area that has undergone sizable development: The Exchange Place neighborhood’s Harborside, a series of mixed-use buildings on the water, and 101 Hudson Street, which boasts 1.25 million square feet of office space. And, to help keep the city live-able for workers across sectors, Mayor Fulop raised minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour in 2016. Yet this area will be a continued challenge, one the city will need to actively combat with affordable housing and job training to help the city retain its broad and diverse economic base.

Growing into a Tech Hub

Jersey City — and other mid and small-sized cities with similar goals — can continue to cultivate its presence as a mid-sized tech hub by building on a few key areas. Notability, by working to increase its density and encourage its diversity and cultural presence. These areas go hand-in-hand with developing a “stickiness” borne of an attachment between workers and their communities — one that spurs innovation. The following are eight key areas of focus for the city going forward.

  1. The city should become an active participant in its tech scene, encouraging and cultivating its status as an incubator city. Working with partners and stakeholders, the city should proactively engage new collaborations, such as its work with the Liberty Science Center, for example, and its relationship with the Stevens Institute of Technology.
  2. Crucially, to build on and ensure the sustainability of the tech sector in Jersey City, the city select a key project manager who will spearhead a strategy. Mayor Fulop has been an active force in the business community, but the city needs a dedicated point person to build and shape the tech sector.
  3. The city must use clear data to gauge its progress in this arena, developing clear metrics including timeframes and goals, and tie those goals to equity and well-being for Jersey City residents.
  4. Crucially, as the city develops, it must prioritize inclusivity to ensure it does not alienate disadvantaged residents. Building affordable housing and partnering with institutions, like the East Baltimore Development Initiative did with Johns Hopkins to build Eager Park, is an approach that the Stevens Institute of Technology, for instance, could follow.
  5. In addition to work with local universities on inclusive prosperity, the city should integrate university campuses into its downtown community. Neighboring universities including NJIT, the Stevens Institute of Technology, and Princeton offer excellent spillover effect, but to harness it the city must continue to strengthen its relationship with a university anchor.
  6. Similarly, the city must also designate its own hub of innovation to help retain tech companies. SciTech Scity, for instance, is poised to become an an access point with its proximity to Newark Liberty International Airport, and Manhattan.
  7. The city should also position itself as a central location for emerging startups. Identifying as an incubator for emerging startups can help Jersey City develop a unique regional identity and become the primary regional location for new and growing startups.
  8. Finally, in thinking about development Jersey City must identify clusters for innovation, which means identifying its key industry clusters in specific geographic areas. Industry City in Brooklyn is one such location, and has proved highly successful for advanced and traditional manufacturing in that borough. Furthermore, the city should look toward mixed-use sites more broadly to help it build out both residential and commercial spaces in looking toward new development.

Jersey City is poised to develop even further as a significant mid-sized hub for tech. The city’s growth is also a model for how small and mid-sized cities can scale up. Looking forward, the city should focus on key areas, building on the progress it has already made as it becomes a new hub for the region.

STEVEN PEDIGO is the Director of the NYUSPS Urban Lab at the Schack Institute of Real Estate, and a Clinical Assistant Professor for Economic Development at the NYU School of Professional Studies.

ABIGAIL SINDZINSKI is a writer, editor, and communications professional. Her work has appeared in outlets including Curbed, LAmag.com, JNCI, and Guernica.