Rowan gets grant for technology center

Kaitlin Gurney INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF

The state Economic Development Authority awarded Rowan University $6 million yesterday to serve as the foundation for the first technology center in South Jersey.

There were 15 other applicants - including Burlington County College and the City of Camden - for money that then-Gov. Christie Whitman announced in her State of the State address 18 months ago to attract high-tech industry to the region.

Rowan officials celebrating the announcement of the South Jersey Technology Center yesterday said the secret behind their bid lay in the $100 million that industrialist Henry Rowan gave the university in 1992. That money established an engineering school that is poised to provide the research base for the technology center and created an endowment allowing officials to purchase land for a second campus.

Rowan's vision for the center is a cluster of state-of-the-art research facilities where firms can test new ideas and fledgling companies can garner support from students and faculty. The Economic Development Authority's hope is that companies that use the center's resources will remain in South Jersey, spokesman Glenn Phillips said.

Rowan's president, Donald Farish, agreed.

"We don't see this as another trophy to add to our case," he said. "This is an opportunity to help the community achieve economic development of the area in a way that was simply not possible before our engineering program."

Map in hand, Farish yesterday pointed out 50 acres of old peach orchards at Routes 322 and 55 where architects have tentatively outlined four buildings for the technology center. The university has bought 39 acres in the area for $1.2 million and has an option on 317 more. The additional land will be used for athletic fields.

Construction will start in the fall on the first building, which has an estimated cost of $15 million to $20 million - far beyond the $6 million that the development authority appropriated for the entire complex. The Rowan University Foundation, which oversees the university's nearly $100 million endowment, might make a donation to allow construction to begin, said Phil Tumminia, the foundation's executive director.

The state's endorsement of Rowan as the technology center's site will help the university secure additional state funding, federal funding, and investments from private companies, Farish said.

"What we need are partnerships with business and industry," he said. "If we need to devote our own resources to push the idea over the top, we'll do so."

A separately funded part of the technology center is a $500,000 technology business incubator in downtown Glassboro, probably in the former Academy Street School. State Sen. John Matheussen (R., Gloucester) and Rowan officials have been working with the state's Science and Technology Commission and say they expect to secure funding in July.

University benefactor Henry Rowan said his company, furnace producer Inductotherm, might become involved in the technology center or the business incubator, which is designed to help new companies market themselves.

"It's an exciting thing for me to see the continued technology growth of the university," Rowan said. "It was my thrust to get the engineering school launched, and the tech center is an endorsement of what a good job they've done."

Engineering dean Dianne Dorland said she was confident of the technology center's success. Companies from all over the region already flock to students in her program for help on projects, which provides the firms with advice and students with experience, she said.

"It's natural for us to go to the next step of encouraging businesses to locate in the area," Dorland said. "We're able to function as a small research and development arm for businesses that don't have the capital for their own.

"We're here - and available."

Kaitlin Gurney's e-mail address is kgurney@phillynews.com.

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Date Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2001 - 01:00
Source URL: The Philadelphia Inquirer