Rowan Teams with Local Towns to Spur Economic Development

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The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and the Liberal Arts & Sciences Institute (LASI) at Rowan University are building bridges they hope will help build the South Jersey community.

The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and the Liberal Arts & Sciences Institute (LASI) at Rowan University are building bridges they hope will help build the South Jersey community.

The CIE and LASI, lead by Dr. Mark Weaver and Dr. DeMond Miller, respectively, have been teaming up with various municipalities in Gloucester and Camden counties to foster economic and community development.

So far, the CIE/LASI team has worked or is working with Gloucester County, Camden, Clayton, Glassboro, Haddon Township, Harrison Township, Newfield and Voorhees on such projects as bringing technology businesses to Glassboro and assessing the needs of the Echelon Mall for Voorhees.

Undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines, including business, sociology, geography, computer science, engineering, communication and graphic arts, are conducting research as part of class projects. Graduate assistants are providing day-to-day support for the work, including team supervision, research design and analysis of the findings.

The CIE group is working on market analysis, economic impacts and long-range strategic planning types of issues, while the LASI group is working on community building and networking activities, such as conducting surveys and interviewing residents and business owners to ensure the team is obtaining input from all segments of the community.

?Regional economic and community development needs to evolve into a cooperative effort,? Weaver said. ?Done right, CIE/LASI cooperation brings a coordinating element to the table to link many communities and groups in forming an alliance for development. That alliance helps bring firms into the best place for them in South Jersey, and that translates into a stronger economy, more jobs and better tax bases, and it helps keep more of our graduates in the region.?

A good example of the CIE/LASI work has been taking place in the University?s backyard. Rowan has been working with Sam Leone, director of business development for Glassboro, on ways to develop the borough and attract new technology businesses to the area. As part of that work, the Rowan team has met along with Leone with technology businesses to help outline the benefits of relocating in Glassboro, among other projects.

?You?ve got a downtown area that had suffered for some time and is having a rebirth. With that rebirth, entrepreneurs often want to come to town. It?s perfectly suitable that Rowan has a program for entrepreneurs and is trying to spur entrepreneurship,? Leone said.

He added, ?Glassboro is going through a renaissance, and we are looking for creative people and ideas to take off downtown and elsewhere. The Rowan team is a definite asset to our efforts.?

Neighboring Clayton also is reaping the benefits of teaming with the Rowan group. Rowan is working in conjunction with David Burnett, the borough?s economic development director, assisting in researching possible activities to attract more business to the town, grant proposal writing and long-term planning.

?In effect, what we?ve done by forming this partnership with Rowan is call in a team of specialists to diagnose our maladies and recommend the proper course of action to ultimately correct and improve Clayton?s economic well-being for the long term,? Burnett said.

Voorhees tapped the Rowan team to explore revitalizing the Echelon Mall, according to Michael Marchitto, director of economic development. The group evaluated shoppers? needs and analyzed what the mall required to be more successful.

?The Economic Development Committee thought it would be a great idea for Rowan to assist us,? Marchitto said. ?We had a great feeling the team was committed to the future of the area and the development of the mall.?

Weaver said the Rowan team, which also has conducted similar work in Harrison Township, Camden and Haddon Heights, serves as an objective third party in economic development efforts. The Rowan group conducts research and makes recommendations to municipalities based on its findings, and the municipalities determine how to proceed from that point.

Weaver and Miller noted it?s critical to regional economic and community development for numerous groups to cooperate, and that is part of the approach the CIE/LASI team is facilitating. ?Local economic development councils, universities, and private enterprises all need to be a part of boosting South Jersey,? Weaver said.

The work also benefits Rowan students. ?These are valuable opportunities for students to use applied social research techniques within a real-world setting,? Miller said. ?Through such service learning efforts, Rowan students become a meaningful part of the regional efforts that steer positive change.?

Among the team?s projects are: applying for Smart Growth funding for Gloucester County; investigating New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) grants for new sidewalks, covered shelters, rest areas and converting an old gas station into a tourist and welcome center for Harrison Township; and exploring the development of community enhancement projects in Newfield. The team already has met with success, including helping Haddon Heights obtain an NJDOT grant for pedestrian and bike trails and conducting an economic impact analysis for the Cooper River Rowing Association, which obtained $4.5 million in funding to build a new boathouse.
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