Health care and higher education form the twin-engine economic vehicle that will lift Southern New Jersey out of its economic slump, said George E. Norcross III, chairman of Camden’s Cooper University Hospital, in a speech to the Tri-County Economic Development Summit on Friday.
Norcross said health care systems in the three counties — Camden, Burlington and Gloucester — have invested more than $1 billion in capital projects in the past decade, while Rowan and Rutgers Universities have poured millions into their campus expansions.
Next August, Rowan will open its new medical school in a partnership with Cooper, and within the next year, Cooper will begin construction of a $100 million cancer center, Norcross said.
The Tri-County Summit made several achievement awards, and the economic development award went to Virtua for its $96 million health and wellness center in Moorestown, set to open next year.
Norcross said Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature are studying a reorganization of higher education in the state, and said the plans should include a consolidation of higher education in South Jersey to create a research university on par with Rutgers, in New Brunswick.
“South Jersey deserves its own research university; South Jersey needs to have a consolidation of our higher education in some way, shape or form that rivals what exists in New Brunswick and exists in northern New Jersey,” he said. “Education is the means for our children and grandchildren to excel. The brain drain out of southern New Jersey is something we have to reverse, and the only way you will reverse that is to create a grand-style research university, and to do that we will need to combine the resources of higher education facilities in southern New Jersey.”
Norcross said a committee report on higher education, released by Christie last week, began to address the issue of “creating a world-class university that has research as its principle factor. It is something that is necessary to drive this region and our elected officials need to become forceful advocates of that.”
On Sept. 20, Christie released the report of his higher education committee, chaired by Sol Barer. Regarding South Jersey, the committee said it “plans in the next phase of its work to consider whether a new combination of public higher education assets in southern New Jersey is potentially the best way for New Jersey to support and improve public medical education in southern New Jersey and the vitality of the region.”
Norcross said if such a consolidation occurs, he wants to see adequate funding for higher education in South Jersey assured by statute. And he said he supports a proposal to put a higher education bond issue on the ballot, to provide funds for capital investment in higher education throughout the sate.