The city of Newark continues its rise as a budding hub of high-tech innovation.

At a press conference April 4, NJIT President Joel Bloom joined Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka to announce the city’s plan to host the Amazon Alexa-sponsored VOICE Technology Summit July 24-26 on the NJIT campus. 

“This is the best place to be in a tech economy,” said Mayor Baraka of New Jersey’s largest city, which is home to Amazon-owned Audible, the largest seller of audiobooks, and one of 20 cities on the shortlist vying for the ecommerce behemoth’s second corporate seat, HQ2.

“We have people, we have facilities, we have the technology, we have students,” said Bloom, calling the upcoming summit an “outstanding opportunity to engage business and industry.”

In another major coup for Newark, it was also revealed that the city would partner with Intersection to launch LinkNWK, a citywide network of sidewalk kiosks that offer free public Wi-Fi and other digital services, making Newark the fourth city in the world to offer the service.

“We’re reinventing the idea of information in public space,” said Intersection Chairman Dan Doctoroff. “With $3 billion of economic development activity here — retail, office, residential — this is Newark’s time.”

NJIT President Joel Bloom

The announcements come as Newark continues to successfully use technology as a catalyst for revitalization and position itself as “a national model for what an equitable city can look like,” said Newark Community Economic Development Corp. (NCEDC) President and CEO Aisha Glover.

By leveraging the 27 miles of high-speed fiber optic network running throughout the city, Newark has become a viable destination for big-name companies, innovators and conventions, like the VOICE conference, which will focus on the importance and future of voice technology. 

“As we become more connected to our devices, it’s more important than ever that we connect as people,” said Pete Erickson, founder of Modev, which is partnering with Amazon to bring the voice technology summit to NJIT, where pioneering solutions for economic development and the commercialization of technology abound. 

NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center, New Jersey’s largest technology and life science business incubator, has attracted more than $156 million in third-party funding, generated $100 million in revenue last year and employs over 700 people. And the New Jersey Innovation Institute, NJIT’s portal for partnership with industry and government, conducts more than $63 million in economic development activities annually.

The sidewalk kiosks will provide residents and visitors of Newark with free Wi-Fi and other digital services.

The hands-on conference promises to feature 1,500 developers, over 75 speakers, voice development and design courses taught by Amazon staff members and keynotes and panels led by “the best brands in the world,” enabling interactions across a variety of devices and revolutionizing customer engagement and access for all by leveraging voice technologies such as Alexa and chatbots, added Erickson.

The kiosks, which are slated to go up later this year, will provide residents and visitors of Newark with free gigabit Wi-Fi, mobile device charging, phone calls to anywhere in the U.S., access to municipal services, maps and directions and real-time local information on city streets (at no cost to taxpayers). Kiosks will be installed throughout Newark, encompassing areas around Newark Penn Station, the Prudential Center, and along Broad St., Market St., Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Irvine Turner Blvd., an on neighborhood corridors like Clinton Ave., Ferry St., South Orange Ave., and Bloomfield Ave., and in every one of Newark’s five wards. The program will run on Newark Fiber, the city’s public-private gigabit data network administered by NCEDC.

“We get to put some of these beautiful kiosks around our city to begin a journey that we’ve talked about for a while now of making Newark a smart city,” said Mayor Baraka. “We’re super excited here in the city of Newark. I’m happy to be the mayor at a time when Newark is experiencing a renaissance like this.”