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SAYREVILLE, NJ-The local economy here is shifting from chocolate chips to computer chips. When Keebler Foods shut down its Sunshine Biscuit plant last year, it left a hole in this Middlesex County community’s economy. Building owner Shaimon Eckstein promptly spent $5 million to reposition the one million-sf property for telecom and e-commerce businesses, Insignia/ESG jumped on board as leasing agent and the building is off and running as a multi-tenant high-tech center.

Indeed, Eckstein plans to spend another $15 million over the next six months to bring in high-density electric and fiber-optic lines to the Garden State Technology Center, as it’s called. And state officials liked the idea so much that when the marketing program for the building was unveiled last week, the Whitman administration itself unveiled a grant program aimed at creating a series of so-called cyberdistricts throughout the state.

“This will soon be the Internet heart of Middlesex County,” Gov. Christie Whitman told attendees at the project’s unveiling at a news conference.

As far as the new state grant program, several municipalities have quickly lined up for the cash, including New Brunswick, Elizabeth and Franklin Twp. Garden State Technology Center is well beyond the grant stage, but Sayreville itself is asking for $50,000 in planning funds with an eye on transforming a 937-acre waterfront site near Garden State Technology Center. The site includes the former NL Industries property, a brownfields plot in need of remediation.

“We will use the money to develop a plan to draw high-tech companies to the NL property,” according to Middlesex County freeholder director David Crabiel. County officials recently indicated they would spend $19 million to buy the site, although if the proposed sale falls through for any reason, condemnation has been mentioned as an option.

David Meyers of Insignia/ESG, Garden State Technology Center’s exclusive leasing agent, indicates that telecom, especially Web-hosting companies are being sought. The facility has a parking lot that can accommodate up to 1,000 vehicles.

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