I was born in Camden 65 years ago and over my lifetime have watched its decline as businesses and residents fled the city. For the first time I see real hope for the city and its residents. This hope stems from public policy measures put in place to spur development and as a result, help the overall community. These measures are working; the proof is indisputable.
As the region’s largest business organization, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey supported the Grow NJ and the Economic Redevelopment & Growth programs as they moved through the legislative process and were ultimately signed into law. However, there has been a great deal of controversy, hyperbole and discussion regarding tax credits awarded by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority over the past 10 years. These incentives have been the subject of a report issued by the state auditor, as directed by Gov. Phil Murphy, and hearings of a special task force created by the governor.
We view these programs as critical tools needed to attract and retain businesses in our state — a state that is consistently at the bottom of the list as one whose policies are conducive to small businesses, and the top of the list in terms of the tax burden on its residents and businesses. New Jersey is an expensive state in which to live and do business; that is why we need to incentivize businesses to locate, stay and expand in our state. We need the jobs they generate.
Camden has been in desperate need of a catalyst to bring businesses back to the city. After reaching a peak number of jobs in 1950, there was a continuous decline until today. With this industrial decline, population plummeted almost 40 percent over 70 years. As a lifelong resident of South Jersey, I witnessed the fits and starts of prior efforts by the state to revitalize Camden, including spending taxpayer dollars to build the Riverfront State Prison on prime real estate. All of these efforts failed. Prior to the creation of Grow NJ, few businesses in Southern New Jersey qualified for tax credits while businesses in Northern New Jersey were qualified for and took full advantage of the tax credits available for many years.
Today, there is a different feel in the city; it can best be defined as hope. The new buildings on the waterfront and in the heart of the city, new housing construction, neighborhood revitalization, investment in schools, and the addition of parks and green spaces throughout the city are all tangible signs that Camden has emerged from its bleak past. The economic incentives of Grow NJ and the Economic Redevelopment & Growth programs have finally reversed the downward spiral of the city.
Other signs of Camden’s resurgence are reflected in the socio-economic statistics that demonstrate the benefits of a robust business community. Over just a six-year period (2012 -2018): the crime rate has dropped by 59 percent; K-12 graduation rates have increased by 40 percent, with a 69 percent graduation rate; drop-out rates have been reduced by half, from 21 percent to 10 percent; poverty rates have fallen five points; unemployment has declined from 17.8 percent to 9.7 percent (an astounding 45 percent reduction); and the percentage of residents with no access to health insurance has also dropped, from 21.7 percent to 16.5 percent. All these measures are imperative to maintaining a climate in which businesses and residents can thrive.
Incentives are doing the job for which they were intended — retaining and attracting companies and jobs in our state. Still, the Chamber believes there is always room for improvement. A rigorous evaluation of all incentive programs is consistently needed and essential to assuring New Jersey’s return on investment is meaningful and legitimate. Simply put, we support added oversight by state government on these programs.
I encourage our policymakers to look at the broad picture of incentives; to examine and implement changes needed to consistently implement and monitor the incentive programs; and to remember that they are an important tool in the state’s efforts to attracting and retaining business. Let’s continue to carry the momentum forward and grow hope in the City of Camden.
Debra P. DiLorenzo
President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey
published gloucestercitynews.net | May 15, 2019