CAMDEN., NJ— Camden residents now have access to more jobs, higher paying wages, safer neighborhoods and better schools thanks to investments made in both the private and public sectors since 2011, according to a new report.
The report was submitted yesterday to the Rowan University Rutgers—Camden Board of Governors by Philadelphia-based economic consulting firm Econsult Solutions, Inc.
It looked at investments in the city’s public safety, education systems, health care institutions, private sector businesses, neighborhoods and transportation systems and the effect those investments had on the city’s health.
According to the report, the city is currently seeing a 28-year low in its unemployment rate [7.9 percent], a 50-year low in crime with the number of crimes falling 68 percent over the past 44 years, an increase in its students testing scores and graduation rates and nearly $60 million invested in the city’s parks and open spaces.
“The structural and systemic changes in public safety and education have had real and tangible effect on the city’s outward image and internal perceptions,” the report stated. “The dramatic improvements in government fiscal health, public safety, and schools have helped create a climate for investments in parks, housing infrastructure, and stimulated private sector investments in the city’s future.”
It also credited a large part Camden’s progress to the $1.4 billion awarded in tax incentives by the state to attract businesses and corporations to Camden. In 2013, the Economic Opportunity Act was signed into law, creating the Grow New Jersey Assistance Program [Grow NJ] and State Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant Program [ERG]. Those programs have a total economic impact of $2.6 billion on the city, according to the report.
“State provided tax credits facilitated investments by companies that was necessary to reboot Camden’s renaissance over the last five years,” the report stated. “[Gron NJ and ERG] have laid the foundation for Camden to rebuild from a position of strength.”
Former New Jersey Governor James Florio has touted the report’s findings, calling its findings uplifting.
“The changes that have occurred in the last year or two have been tremendous,” Florio said on Wednesday. “It's a good, classic case study on how cooperation and good faith results in tangible benefits.”
Florio, who raised his family in Camden and represented the city state legislature and U.S. congress, credited the success to the collaboration between the city’s public, private and philanthropic sectors.
“Its collaboration and a lot of cooperation and understanding that everything is related to everything else,” Florio said.
However, the report’s praise for the tax incentives awarded through the New Jersey Economic Development Association’s [EDA] Grow NJ program is at odds with the top official in the state.
In his State of the State address yesterday Gov. Phil Murphy criticized the EDA tax incentive programs, citing the state comptroller’s audit of the programs released last week.
“The audit revealed bad policy, badly run — a program more likely to have been drawn up in a smoke-filled back room than created for New Jersey’s future. It showed that New Jersey did not implement a serious, strategic plan for creating jobs. It showed a stunning lack of controls to ensure that these tax break programs lived up to their promises,” Murphy said.
The audit found “numerous, significant deficiencies” in the EDA’s management of the tax incentive programs, including a lack of oversight to determine if recipients created the number of jobs they promised — 2,993 jobs that were reportedly created or retained could not be confirmed by the audit.
On Tuesday night, Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders Director Louis Cappelli released a statement firing back at the governor, and defended the tax incentive programs.
“The EDA has been working on these incentives statewide since 1996 and the Governor continues to paint all incentive recipients with a broad, righteous brush. Instead of trying to demonize all of the companies who have worked to be part of a once in a lifetime transformation in Camden, the city should have been celebrated like our counterparts in North Jersey in today’s speech,” Cappelli said.
“Measured by every objective metric, Camden is a success story in the making based on the use of the current EDA incentive program. The results are irrefutable and tangible throughout the city and it wasn’t by happenstance that these changes took place.”
Those incentives awarded through the EDA are set to expire this summer, and state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Monday his office will investigate how those incentives were managed.
“There are many things we still do not know about the historical details of EDA’s incentive programs, but it’s time to start asking some tough questions,” Grewal said in a statement. “If it turns out that taxpayer dollars were distributed in violation of civil or criminal law, I will use the full powers of my office to seek recovery of those funds and ensure that the proper parties are held accountable.”
However, according to the Econsult Solutions report, if tax incentives from the state were to completely disappear, it could be a detriment to the city.
“Camden has made tremendous progress in a short period of time, but these changes are not yet secure, and continued investments by the private and public sectors, including the State of New Jersey, are necessary to ensure that Camden’s emerging platform for growth is not compromised. The social determinants of health — and the city's future — require it,” the report concludes.