CAMDEN, NJ — The Camden Business Association (CBA) has a long to-do list in order to reinvigorate the small business ethos in Camden, but President Ray Jones said “acting as a bridge” is near the top.

“We want to be the liaison with the larger companies, entities and anchor institutions in the area such as Subaru and Campbell's Soup and connect them to the small start bridging that gap and, for instance, provide supplier diversity and encourage local sourcing,” Jones told TAPinto Camden.

Close to 885,000 small businesses make up the Garden State — employing 1.8 million and making up 49.8% of NJ employees.

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However, the CBA has found that the figure is higher in Camden County, where 53 to 58% of employment comes from small and diverse businesses.

If we invest in the small business community it means there would be more jobs because small businesses do the bulk of the hiring,” said Nichelle Pace, who joined the CBA as a Vice President in July 2018.

Pace said the reach of small business investing won't be known until the CBA has taken stock.

Thus, the non-profit released its “Business Collaboration & Small Business Advocacy” plan, which outlines an array of initiatives, including the creation of a business and jobs database, which would be made available to all city and county businesses, programs, companies and institutions.

“Through our portal we hope to release this year, we can actually have a snapshot of where we are today,” Pace said, noting that estimates place the figure close to 3,000 businesses in Camden. “We would collect it annually moving forward and have some real metrics to look at.”

Not just construction

The CBA, formerly the Camden Business & Contractors Association, previously served in more of a construction-focused capacity. 

Jones said this March — two years since the re-brand — will culminate in an array of programs, policies and solutions working to create jobs in the South Jersey city.

Among them, the CBA said, is to update the city’s Affirmative Action Ordinance — which reads the same from 1983.

“Our focus as a city is not just construction now, it is also goods and professional services and our laws should reflect that,” said Jones.

In the interest of full disclosure, Jones said that he serves as a board member with Camden's Affirmative Action Review Council.

Moreover, the CBA wants to survey residents every year by ward in order to asses the community's business and service needs. The team has already found that locals and stakeholders have expressed an interest for a grocery store, a pet store, coffee shops, a produce store and a day spa. 

More local initiatives

In the next one to three years, the CBA also hopes to establish an office of technology and innovation.

“This new office would be a brain trust of local [and] regional technology and innovation leaders who recommend and manage smart city initiatives and projects,” reads an excerpt from the CBA's plan.

Pace believes taking advantage of sources across the river — as Camden is considered within the Greater Philadelphia Area — is also critical.

She said since small businesses are where the majority of job growth is, and thus should be where stakeholders turn their attention.

“Cities like New York outpaced the entire state of New Jersey. They're at 30% when it comes to small and diverse business inclusion in terms of their outsourcing,” she said. “That means those cities are turning over dollars in their community. In New Jersey, [people] rage about high taxes, but some solutions aren't just about lowering taxes and cutting back. Some solutions involve increasing our tax base right here." 

As for tangible additions to the city so far, Jones pointed to the NJIT Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). The center, which recently moved an office to Camden, provides counseling, training and technical resources to NJ-based businesses at no cost.

“So that’s an example of a program that was only being run in North Jersey and the Newark area,” said Jones.

“Over the past 18 months, we worked hard to [Statewide Director Raul Mercado] to connect with people from either the county or the city, as well as some development organizations,” he added. 

Sometimes, Jones has found, it’s just been a matter of making the connections and letting it be known that Camden is prime for more business.