CAMDEN, NJ— George E. Norcross III addressed the recent criticisms of state tax incentives in a wide-ranging speech delivered to some of the city’s most influential players.
Norcross, who serves as chairman of Cooper Health System’s Board of Trustees and executive chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, is widely regarded as one of the most powerful figures in New Jersey politics, was the keynote speaker at Cooper Ferry Partnership’s 2019 Annual Meeting.
The annual event, which aims to highlight the achievements in the City of Camden over the past year, was held Tuesday afternoon in the Walt Whitman Lobby at the BB&T Pavilion.
In addition to Norcross, other speakers included Camden Mayor Frank Moran, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership CEO Kris Kolluri, Cooper Foundation President and CEO Susan Bass Levin and Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli.
Close to 500 community members, businesses and organizations attended — the most in its history, said Bass Levin.
In his speech, Norcross said Camden was going through an “extraordinary renaissance,” and credited much of it to former Governor Chris Christie and his efforts to pave the way for renaissance schools in Camden, the formation of Camden County Police Department, and the tax incentive programs that have attracted a number of businesses to the city.
“There is no person more responsible for what is happening in this city than Governor Christie,” Norcross said. “He saved this city.”
He also addressed the recent criticism of the state’s tax incentive programs — specifically the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Grow NJ program that has attracted businesses like Holtec International, Subaru, American Water and his company Conner Strong & Buckelew to move to Camden.
“What folks think when they read most media accounts is that the state stood up and wrote [the companies] a check for $300 million and said happy days are here again, that’s not the case,” Norcross said. “Everyone of these companies has had to put up the entire amount of money to fund their construction and their occupancy, and they’re all betting on the City of Camden.”
“If I was a taxpayer, and I saw people that were putting up that kind of money betting on the city, I’d have a great deal of confidence,” he said, calling the commitment made to the city by businesses that have moved or are moving to Camden “multi-generational.”
Norcross also said that tax incentives had fulfilled their purpose, facilitating a “resurgence and a rejuvenation” of Camden, and that it was now time to pare them back.
“I don’t think the taxpayers of our state thought they would be giving tax incentives and grants to development in Jersey City, which has Manhattan across the river … or frankly Atlantic City, which has casinos,” Norcross said. “Camden has none of the above, and still has managed to be a part of an enormous resurgence going on.”
The political power broker closed his remarks by stating that he believed Camden was 10 years away from no longer on having to rely on budget subsidies from the state, adding that this moment in time was the city’s “last chance.”
“Sometimes you create such a level of enthusiasm, such a level of buzz, that you have to perform at a higher level because if you don’t there will be consequences to everything that is going on in the city,” Norcross said. “Failure is not an option, we will not fail, we have not failed.”
“I think there are hard decisions and hard choices coming our way, but I think with the continued cooperation of the state, county and municipal government, our schools will be in a better place, the citizens of this city will be in a better place, its population will grown, and it will restore itself … to the epicenter of South Jersey.”