Camden community leaders pressed for minority hiring information from companies that received New Jersey tax incentives, during a waterfront news conference Thursday, near the site of a construction project that won approval for $245 million in tax credits.
“We’re asking for documentation and reports that show … the residents who are working at these companies," said Camden County NAACP president Kevin Barfield, joined by a small group of faith and labor leaders and community activists.
Democratic elected officials in Camden have lambasted the investigation – put in motion by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy – as an attack on the city’s efforts to combat crime, and attract new businesses. “This kind of progress happens by working together and not by vilifying people or institutions,” Mayor Frank Moran and other officeholders said in a statement Wednesday. “Yet that is exactly what the governor is doing. He is conducting a proxy war against Camden.”
Political power broker and insurance executive George Norcross III – whose company’s new office tower provided the backdrop for the news conference – went so far as to call the investigation ”McCarthy-like" during a lengthy interview Wednesday with the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
But Barfield voiced his support for the inquiry, and said Camden’s residents “are being left out” of the program’s benefits.
“Our position is that we need transparency and accountability," Barfield said, “and we agree that the governor’s task force should be evaluating the effectiveness of the program.”
In January, a state audit of the incentive programs overseen by the Economic Development Authority (EDA) found “numerous significant deficiencies” with the agency’s oversight, including its ability to verify that companies actually created jobs in exchange for the tax credits.
While companies that win approval for the credit commit to retaining and creating jobs, they are not obligated to hire locally.
Sue Altman, state director for New Jersey Working Families, a grassroots organizing group, recently asked the EDA for documents about the “diversity and inclusion goals and accomplishments” for companies that received Grow New Jersey awards. The records request encompassed hiring data for minority, disabled and veteran employees.
The response from the EDA: The agency said it didn’t have any documents that matched that description.
Barfield said the city of Camden should be gathering such data, too – including information about employee retention and job training, and whether hires can “actually move up” the ladder. “We want to see those numbers,” he said.
Last September, Moran announced a “Camden Works” initiative, aimed at matching Camden workers to companies. The announcement followed controversial comments by Holtec CEO Krishna Singh earlier that month about the city residents and their willingness to “show up to work.” Holtec won approval for $260 million in tax credits to build a technology campus in Camden.
Barfield said he has attempted follow-up discussions on Camden Works, to no avail. “I’ve tried to meet with the mayor a number of times… it seems like he refuses to be available to talk about these important issues,” Barfield said.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Messages seeking comment from Holtec were not returned.
“George Norcross has long said that the revitalization of Camden will not be complete unless and until the people of Camden are included in its renaissance,” spokesman Dan Fee said Thursday evening.
As chair of Camden’s Cooper Health System, Norcross “has instituted a medical coding training program for high school kids with guaranteed jobs placement,” Fee said, “and the health-care system raised the minimum wage to $15 [an hour], which had a direct benefit to its workers who live in Camden.”