Did Camden residents benefit from New Jersey’s big tax breaks for businesses?
It’s a question that community organizers and political activists have been asking for months — and one that the state’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) has taken up, as well.
A new EDA analysis of construction jobs, obtained by The Inquirer, provides a sliver of an answer. The analysis examines 1,098 construction jobs generated by 25 tax-break projects in Camden County.
It found that 76% of those jobs went to New Jersey residents, 25% to Camden County residents, and 2%, or 27 jobs, to residents of Camden. That’s according to an internal memo sent to EDA board chair Kevin Quinn from the agency’s CEO, Tim Sullivan.
The EDA’s board was presented with the data on Thursday in Trenton, during its regular monthly meeting.
“As requested by you at a recent EDA Board meeting, the EDA staff is conducting an analysis of the permanent and construction jobs created by projects supported by Grow NJ tax credits in Camden,” Sullivan wrote in a Sept. 6 memo.
“Due to limitations in the current statute, the EDA is unable to require companies or contractors to provide detailed demographic data on their employees,” Sullivan wrote. “As it relates to permanent jobs created by Grow NJ, we have requested that recipient companies provide certain data voluntarily. Responses to that request are coming in, and we recently issued a reminder to companies requesting they respond by the end of this month.”
But to analyze construction jobs, the EDA already had access to a data set on workers. Under prevailing wage laws, “construction contractors working on EDA projects are required to submit regular reports known as ‘CPR’ (certified payroll reports), which include the zip code of the employees being paid wages on EDA projects,” the memo said.
The analysis is limited to a snapshot of that data. It relied on payroll reports filed around the midpoint of a construction project, according to the memo, which means that “certain trades/activities could be under-represented in the sample," such as foundation work or window installation.
Camden is one of the poorest cities in the state, and businesses pledging to invest and relocate have won approval for about $1.6 billion in tax credit awards since 2013, when Gov. Chris Christie signed the Economic Opportunity Act. The legislation revamped the state’s corporate incentive programs, and Christie, along with George E. Norcross III, the South Jersey power broker and businessman, championed the tax credits and accompanying development as a way to bring about a Camden “renaissance.”
But those programs are now embroiled in controversy and multiple investigations, following a scathing state audit in January that identified oversight problems at the EDA, including the agency’s ability to verify whether companies created the jobs they’d promised in return for the incentives. Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed legislation to extend the programs, which expired July 1.
“Any incentive program must contain assurances that awards will benefit not just large companies, but also local residents and the communities in which they live,” Murphy said in a statement on Thursday, adding that he is hopeful other tax-credit recipients will provide jobs data to the EDA “as soon as possible.”
Camden public officials have defended the role of tax-break projects in the city, holding up Camden’s 6.8% unemployment rate in May — a near 30-year low — as a signal of success.
On Thursday afternoon, Camden Mayor Frank Moran and Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. issued statements rebutting the EDA analysis. Cappelli said the report under-counted construction jobs, and didn’t account for other employment opportunities on work sites, such as security and maintenance positions, “effectively rendering that whole EDA report meaningless.”
Both Moran and Cappelli referenced several construction projects in Camden that they said employed nearly 200 city residents, and therefore undercut the EDA’s analysis. (
“EDA has just received Mayor Moran’s letter and the accompanying data, and will take time to analyze it before responding any further,” spokesperson Darryl Isherwood said.
In a letter to the EDA last month, Moran said the tax credit law “has been a driving force to attract businesses to Camden.” He cited employment data collected from those companies by the nonprofit Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, showing "at least 1,250 Camden residents are working in these entities,” according to the letter.
In a statement, Camden County spokesperson Dan Keashen said that a jobs portal, launched by Cooper’s Ferry in August, lists more than 2,000 jobs “from every public and private anchor institution in the city.”
“In short, with the hiring of local residents in [Economic Opportunity Act] campuses chronicled by the mayor, there is a lot being done to hire local and more to come as the city continues its transformation,” Keashen said.