I want to add my name to the list calling for the release of the full state police investigation into the removal of Sue Altman from last month’s hearing on New Jersey’s economic incentives. Releasing the full report will make it clear that I had nothing to do with Altman’s removal and any contrary allegation is false.
Altman should have been given an opportunity to speak about the state’s economic incentive programs, if she had made that request, because everyone should have the opportunity to express their views on important public policy issues. I’d have been interested to hear her recommendations for continuing Camden’s renaissance.
While there should be real questions asked about the billions of dollars that were awarded to some of the nation’s wealthiest companies to simply move to, or remain in, desirable communities — firms like J.P. Morgan, Prudential, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, Teva Pharmaceutical, New York Life, Panasonic, Forbes, UPS, Verizon — there can be no doubt that the tax incentives have been an integral part of Camden’s renaissance.
Camden’s comeback over the last decade has been stunning. From dramatically safer streets, better schools, and job opportunities for residents to rebuilt and expanded parks and opportunities for children, Camden is fundamentally better for its residents than it was just a decade ago. That is why President Barack Obama called Camden — which was once the poorest and most violent city in the country — “a symbol of promise for the nation.”
Today, Camden’s drop in overall crime means the city is the safest it has been in 50 years and neighborhoods that heard more gunfire than laughter are bouncing back. Over $190 million has been invested by private developers and government entities to improve the housing stock in Camden, 700 abandoned or blighted structures in Camden have been demolished by local government, and $100 million is being spent by the state, county, and city to create, rehabilitate, and expand parks and open space in the city. An additional $100 million in philanthropic funds have been committed by national, regional, and local institutions to improve neighborhoods, including the $1 million Norcross Foundation, NFI, the Michaels Organization, and American Water, among others, committed to helping Camden-based nonprofits carry out their missions.
Camden’s unemployment rate is at its lowest in at least 28 years, according to state unemployment statistics, in large part due to the commitment of companies that either moved to or expanded in the city as a result of tax incentives. Camden Works, a privately funded workforce initiative, will add to the number of residents who have been hired by Camden companies like Campbell Soup Company, Subaru, American Water, Camden Yard and Steel, EMR, Resintech, Connor Strong & Buckelew, NFI, the Michaels Organization, Cooper University Health Care, the 76ers, L3, US Cold Storage, Contemporary Graphics, Rutgers University, and Rowan University.
And perhaps most important for the city’s future, its education system has been transformed and children have access and opportunities to learn that didn’t exist before. In the 2011-12 academic year, the state found that just three students in the Camden city schools were college-ready — not 3% of Camden’s students, but just three students. Over the last five years, graduation rates have increased to 69% and dropouts have decreased to 10%, according to the Camden City School District.
When discussing tax incentives and Camden, these real-world results and positive trends should be the focus, not Ms. Altman’s removal from the hearing. That is why I support the release of the state police report, so we can put the focus back where it belongs — on Camden rising.
George E. Norcross III is the chairman of the Cooper University Health Care MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper and executive chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew.