The secret to revitalizing New Jersey's urban areas might be indebted college graduates.
A group of urban state legislators are proposing a bill that if signed by Gov. Christie would give $7,000 tuition reimbursement to young professionals who commit to live for two years within a designated neighborhood in either Camden, Trenton or Jersey City.
"This is to encourage young professionals to be part of the economic rebirth of the city," said Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D- Camden), a co-sponsor of the bill making its way through the legislative process. (It just came out of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee with a 5-2 vote.)
The pilot is to be administered by the state Urban Enterprise Zone Authority, which was established to stimulate economic development in struggling areas, along with the help of the state Department of Treasury and the state Department of Community Affairs. Businesses in urban enterprise zones have a reduced 3.5 percent sales tax on goods and services - half the usual rate.
Those businesses already in the UEZ would be entitled to receive 100 percent tax credits for contributions made to the "Neighborhood Scholar Revitalization Student Loan Reimbursement Fund," Fuentes said.
"It's a win, win for corporations," he said, explaining that businesses who get he tax breaks through contributions could also hire the educated young professionals who come to Camden because of the tuition reimbursement.
At the end of the two years, the young city residents would receive the tuition reimbursement.
And then what? How does the city get them to stay?
In my article published earlier this year's on Camden's downward spiral, a big issue that came up was the brain drain, or the economically-stable drain. The theory for many in Camden has been, once they can afford to leave the leave. Many young professionals who do try out urban life also end up leaving once they have school-aged children.
So why wouldn't these young professionals who would essentially come to Camden out of need to re-pay student loans not flee with the money once they have it?
"We are experiencing a renaissance with (Mayor) Dana Redd," Fuentes tells me.
With the state taking over the schools and the new metro force, Fuentes says, Camden will be a much better place. People will want to stay after those two years, he said.
The neighborhood scholars program is being modeled after similar programs in Detroit and in Niagara Falls, NY, Fuentes said.
To qualify for the New Jersey program, if signed into law, young professionals would have to show proof of a degree from a two- or four-year accredited higher education institution and an outstanding student loan indebtedness of at least $7,000.