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Holtec's Camden project spurs another in Paulsboro

The $260 million tax incentive that lured a power-plant supplier to Camden's waterfront is sending a ripple effect down the Delaware River.

On the site of a former tank farm in Paulsboro Monday,  July 14, 2014, Gov. Christie (left) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney speak about the Holtec deal in Camden, which leads to a new marine terminal in Paulsboro finally being completed. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
On the site of a former tank farm in Paulsboro Monday, July 14, 2014, Gov. Christie (left) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney speak about the Holtec deal in Camden, which leads to a new marine terminal in Paulsboro finally being completed. TOM GRALISH / Staff PhotographerRead more

The $260 million tax incentive that lured a power-plant supplier to Camden's waterfront is sending a ripple effect down the Delaware River.

Officials on Monday confirmed that Holtec International, now based in Evesham, will build its manufacturing plant at the Port of Camden's Broadway Terminal - sparking another company now working there to partner with a long-anticipated port in Paulsboro.

Holt Logistics has struck an agreement with the South Jersey Port Corp. (SJPC) to become the operator of the Port of Paulsboro, also called the Paulsboro Marine Terminal. SJPC, which oversees the Camden terminal, had asked Holt to vacate some of its space on Pier 5 to make room for Holtec's 600,000-square-foot development.

The state Economic Development Authority approved the tax credits, among the largest of awards given in the state, to Holtec on Thursday, the same day SJPC directors accepted the Paulsboro deal.

"It just kind of all coincided and the synergies worked right," said Kevin Castagnola, SJPC executive director and CEO. "The timing was good."

Elected officials, including Gov. Christie, scurried from the Paulsboro site to Camden for two afternoon press conferences to tout the separate, yet intertwined, developments.

At the Port of Camden, beneath a tent facing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, Holtec CEO Krishna P. Singh outlined - for a crowd of Camden officials, Holtec employees, and reporters - what the nuclear power-plant supplier will do for Camden and how he hopes it will aid the struggling city.

"We look at this as our social responsibility," Singh said. "We know we will definitely make a serious effort to make a difference here."

The construction of the facility will create 1,400 temporary jobs and is expected to be complete within four years, Singh said.

After the news conference, Singh said that while the agreement with the state promises 400 jobs (235 of them new), he expects to employ closer to 3,000 people five years into operation. He said 1,000 of those jobs would be engineers and 2,000 would be in labor.

Addressing some criticism over whether Camden residents will have a shot at those jobs, Singh said he wants to work with Camden schools to develop training and apprenticeship programs as a pipeline to employment, similar to a program the company has in Pittsburgh.

At the event, Christie said Singh's commitment is the "largest single investment of private capital in the history of Camden."

Christie hinted at other announcements that would benefit Camden, likely also linked to the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, which created the tax incentives. "I know today is a proud moment," he said, "and there will be a number of other moments as we move forward."

Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) described Holtec as a "titan of energy" and said it was an ideal partner for the city, which once boasted thousands of industrial jobs. "We're going back to the future," he said. "A new day is dawning for the invincible city."

Singh said the decision to come to Camden was partially the economic incentive - about 50 percent of the company's costs will be covered by the state - along with a partnership agreement with Public Service Electric & Gas.

Staying in New Jersey also means 200 Evesham-based engineers will not have to decide whether to move to South Carolina, another state Holtec considered.

Singh, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, sits on the board of trustees at Cooper University Hospital. He responded to a question about what role Cooper chairman and South Jersey Democratic leader George E. Norcross III had in the deal by saying Norcross encouraged him to consider Camden.

Norcross, who is on Holtec's board of directors, "is pushing Camden all the time, so I listen to him, but he didn't bring any agreements like PSE&G did," Singh said.

Singh said the company, which developed a model for underground nuclear fuel storage tanks, will manufacture components for the tanks in Camden.

Holtec also will use Camden as a testing facility for a new type of modular reactor. No nuclear materials will be at the facility.

"Maybe you'll be able to say that nuclear power's rebirth occurred in Camden," Singh said, by creating "a clean, unimpeachably safe source of energy that will no longer be a scare."

Miles south, officials also were betting the alignment of agreements would bring vitality to Paulsboro, an industrial borough with its own share of struggles.

The announcement by Holt Logistics to operate the port, paired with expected construction of a wharf, was a welcome confirmation that the terminal is indeed materializing.

Dignitaries in 2009 broke ground on the terminal, on 190 acres where Mantua Creek meets the Delaware River, and originally anticipated a 2012 opening. The project, its architects say, has been slowed by economic conditions.

Mayor W. Jeffery Hamilton said community members have been "waiting for the jobs. But right now this announcement is very big for this community."

"They thought it was more or less for political reasons," Hamilton said. "Now, this is proof that it is going to happen."

While Holt will oversee the operations, officials have not yet secured customers to use the site. Castagnola said the cargo likely would be break-bulk.

Holt handles refrigerated and break-bulk cargoes in Gloucester City. It also accepts container and break-bulk materials at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in Philadelphia.

Leo Holt, the company's president, said the firm would invest $10 million in the port, bringing equipment, cranes, and technology to the site. The state, through bonds and aid, has committed $175 million to the redevelopment. Of the space, 150 acres are currently ready for use, Castagnola said. The other acreage is still being primed.

Holt said the company began seriously considering giving up some of its space in Camden after learning about Holtec's interest in Camden.

"Although no one wants to ever be displaced - a project that is that big, and that noble, and that inspirational, we were happy to," Holt said.

While officials first said the Paulsboro port could boast as many as 2,500 jobs, it was unclear how many would ultimately arrive. Holt said it projected 850 new permanent jobs when its operations were fully underway, including loaders and distribution center employees.

The project's proponents said that number is expected to grow as customers use the terminal. "That number always had the caveat of depending on what the mix on tenancy was," Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D., Gloucester) said.

Burzichelli, a former Paulsboro mayor who has helped facilitate the project since its conceptual infancy in 1997, called the port a "big regional deal." The site was once home to BP Oil and Essex Chemical operations. Officials credited SJPC's late leader, Joseph Balzano, who died in 2011, for setting the project in motion.

The Gloucester County Improvement Authority, which is developing the terminal, is set to vote on a construction bid for the 850-linear-foot wharf this week.

The lowest offer, according to SJPC documents, is $46.6 million, by Camden-based Weeks Marine.