Camden Mayor Frank Moran said Wednesday that he plans to create a city office to help residents find long-term employment at local firms.
"I will be rolling out an office that is recognized as Camden Works under my administration," Moran said. "That is going to serve as a feeder for these corporations, or for that matter any job opportunity that comes to the city of Camden."
Moran acknowledged that the office is still in the idea stage and said he hopes to have it ready by January 2019. He said there will be incentives for local firms to contribute. "Rest assured, if I put something together, I'm going to make sure that we get the resources," Moran said. "I can't put that strain on taxpayers."
Moran announced his plans to about 230 people at a work summit hosted by U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D., N.J.) at Rowan University's Camden campus. The summit included three panels with business leaders such as Joseph Balzano, CEO of European Metal Recycling (EMR Eastern).
More than 50 employers and educational institutions, such as American Water, Subaru, and Rutgers-Camden, staffed tables at the event, talking to prospective job applicants.
The job fair and summit were planned after Holtec CEO Krishna Singh drew harsh criticism last week for his comments about his struggles attracting, training, and retaining workers who live in Camden. Singh said many in the city's workforce "don't show up to work" and that "some get into drugs."
Singh later apologized. But his comments sparked outrage and protests last week and raised questions about the $260 million tax credit that Holtec received to relocate from Evesham to Camden.
Critics say his comments exposed the shortcomings of public subsidies for redevelopment projects in Camden. Twenty-nine firms have received $1.5 billion in tax breaks to relocate or expand in Camden.
Holtec was notably missing from the event Wednesday, but Moran told reporters he looks forward to meeting with Singh.
"We have to talk about how we can meet his needs, whatever those needs may be," Moran said.
"One comment doesn't dictate how everybody feels," Moran added. "Everybody has already been committed from day one to really giving opportunity to Camden.
"My job is to make sure we line these folks up for these opportunities so that no one has an excuse as to say, 'Why can't I hire in Camden?'"
One of the groups in the job fair was Hopeworks, which provides services and training for teens and young adults in web development and more.
Executive director Dan Rhoton said he reached out to Holtec to offer potential employees, because he said his trainees have had a 12-month retention rate of over 85 percent for the last 12 months of tracking.
"They need people, and we've got people that everyone wants to hire," Rhoton said. "Anyone that's having that much trouble hiring in Camden, they need some help."
Another group that could buttress the mayor's initiative is the county's One-Stop Career Center, which Freeholder Jonathan Young Sr. said has helped develop a pipeline for local workers to find employers in Camden.
"We're making strides," Young said. "If the businesses tell us exactly what they want, and don't mask or hide anything, then it works."
The One-Stop Career Center works with EMR, which employs 93 city residents, comprising 45 percent of its workforce, said Balzano.
EMR received $148 million in tax credits for Camden-based firms, behind only Holtec and American Water. Balzano said he wants to hire 200 more workers in the next six months for EMR's new used-vehicle recycling facility in Camden.
"We want to weave ourselves deeply in the fabric of the community," Balzano said. "Being able to work in the same area in which you live is a great thing for everyone."
American Water has two full-time employees from Camden, as well as 11 in its contract service groups and 55 working on constructing its new headquarters, spokesman Ruben Rodriguez said. He said the firm is working with Camden schools to attract more applicants.