VOORHEES Last year's passage of the Economic Opportunity Act rejiggered the formula to give South Jersey access to grants and tax incentives to lure businesses and investors - development carrots that the more heavily populated northern end of the state previously held claim to.
Six months after the measure became law, many say the ripple effect is already being felt regionally. Among them are officials in Camden County and those as far south as Cumberland and Salem Counties who gathered Friday in Voorhees.
"It's already having an impact," Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said at the Southern New Jersey Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Mansion on Main Street. "We are already getting interest from developers and businesses that want to relocate to Camden. We will be creating over a thousand new jobs this year and millions of dollars in new investment."
Cappelli gave a PowerPoint presentation on a large screen highlighting what the act was bringing to his county and others south of Trenton. Among other things, the new law provides up to $175 million in state aid for economic-development projects for the city of Camden and $600 million for qualified residential projects statewide, and allows companies to pursue tax credits to create full-time jobs.
Cappelli said he would announce new projects in Camden and one in Pennsauken under the act in the next 30 days.
"Right now, there are developers and businesses meeting on a daily basis with Cooper's Ferry and with the mayor of Camden," he said. (Cooper's Ferry Partnership is a nonprofit focused on revitalizing and promoting Camden as a place to live, work, visit, and invest in.)
Gov. Christie signed the act into law Sept. 18. It merged five state programs for luring and retaining industry into two and expanded their scope. The Grow New Jersey Assistance Program became the main job-creation program, and the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program provides development incentives.
The formula by which money is administered was revised to better reflect regional differences in population and industry to create more balanced development statewide. That created a larger pool of money for which businesses and potential businesses in South Jersey could be eligible.
"These new programs will help New Jersey to better compete with other states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, which have been aggressively developing innovative incentive programs," David Brogan, first vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said in an e-mail Friday. "Under the act, New Jersey becomes much more attractive than it had been in the past."
The new law supports the small and medium businesses that are more prevalent in rural, South Jersey communities.
"We're not Jersey City. We're not Hoboken," Cappelli said after the breakfast. "We're South Jersey, and many of our projects are much smaller than the projects that take place near the New York region. The lowering of the thresholds was necessary in order for us to attract the type of investment that we can have here."
Three projects for Gloucester County were secured thanks in part to the Economic Opportunity Act: the Paulsboro Marine Terminal, which will go online within the next year and be operated by the South Jersey Port Corp.; a huge redevelopment project in Glassboro; and an expansion surrounding Rowan University.
"We're working so hard with our educational institutions to provide the education that our workforce needs," said Gloucester County Freeholder Heather Simmons, liaison to her county's Department of Economic Development. Businesses "aren't going to come here unless there are people to hire for those jobs."
Struggling urban centers, including Camden, got another lift. The act created Garden State Growth Zones in Camden, Trenton, Paterson, and Passaic, the cities identified as having the lowest median family income in the state. Businesses that move to them receive more incentives with lower minimum thresholds. Additional money was also made available for residential projects in those areas.
"This should help solve the housing crisis that is faced by the residents of low-income communities," said Michael Busler, a finance professor at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. "The geographic areas were expanded, and municipalities that face financial distress were specifically targeted.
"This should be a big help to cities where budgets remain high, and tax revenue has fallen due to a population loss and due to declining property values," he said.
Cumberland County, the state's poorest county in terms of median income and which has large swaths of rural, undeveloped land, has been hosting tours lately for manufacturing and food-processing firms.
"It's already started," Doug Long, a lawyer who serves as county freeholder deputy director, said as he outlined the impact before the business group on Friday.
"We have six companies right now that are going through the process of siting in Cumberland County using the advantages of the act," he said. "There are a lot of incentives, and we're kind of rolling out the red carpet."