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Urban farm and mortgage firm latest in line for N.J. tax breaks to move to Camden

AeroFarms would build an indoor hydroponic farm in the city modeled on its operation in Newark, which it calls the “world’s largest vertical farm.”

This story contains a correction: Sun Bank has not relocated its headquarters to Camden, as the original version reported.  

Two very different New Jersey businesses -- an online mortgage broker  and an urban farming operation -- are in line for  sizable tax incentives from the state's Economic Development Authority this week to locate operations in Camden.

E Mortgage Management LLC of Cherry Hill  is awaiting word on a Grow New Jersey Assistance Program Grant that would award it $23.6 million in tax incentives over 10 years if it relocates and builds in Camden.

AeroFarms Camden LLC is seeking a similar grant of $11.14 million over 10 years to build an indoor hydroponic farm in Camden modeled on its operation in Newark, which its website calls the "world's largest vertical farm."

The EDA is scheduled to vote on both applications at its Thursday meeting in Trenton.

AeroFarms did not return a request for comment Tuesday, but its website says it grows "leafy greens and herbs" in a 70,000-square-foot urban building "without sunlight, soil, or pesticides."  Nutrients are misted directly onto the plants' roots, which are illuminated by LEDs.

The company has been operating since 2015 in Newark, where it grows watercress, bok choy, kale, arugula, red-leaf lettuce, and other baby salad greens. Its process is, according to AeroFarms, "130 times more productive than field farming." The Newark operation current employs about 60 workers.

E Mortgage's president and chief operating officer, Kevin Crichton, said Tuesday that his company, with operations in 35 states, had been in discussions with the EDA for more than a year. "We feel pretty hopeful," said Crichton. "We're told that if it makes it to the board for a vote, it's got a good chance."

Crichton said his firm, which projects $1.5 billion in loans this year, became interested in the tax benefits of relocating to Camden when it saw the sizable incentives the EDA has awarded to other South Jersey firms, including Subaru, New Jersey American Water Co., and Holtec.

Created in 2002, E Mortgage leased 12,000 square feet of office space two years ago at 3 Executive Campus in Cherry Hill, and soon expanded to 17,000 square feet. Crichton said the company, which has about 100 employees, is looking to about double the office space it has now.

But Camden's waterfront, which Holtec, New Jersey American Water, and the 76ers (for their practice facility), now or will soon call home, has already become too expensive for E Mortgage, according to Crichton. He said  the company was looking instead to build along the Admiral Wilson Boulevard, near Campbell Soup and Subaru's corporate offices.

"It's a much better environment than it once was, and it's really convenient," said Crichton, who cited PATCO trains, NJ Transit, and Routes 30 and 676, which he said should make the new offices accessible for its current workforce.

He said the company chose not to relocate to the Navy Yard or Florida because it wanted to stay in New Jersey.

The tax credits are contingent on the companies' making capital investments, and on the retention and creation of a certain number of jobs. They are paid annually over a decade after the companies complete construction.