The numbers are in, and Camden — the county and its namesake seat — are rising.
In the City of Camden, high-profile projects like the construction of a state-of-the-art practice facility for the Philadelphia 76ers and automaker Subaru’s decision to consolidate its U.S. headquarters at a Camden complex have helped to highlight the municipal comeback.
And across the county an honor roll of large organizations with headquarters or significant presences attests to the region’s attraction: TD Bank’s national headquarters (Cherry Hill); Virtua Hospital (Voorhees); logistics company NFI (Cherry Hill, although it’s planning to move to a new facility in Camden); law firm Archer (Haddonfield); and diversified energy technology company Holtec International (which built a technology campus in Camden City) along with continuing expansion by institutions like Rutgers University, Cooper University Health Care and others.
In April 2018, in a vote of confidence for the city, Subaru of America Inc. unveiled a $118 million, 250,000-square-foot headquarters, along with an adjacent training center. Since 1969, the Japanese automaker had been in Cherry Hill, with two offices in Pennsauken, and a distribution and training center in Florence.
“Subaru has had a long-standing commitment to Camden, providing support to the city for over 30 years,” the company said in a statement, noting such initiatives as Subaru Camden Works, which supports programs like the Camden Schools Foundation and the company’s involvement with organizations like Hopeworks, which focuses on developing youth educational, technological, and entrepreneurial skills; and Respond Inc., a nonprofit that provides job training and other programs.
“Since 2016, 10 Camden organizations have shared approximately $1.6 million in Subaru investments,” according to the company. “Beneficiary programs also include Girls Inc, Kipp Norcross and Whittier Schools, four Habitat homes, Cathedral Kitchen, Joseph’s House, Covenant House and the Remarkable Grads Program which recognizes high school students who graduate despite great obstacles.”
Other organizations have also stepped up their commitment to the city. In July 2018, Cooper University Health Care opened a new 5,500 square-foot addition to its Emergency Department featuring 10 state-of-the-art exam rooms aimed at improving patient experience and reducing wait times.
“Cooper has one of the busiest emergency departments in the region as the only Level 1 Trauma Center in South Jersey,” said Kevin O’Dowd, co-president of Cooper University Health Care. “This addition will help us better serve our community and improve the patient experience in the ED.”
Another project, Holtec International’s $260 million Krishna P. Singh Technology Campus on Camden’s Delaware waterfront, opened in 2017 and “helped revitalize Camden, a former bastion of technology and manufacturing excellence, after five decades of decline,” according to the company.
The nearly 50-acre site houses a large manufacturing plant, a light manufacturing plant, and a seven-story engineering office building. Holtec expects to train and employ more than a thousand workers from Camden and the surrounding areas, “to rejuvenate the manufacturing base in the South Jersey region,” the company said in a statement.
There’s a lot to like about the region, noted Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. “We’re a business-friendly county, we’ve got close proximity to the major city of Philadelphia, and we’ve got an outstanding transit system, thanks to initiatives like the PATCO High Speed Line,” which runs between Philadelphia and points across Camden County.
“In addition to the quality of life delivered by our great educational system, parks and special events, the Camden County Improvement Authority assists businesses in finding loans or grants, and can offer project management and other services to businesses at reduced rates,” he added.
Under the agency’s programs, county professionals can leverage their expertise to offer a suite of construction management and owners representative services. The assistance includes reviews of municipal zoning, compliance reviews of construction plan and specifications, representation at planning and zoning board hearings, and assistance in administering the public bidding process, including recommendations for preparing and awarding contracts.
Cappelli noted that the city of Camden is taking advantage of the federal Opportunity Zone program, which enables certain investments in designated areas to receive beneficial tax treatment. He also praised a state program, the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, with helping to drive “more than $2 billion of private investment into Camden.” The 2013 act merged New Jersey’s economic development incentive programs and clarified the Grow New Jersey Assistance Program (Grow NJ) as the main “job creation” incentive program, with the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program (ERG) serving as the state’s “key developer incentive program,” according to an NJEDA announcement.
The public’s perception of Camden City is also changing, according to Cappelli, thanks to positive developments like a reduced crime rate — which is down 40 percent from 2012, according to the county police department — “and educational opportunities that continue to grow, with more companies bringing their headquarters to Camden.”
There’s also been another kind of perceptional change, he added. For a long time, South Jersey felt like the forgotten part of the state, “but thanks to the efforts of state legislators like Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-6th District, South Jersey is receiving its fair share from Trenton.”