Redd forms team to promote business in Camden

Camden Hero Award recipient Wilbert Mitchell of Respond Inc. gets a hug at Adventure Aquarium. Also recognized: the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and physician Jeffrey Brenner.
Camden Hero Award recipient Wilbert Mitchell of Respond Inc. gets a hug at Adventure Aquarium. Also recognized: the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and physician Jeffrey Brenner.
Posted: February 25, 2011

Camden is open for business, Mayor Dana Redd declared Thursday, announcing the formation of a team to focus on economic policy and expedited development approvals to make the city more business-friendly.

Redd outlined the plans at the annual joint meeting of two nonprofits that work for the revitalization of the city, the Greater Camden Partnership and the Cooper's Ferry Development Association. The two groups announced their merger.

The new Business Growth and Development Team, which will operate under the Mayor's Office, will offer businesses a "one-stop shop," city spokesman Robert Corrales said.

Vincent Basara, coordinator of the city's Urban Enterprise Zone, was named the team's ombudsman. Camden's UEZ, in existence since 1984, provides tax incentives and other benefits to businesses. Gov. Christie has proposed eliminating New Jersey's 39 Urban Enterprise Zones in 37 cities, including Camden, to save $100 million annually.

In the meeting, held at Adventure Aquarium, Redd praised the city for having "fiscal prudence" and twice said Camden was New Jersey's poster child for how "to do things right."

Despite a deficit of more than $25 million at the start of the 2011 budget process, Redd said, good management enabled Camden to score $69 million of the total $250 million state transitional aid given to municipalities.

"Because we practiced fiscal prudence and kept our promise to be transparent throughout our budget process, we were able to get a lion's share of the transitional aid," she said.

The city has yet to adopt a budget for fiscal 2011. Redd's proposed amended budget, which included a 23 percent hike in the property-tax levy after the layoff of more than 300 city employees, was struck down by City Council this month. Council's amended budget, which includes a 10 percent increase in the levy, is awaiting approval by the state Division of Local Government Services.

Before addressing the city's development projects and plans, Redd told an audience of more than 200 that public safety was her No. 1 priority, and that she intended to retain as many public-safety workers as possible.

"But given the economic realities, the city could not afford to stay with the status quo," she said. "And that is why pension and health-care reform at the state level are so critical."

The crowd included former Gov. Jim Florio; state, county, and city politicians; and many business owners and other key business players in the city, many of whom the mayor acknowledged.

"Our anchor institutions are key to economic health and civil pride," Redd said.

She then spouted a list of current projects, such as the $220 million investment in the Cooper Plaza neighborhood to build a patient-care pavilion; the construction of the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University; Campbell Soup's expansion; and the Roosevelt Plaza project, which is scheduled to be built after the Parkade Building is demolished in March.

Redd also said the city needed to establish housing opportunities for all income levels through grants the city has received.

The merger of the Greater Camden Partnership and the Cooper's Ferry Development Association made sense because both promote economic development and already were working together on a few projects, including the Salvation Army's Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, said David Foster, chief executive officer of the Greater Camden Partnership. He will serve as president of the merged organization.

No jobs were lost. The new entity will be broken into three divisions: development, neighborhood initiatives, and downtown and policy.

Honored at the meeting with Camden Hero Awards were the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and its leader, physician Jeffrey Brenner, and Respond Inc.'s executive director, Wilbert Mitchell. Barry Harris was recognized as the Camden Special Services District's employee of the year.


Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com.

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