Guadagno visits Camden on an agriculture tour

Posted: August 09, 2012

When Kim Guadagno visited Camden on Wednesday, her getup - a white lab coat and hairnet - meant business.

The attire permitted the lieutenant governor to examine the inner workings of a specialty food processing facility. The trip to Comarco Products in Waterfront South marked Stop No. 2 of a recently launched "agribusiness tour," the latest in Guadagno's business excursions across New Jersey.

Several workers hastily peeled plump eggplants as Guadagno - along with Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and state Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher - started their walk through the noisy factory, which prepares and flash-freezes vegetables and sauces to sell to food distributors across the country.

Co-owner Tom Hoversen guided officials through rooms of employees working at conveyor belts and preparing and packaging products, illustrating a local niche business at work.

Eighty-one percent of the Waterfront South company's 57 employees, including Hoversen, are Camden residents.

Guadagno's agriculture-specific business tour, which began Tuesday in Somerset County, will include several other stops this month to highlight the importance to the state's economy of agriculture, as well as the companies that add value to farm products.

The approximately 10,300 farms in the state generated sales of about $1.1 billion in 2011, according to the lieutenant governor's office.

"Camden is a major piece of that puzzle," said Guadagno, who was acting governor Wednesday while Gov. Christie was out of state.

Comarco's vegetables are all domestic, Hoversen said, adding that he buys in-state when vegetables are in season. The Department of Agriculture connected Comarco Products with a Vineland farm that now supplies some of the company's 6.5 million pounds of eggplant processed each year, officials said.

"Not only are they staying in Camden, using New Jersey products to stay in business in Camden, but they're looking to expand in Camden," Guadagno said.

Hoversen, who co-owns the company with his son, Eric, and a partner in the Midwest, said he was looking to augment the 43,000-square-foot facility by acquiring neighboring land. The company plans to expand the building by 20,000 square feet for a freezer, after a remediation project next door.

Comarco has expanded five times since 1991. After opening in 1977, the company rented space until it purchased a former Dietz & Watson facility at its current location, Fifth and Jackson Streets, in 1989. But the company was challenged with rebuilding the factory after a 1990 fire, started by an oven explosion, burned it to the ground.

Guadagno met with the company's owners privately before the tour. Her trips are intended to assess the state's business climate and to learn how the state can help businesses grow and create jobs, a spokesperson said.

Last month, Guadagno toured several of the state's "fastest-growing" businesses, and in June she traveled to life-sciences businesses. In 2011, she conducted a statewide tour of 100 businesses.

Following the quick walk-through, Guadagno signed a bill in Blackwood designating a section of Route 42 in Camden and Gloucester Counties as the "Route 42 Purple Heart Memorial Highway" to honor service members.

Contact Angelo Fichera at 856-779-3814, or on Twitter @AJFichera.

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