Prospect of jobs draws thousands to Camden site

Job-seekers jockey for applications at the planned site of Acts Industries L.L.C. at East State Street and River Road. The company makes modular temporary housing units.
Job-seekers jockey for applications at the planned site of Acts Industries L.L.C. at East State Street and River Road. The company makes modular temporary housing units. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 16, 2013

The news that a company coming to Camden would be accepting applications for as many as 1,000 positions brought double that number of people to a job fair whose organizers combined it with a political rally Monday afternoon.

Amir Khan, a Camden mayoral candidate, hosted the ribbon-cutting for Acts Industries L.L.C., a maker of modular temporary housing units that is leasing a former factory building at East State Street and River Avenue.

Khan, who said he has no financial stake in the company, said he was a friend of Acts owner Irv Richter, who is also chairman and chief executive of the Evesham-based construction management company Hill International.

Khan, who last year failed in a bid to open a charter school catering to suburban children, said he persuaded the businessman to locate Acts, a subsidiary of AlphaGen International, in Camden instead of Mississippi.

"I said, 'Irv, the residents of Camden need this company here,' " Khan said. "And when Mr. Irv Richter said he wanted to come here, I said, 'We have a few requirements: Number one, Camden first.' "

As people filled out applications while perched on sidewalks and leaning against walls, Khan called the scene evidence that "Camden needs jobs. People desperately want work."

Richter, who attended, said he wanted to hire Camden residents at a living wage - possibly $15 an hour. The facility will be the first of nine planned for the United States and one of 40 worldwide. The factory will produce small shelter houses as well as CerarMix, a spray-on metal that will coat the exterior of the houses.

Iowa-based AlphaGen has been making the transportable buildings for more than a decade. The structures are used for storage, disaster relief, emergency and command operation centers, triage facilities, and office suites.

Acts has been approached by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Defense, Richter said.

The old plant - at one time a Radio Corp. of America facility, according to Richter - was on the 2012 Department of Environmental Protection "contaminated sites" list, but Acts said it is up to code.

"It's been on the contamination list 25 years," Richter said. "The DEP checks it every year. There are a lot of contaminated sites. As long as they're being monitored and measured, they're OK to operate on."

On Monday, the job seekers, some in suits and ties, others in jeans, started gathering as early as 10 a.m., but applications were not distributed until around 3 p.m., after speeches from Khan and Richter.

Acts was not the only company seeking to hire at the event. Protocall, a communications firm based in Cherry Hill, was there, too, saying it was hiring for 80 jobs.

Volunteers wearing Amir Khan T-shirts weaved through the crowd with voter registration forms and campaign literature.

The event came 21 days before the mayoral election, in which Khan, running as an independent, hopes to defeat Democratic incumbent Dana L. Redd, Republican challenger Arnold Davis, and independents Clyde Cook and Councilman Brian Coleman.

"I'm a little frustrated they're making everybody wait out here in the hot sun for the applications," Anita Hicks said. "Why make us listen to all of this when we all got busy lives?"

Hicks, who lives in Ablett Village public housing with two daughters, said her questions, such as when she might hear back from the hiring companies and how quickly employees would be able to start working, were not answered.

Michael Buehler, chief marketing officer for Acts, said the company would hire 300 to 400 people in the first year, growing to 1,000 within several years, most for assembly-line work.

He said that Acts would use its own materials to restore the building and that it would begin on-site training within four weeks. It will be open for production, making 30 to 40 units a day, within three to four months, he said.

But the timetable could be slower. City officials said the owners had yet to file for necessary permits.

The company is also open to hiring ex-convicts, which brought Edwin Diaz to the event.

The 34-year-old Fairview resident said a felony gun charge eight years ago was downgraded and resulted in no jail time, but still kept employers from giving him an interview.

On Monday, he sat on a parking divider filling out an application as the song "Ain't No Stoppin Us Now" blared from speakers and a man's voice shouted, "Vote for Amir Khan. Show up Nov. 5 like your life depended on it, because it does."

Diaz said he was more concerned about his livelihood.

"I've gotten temp jobs here and there, but nothing in the past few months," Diaz said. "Hopefully this turns into something. I need to work. We've got a baby on the way."


jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

|
|
|
|
|