Small-business owners attend Camden forum

Attendees listen to Sen. Cory A. Booker (D., N.J.) at a small business roundtable at the Waterfront Technology Center. He hosted a discussion on tips for accessing federal government resources.
Attendees listen to Sen. Cory A. Booker (D., N.J.) at a small business roundtable at the Waterfront Technology Center. He hosted a discussion on tips for accessing federal government resources. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 16, 2014

From across South Jersey, small-business owners packed a forum Friday seeking ways to expand or launch new ventures.

U.S. Sen. Cory A. Booker (D., N.J.) opened the gathering with a pep talk to nearly 200 small-business owners and entrepreneurs, business leaders, and bankers.

In his second visit to Camden this week, Booker hosted a roundtable discussion to provide tips on how to access federal government resources. Lenders were on hand, as well as representatives from the Small Business Administration.

"We're in this together," Booker said. "This is a support group. We are all supporting each other."

The event at the Camden Waterfront Technology Center on Federal Street was billed as an information resource session for small businesses - from newly launched ventures to established companies seeking to expand. Booker urged potential entrepreneurs to find the courage to start their businesses.

"Your success is essential to achieve the lofty goals of America," Booker told a standing-room-only crowd.

Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd said she believed the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act would bring more start-up businesses to Camden and create desperately needed jobs in a city where 14 percent of workers are unemployed.

Small businesses are "the lifeblood of our city," Redd said. Camden has seven business corridors, she said.

Signed into law by Gov. Christie in September, the Economic Opportunity Act provided $175 million for economic development projects in Camden and $600 million for qualified residential projects statewide, and allows companies to pursue tax credits to create jobs.

With the economy showing signs of improvement, many small-business owners are eager to take advantage of opportunities to grow.

But some attendees, such as Beverly Lucas, of Urbana International, said entrepreneurs face hurdles. She owns a tech business based in Camden and a crisis management information system firm.

"The biggest challenge for a small business is getting your foot in the door," said Lucas, who has been in business for 10 years. "I can sell. I just can't get into places."

George Parker, who operates a computer maintenance firm in Williamstown, said the forum was informative. His business, which has 10 employees, wants to hire more personnel and eventually branch beyond government contracts to the private sector.

"The small businesses are the ones hiring," Parker said. "It's very promising for us in terms of the future."

Friday's event focused on minority firms and was the first in a series of forums Booker plans to host around the state to help small business owners. The next one, slated for April 11, will focus on women business owners.


mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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