PHILADELPHIA — After decades of financial struggles, a Camden, N.J., official says the city is on the upswing.
The South Jersey city across the Delaware River from Philadelphia reached its peak in 1957 with thousands of manufacturing jobs and was considered “America’s greatest suburb statistically,” according to Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash.
Camden, like many older cities then started to see declines in the 1960s due to new highway projects that split neighborhoods, with race riots later in the decade causing many to head toward more suburban areas.
Nash said Camden now has momentum back on its side through revitalization efforts that began in 2008 and are now paying dividends.
“We are witnessing before our very eyes the metamorphosis of America’s poorest city,” said Nash at The Bond Buyer’s Mid-Atlantic Municipal Market conference during a panel discussing economic redevelopment strategies for older communities.
Nash attributes much of the city’s recent success to the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 that paved the way for businesses receiving tax credits to move into Camden. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority recently approved tax incentives for Subaru and energy company Holtec to open new facilities in Camden. It also provided an $82 million grant for the National Basketball Association's Philadelphia 76ers to open a new practice facility in the city.
Nash said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been very supportive of Camden’s revitalization efforts through his support of the Economic Opportunity Act two years ago. He added that the Republican governor’s strong relationship with Democratic lawmakers in South Jersey while also having presidential aspirations has been crucial.
“That political structure ended up being very fortuitous for Camden,” said Nash, founder of The Nash Law Group. “Gov. Christie has done more for the city of Camden then all the other Democratic governors I have known.”
A new mixed-use development project along the Camden waterfront expected to be announced later this year will add to the city’s rebirth, according to Nash. He added that other key factors in turning Camden around since 2008 have been an aggressive demolition program that tore down 600 dangerous buildings, new charter schools that have added educational options to the city’s youth, and a reduced crime rate.
Standard & Poor’s affirmed Camden’s BBB-plus bond rating this past June citing expected continued improvements in its economy. Moody's Investors Service, which does not rate Camden, reported last December that it ended the 2013 fiscal year with a fund balance of $24 million compared to just $3.2 million in 2011.