New Jersey officials on Thursday approved tax incentives worth $260 million over 10 years for a company to bring 395 jobs — many of them in manufacturing — to Camden, a city in dire need of employment options.
While the jobs promised by Holtec International are welcome, some city activists are questioning the price.
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The company, which makes energy plant components, told the state it would bring 235 new jobs to the city and move 160 from nearby Marlton. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority estimates the state and local benefits will bring in $155,520 more than the incentive amount over 35 years.
Bob Bryant, a member of Camden Churches Organized for People challenged authority members about the deal during a public comment period Thursday, which was held after the board voted unanimously to grant the incentives.
"The $260 million amount of money sounds like a lot for only 250 jobs," Bryant asked. "Why so much for so little?"
Bryant said he fears the company's arrival will not do much to lower the city's unemployment or poverty rates. About 2 in 5 residents of the city across the Delaware River from Philadelphia are estimated to live in poverty.
Camden Mayor Dana Redd, who attended the meeting in Trenton on Thursday, said it shows the city can attract jobs.
"It's a great day for the city of Camden regardless of some of the naysayers out there," she said after the vote.
The company plans to make small nuclear reactors from the plant to be built in the South Jersey Port and shipped from there; it says that no nuclear materials will be at the site.
Redd said she and Gov. Chris Christie would have a more detailed announcement next week about a program to train Camden residents for the jobs that are to be created under the deal.
She said that only then would a breakdown of how many jobs would be in manufacturing be provided.
Redd stopped taking reporters' questions after she was asked about the involvement of George E. Norcross III in the deal. Norcross is a member of Holtec's board and a Democratic Party powerbroker.
The deal is the third-largest economic incentive the EDA has ever offered a business. The bigger ones are for struggling high-profile enterprises — the American Dream development in East Rutherford and Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.
Under a 2013 law to streamline incentives, Camden received special considerations.
Companies willing to bring jobs there can get subsidies equal to 100 percent of their investment. That's different from developments elsewhere, where the tax credits are calculated on a per-employee basis.
Elsewhere in New Jersey, businesses have to show that they'll bring in 110 percent of the amount of their credits to state and local governments over 20 years. For Camden, the measurement is more lax: The benefit needs to project to 100 percent of the taxpayer cost and it can be spread over 35 years.
In Holtec's case, the EDA estimates the 35-year benefit minus the tax break barely breaks even, hitting $155,520.
But to get the deal, the privately held company commits to staying for only 15 years.
Holtec is just the second firm to use the only-for-Camden provisions. Last month, the Philadelphia 76ers were approved for $82 million in tax credits to bring their offices and practice facility to the city's waterfront.
Alfred Koeppe, the chairman of the EDA, deflected some of Bryant's questions about the benefits by saying that the board was only following the directions of the Legislature's Camden-boosting provisions.
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