Camden moves to help small businesses cash in on development boom

 The Philadelphia 76ers received a state tax credit to build a new practice facility in Camden, New Jersey.  (Photo by April Saul)

The Philadelphia 76ers received a state tax credit to build a new practice facility in Camden, New Jersey. (Photo by April Saul)

Camden officials are playing matchmaker between small businesses and the large companies new to the city, in an effort to help local firms cash in on a recent development boom.

The city is partnering with the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey to form the “Committed to Camden Committee,” which will include established small businesses and newer large ones.

The goal is to let the large companies know what Camden businesses can provide and introduce the small-business owners to a potentially new customer base.

“Camden’s businesses cannot do business in a vacuum,” said Mayor Dana Redd at a Friday event announcing the partnership. “They need to meet their new neighbors: the Subarus, the Holtecs, the Brandywines, and the American Waters, just to name a few.”

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The companies Redd mentioned are among the dozens of Camden firms that have reaped more than $1 billion in tax breaks over the last few years, thanks to New Jersey’s Economic Opportunity Act of 2013.

The controversial tax credit program has taken heat for appearing too generous in its incentives to businesses, but Camden leaders praised the law for ushering in a new era of economic development in the impoverished city.

Now the city is trying to convince those corporations new to Camden to buy goods and services from small companies that have been there for years — even decades.

And that is not a simple proposition.

Walt Dixon, a Camden contractor with 16 employees, said he has tried to do business with the new companies in town, but it can be hard to get their attention.

“I have to go around knocking on doors. They’re not coming to me. I have to go see them,” said Dixon. “And it’s a lot of maneuvering, because they’re bringing a lot of outside trades into the city.”

Dixon plans to attend the first meeting of the Committed to Camden Committee, which is scheduled for June.

The committee will also provide training to small-business owners on how to navigate regulatory hurdles and take advantage of government resources.

For example, the first meeting will focus in part on doing business inside Camden’s Promise Zone, a Department of Housing and Urban Development designation that gets priority for federal grants.

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