N.J. offers new small-business loans amid tax break boom in Camden, other cities

 Holtec International built a manufacturing facility in Camden, New Jersey, thanks to a $260 million tax break made possible by the state's Economic Opportunity Act.  (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

Holtec International built a manufacturing facility in Camden, New Jersey, thanks to a $260 million tax break made possible by the state's Economic Opportunity Act. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

The same New Jersey agency that’s handed out billions of dollars in tax breaks to Holtec, Subaru and other companies to entice them to relocate to Camden is offering a new slate of grants for small businesses in the city and other distressed areas.

Two new initiatives from the state Economic Development Authority will help small-business owners lease commercial space or upgrade space they already own, with the EDA paying a portion of the expenses.

Firms in Camden and the state’s four other Garden State Growth Zones — Trenton, Atlantic City, Paterson and Passaic — will be eligible.

“This is really a downtown program, designed to activate the corridors,” said EDA president Tim Lizura, emphasizing that the program is intended to attract street-level retail and service businesses. “It could be an accountant’s office or a lawyer’s office, but it certainly could be a cafe or a clothing establishment.”

Over the past four years, the EDA has offered an unprecedented amount of tax breaks to companies in New Jersey and specifically Camden, where the incentives can be higher because the town has been designated as particularly in need of industry.

Companies ranging from Ernst & Young and JPMorgan Chase to Lockheed Martin and the Philadelphia 76ers have gotten more than $4 billion in tax breaks to stay in or move to New Jersey.

Although critics have blasted officials behind the Grow NJ tax incentive program for handing over too much money to the business industry, smaller companies have complained that not enough of those resources have been offered to them.

“I hear a lot of promotion of small businesses in Camden,” said Walt Dixon, who owns Contractor Service, a contractor supply company with 18 employees in the city. “I hear the words. But there seems to be no action.”

Under the Business Lease Incentive program, the EDA would reimburse businesses for 15 percent of their annual rent for two years. The lease would have to be a minimum of five years.

The second program, the Business Improvement Incentive, offers businesses a dollar-for-dollar match up to $20,000 for building improvement and facade rehabilitation projects.

Both incentives require the businesses to be operating on a building’s first floor.

To pay for the programs, the EDA has $200,000 available per city per year for the next three years. Applications are open now.

“Maybe by getting new businesses in Camden leasing out some of these spaces, maybe you get some revitalization,” said Dixon, hopeful that local and state officials will make good on their promises to lift up small businesses in the South Jersey city.

“There’s not a lot of strong retailers in Camden like there used to be.”

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