This is my hometown, and thanks to the EDA’s incentives we’re rebuilding it, Camden native says

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist, April 23, 2019

By Joe Balzano

My family’s roots are in Camden. My grandfather immigrated from Italy at the turn of the 20th century and raised a family on Mechanic Street. My father worked as executive director of South Jersey Port Corporation for 61 years and it is where I began working when I was 12, before going on to attend Rutgers University in Camden. Today, I run the North American subsidiary of EMR, a global leader in metal recycling that operates in over 150 locations around the world. EMR USA employs approximately 2,000 people across 20 states.

EMR USA could have established its corporate headquarters in one of the cities across the country where we have major facilities. But my love for Camden and deep ties to the community made locating our American headquarters here my top priority.

We were able to accomplish that goal thanks, in no small part, to New Jersey’s Economic Opportunity Act. Camden’s historic plight is well-known to everyone across our state and region. A once-iconic city has become the most distressed municipality in the state, in part because its formerly diverse manufacturing base largely evaporated over the course of the last 100 years. Even as other cities like neighboring Philadelphia experienced economic rejuvenation, Camden lost a third of its population and nearly 90 percent of its jobs. By the dawn of the 21st century, Camden had become the poorest city in America – though it is located in one of the wealthiest states in the nation.

But those of us who have long roots in Camden have always been committed to its rebirth. And, thanks to a fruitful partnership with the state’s Economic Development Agency and the commitment of our UK-based parent company, we are bringing manufacturing back to the city. The Economic Opportunity Act incentives were a crucial factor in our decision to build our new corporate headquarters in Camden instead of in Dallas or New Orleans. We have since purchased and are in the process of carefully restoring the historic eight-story Victor Records building downtown in which to base our company.

More importantly, the incentives have allowed us to open a new manufacturing plant and expand operations in Camden, including a cutting-edge recovery, reuse and recycling campus that will include a vehicle dismantling facility to support our auto parts subsidiary business and a state-of-the-art barge terminal located on a formerly abandoned and contaminated brownfield site that we have remediated. Our efforts have ensured that New Jersey is well positioned to be at the forefront of sustainable environmental manufacturing globally.

This will result in over 300 new Camden-based jobs, most of them union. It has allowed us to offer an aggressive education program for our workers that teaches them, among other things, how to create a budget and plan for retirement. And it has contributed to Camden’s rebirth, which benefits our region and our state.

None of these economic incentives have come without deliverables on our end. We have not and will not receive one penny until we meet the very strict criteria demanded by the state, which includes the creation of a specific number of jobs and over $100 million of private dollars in capital investment. Crucially, the credits are paid over the course of a decade, and are subject to strict and independent verification. All told, the state has estimated that these incentives will have a net benefit of millions of dollars for New Jersey over the next several decades, while ensuring that the jobs created will last at least 15 years.

Due to the absence of a local tax base, New Jersey’s taxpayers spent decades subsidizing Camden almost entirely. The state spent billions of dollars trying to implement fix after fix, with few tangible results. This did no one any good: not Camden’s residents, who did not want to be dependent on the state and not residents outside Camden, who were forced to shoulder its burdens.

My company has made the affirmative decision to invest over a quarter-billion dollars in Camden because we believe in its future and we believe that we can once again make our state the manufacturing hub it once was. It is our overriding goal to employ Camden residents and contribute to the city’s economy, while serving as a good neighbor by making our new corporate headquarters available for community-based meetings and events and engaging in other outreach.

The Economic Opportunity Act has played a critical role in ensuring that my company and other employers remain committed to Camden’s renaissance. Other distressed cities across New Jersey should look to Camden’s example and partner with their local businesses and the state to revitalize their communities as well.

Joe Balzano, is the CEO of EMR USA, a global leader in metal recycling headquartered in Camden.