Harry Hagan has seen a lot of people walking along Broadway in his 26 years working in Camden.
He told a group of dignitaries — including U.S. Reps. Donald Norcross, D-NJ, and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Camden Mayor Dana Redd, South Jersey Port Corp. CEO Kevin Castagnola and Camden Iron & Metal President Joe Balzano — about those he’s seen along the gritty industrial roadway over the years.
I’ve seen people walk all over this city,” he said. “They’re usually walking to a corner, to the drugstore — or walking for a prostitute — a couple of months ago I was at the corner of Broadway and Atlantic Avenue, where the church is. ...
“I’m looking down Atlantic Avenue, this is about 5:30, quarter to 6 in the morning. ... For the first time in 26 years, I saw people walking with hard hats, high visibility gear, carrying lunchboxes. And they’re walking a little bit different, a little taller. Their heads were up,” continued Hagan, in charge of export operations with Camden Iron & Metal and sporting the same gear.
“They were walking to work.”
“We had the president here a few weeks ago, because Camden is changing,” Norcross said over the din of massive industrial metal recycling machinery at Camden Iron & Metal. Norcross was referring to President Barack Obama’s visit in May, when he talked about community policing and its impact on the crime-ridden city.
“What you see here is the alpha and the omega,” the fledgling Democrat added, motioning to the work taking place. Once recycled, the metal would be sent around the country and the world as raw material for new machines, he said.
Norcross pointed to Camden’s once-thriving industrial past, mentioning RCA, New York Shipbuilding, Van Sciver Furniture — all companies who abandoned the city over the years, leaving blight and economic chaos in their wake.
He blamed “bad trade deals in the past,” including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for those companies’ flight, and expressed concern that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) proposed by President Obama could scuttle the progress made by American industry.
“It might be good for a few on the upper echelon, but for those American jobs, the ones we’re looking at here, I don’t think those trade agreements work for all of America,” Norcross said when asked to elaborate.
Hoyer agreed: “(It’s) of great concern to working men and women in this country. I think we have to make sure if there are trade agreements, they’re not agreements that ship our jobs overseas. ... There’s no doubt we have to make sure we’re not being gamed by our trading partners.”
Infrastructure, too, is an issue in Camden. Broadway and the roads off it leading to port businesses are a confusing, pothole-ridden mess. Camden County Freeholders Thursday night approved more than $11 million in improvements to the Broadway corridor, including $9.4 million for realigning the thoroughfare and $2.1 million to move utility poles along Broadway.
“We have been pursuing for the last years a disinvestment in America,” Hoyer said. “We won’t be competitive, we won’t be creating jobs, we won’t be creating opportunities unless we invest in America. ... We need to make sure our infrastructure is up to the task of not only getting people to and from work, but also so commerce can move.”
He called on congressional Republicans to come up with a long-term plan for infrastructure improvements, saying a short-term solution “gives no confidence to mayors, to governors, to the business community that there will be a revenue stream on which they can rely and therefore expand and create jobs.”