Op-Ed by Congressman Norcross: Camden is really rising
While living in Camden, the great poet Walt Whitman wrote about “a City Invincible,” and while we’ve adopted that motto, many forget he also wrote of a “City of Friends.” It is this idea of friendship and community that, I believe, led us on a new path for Camden.
At a time when our country seems most divided, the progress in Camden reminds us what can be achieved when dedicated people from all levels of government, businesses, nonprofits and community organizations work together. By collaborating to improve public safety and education, and connecting people with jobs and opportunities, Camden City is rising.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics just released employment figures and the Camden metro area had the highest percentage of job growth in the nation last year. We see that growth all around us in Camden City.
From longtime neighbors like Campbell’s Soup expanding their operations, to manufacturers like Holtec and EMR metal recyclers helping reshape the port district, to tech companies like Webimax and new start-ups like City Invincible architects moving into the heart of the city, the changes that were spoken about for decades are becoming a reality.
This isn’t a complete surprise. It’s because of collaborations. In April 2015, we secured a spot for Camden City as one of America’s eight Promise Zones, which means the federal government has been assisting local efforts to create jobs, expand educational opportunities and reduce crime.
There are still too many without opportunities, but training programs, like the Camden Construction Careers Initiative that partners young adults with building trades experts, are helping lift all Camden residents up.
Another area of growth? Student successes. The graduation rate for high school students in Camden increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2016.
We’ve been collaborating on the local, state and federal levels – talking to experts and education advocates. This past December, Camden’s Center for Family Services received $30 million in federal funding to improve educational outcomes for 14,500 students in four of the most distressed Camden neighborhoods.
There are new free SAT and ACT prep programs in Camden and literacy initiatives. Plus, family coordinators now help connect students and parents with educators, and work is underway to replace the aging Camden High School building.
When students succeed, our communities succeed. These Camden graduates will be our future business owners and city leaders, and will make up our labor force. Seeing graduation rates consistently increase is good news for our city’s future.
But the only way we’ll continue to see these increases is if our communities remain safe and secure. During the first three months of 2017, violent and nonviolent crimes sharply declined in Camden – most notably an 80 percent drop in homicides. These are very encouraging trends.
The Camden County Police Department has been recognized nationally for their community policing efforts, including during a trip by President Barack Obama. Rather than simply patrolling and reacting to incidents, officers spend their time building relationships, specifically in neighborhoods where violent crime has been prevalent.
Although we still have a long way to go, we should commend the department’s ongoing successful safety efforts.
Seeing these improvements is encouraging to all of us, but we must vigilantly work together and stay focused on keeping our communities safe, creating opportunities for students and families, and encouraging even more businesses to relocate to South Jersey.
I say “we” not “I,” and I say “together,” not “me,” because it is the spirit of community that will allow Camden to continue to grow. Camden is the City Invincible, the City of Friends and, as the numbers show, it is in fact rising.