April 21, 2017 In The News

Report: Tri-county area shows job gains

A federal report on job growth in South Jersey shows economic development efforts are working in Camden City, officials asserted Friday.

The number of jobs in the tri-county area rose by 3.7 percent between February 2016 and 2017, the largest such gain among the nation’s metropolitan regions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The increase tied for the top spot with the Dallas metropolitan area.

The report showed 647,094 jobs in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties in February, up from 637,793 one year earlier.

The region’s jobless total was 30,851, or 4.8 percent. That was down from 34,170, or 5.4 percent, in February 2016.

The findings, released April 5, prompted upbeat comments about Camden City from elected officials. Not everyone shared their assessments, though.

“In the past, Camden was portrayed as crime-ridden, but now it’s job-ridden,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, D-Camden. He predicted improving job figures “should encourage even more businesses to relocate to our vibrant area.”

Gov. Chris Christie noted the impact of more than $1.1 billion in state tax credits for firms that are expanding or building new facilities in Camden. The tax breaks will support creation of more than 1,000 full-time jobs, as well as “thousands” of construction jobs, the statement said.

Christie also cited job-training efforts, noting the one-year anniversary Thursday of the Camden Corps Plus program to improve job readiness for 16- to 24-year-old city residents who have not completed high school.

“A total of 85 young people are participating in the program, and some have already found full-time jobs,” his statement said.

A Trenton think tank critical of the state’s tax-break strategy offered a different view.

“Economic growth in the Camden metro area doesn’t necessarily equal economic growth in the city of Camden,” said Jon Whiten, a spokesman for New Jersey Policy Perspective.

The city’s jobless rate was 9.6 percent in February, down from 10.5 percent a year earlier, according to unadjusted figures from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

In contrast, jobless rates at the same time were 5.2 percent in Camden County, 4.2 percent in Burlington County and 4.9 percent in Gloucester County.

Whiten also asserted the local region’s performance “is much more closely tied to the economy of Philadelphia than the economy of the rest of New Jersey. And so it’s not surprising that the Philadelphia metro region exhibited similarly strong growth over that same time.”

The Philadelphia and Seattle metropolitan areas ranked second-best nationwide with job growth of 3.0 percent in the February 2016-17 period, according to the BLS.

However, Whiten praised job-training efforts in Camden, saying that “has a much better bang for its buck than tax credits do.”

“We’d like to see the state, overall, spending more on this and other kinds of tried-and-true economic development,” he said.

Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli called the job figures “another great indicator of progress in Camden,” but also noted economic growth in suburban towns such as Cherry Hill.

“Also, it would be hard to deny the strong level of economic activity in (the) southern portion of the county in places like Winslow Township since the CCMUA invested $50 million into the sewer lines to clear the way for new construction along the Cross-Keys Road corridor,” Cappelli said.

The BLS on Thursday said New Jersey’s adjusted jobless rate was 4.2 percent in March, compared to 4.5 percent nationwide. The state’s level was the lowest since May 2007, despite a decline of 17,500 jobs for the month.