Camden companies that got tax credits worth millions must divulge who they’re hiring, what they’re giving back to the community, NAACP leader says

Posted May 22, 2019

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

By Kevin Barfield

The state's Economic Development Authority gave Holtec International $260 million in tax breaks in 2014 to move to Camden. Holtec's CEO recently said the company is losing millions and called Camden workers lazy. The NAACP has since asked for the company's employment data. On Tuesday, the NAACP said they still had not received the documents.


As the fight over New Jersey’s lucrative corporate tax incentives rages on in Trenton, local advocates here in Camden are forced to ask how they have benefited our communities.

The short answer: We have our doubts.

When former Gov. Chris Christie joined with legislative Democrats to pass the Economic Opportunity Act in 2013, political leaders like George Norcross promised that the law would herald a new day for Camden by driving growth and new opportunities in our impoverished city.

Yet in the years since, even as gleaming corporate office buildings have risen on the waterfront, Camden residents continue to be left behind.

Politically connected companies like Conner Strong & Buckelew, Norcross’ insurance company, have received more than $1 billion to relocate here.

Despite professing to care about Camden’s future, these companies haven’t even done the bare minimum to prove their commitment.

In the years since these tax breaks were awarded, the Camden County NAACP hasn’t heard any recipient company publicly commit to an affirmative action plan or economic opportunity plan to ensure that Camden residents actually get access to jobs.

None of the companies has publicly released employment data that would demonstrate how many jobs are being created for Camden residents and families of color – and how their pay compares to that of their white and suburban counterparts.

Instead, the Camden County NAACP is forced to rely on the public statements of people like Krishna “Kris” Singh, whose company, Holtec, received a whopping $260 million in tax incentives to move its headquarters to Camden. Singh infamously rejected any responsibility to hire Camden residents in exchange for the lucrative tax breaks New Jersey taxpayers were underwriting, saying that they “can’t stand getting up in the morning and coming to work every single day. They haven’t done it, and they didn’t see their parents do it. Of course, some of them get into drugs and things. So it’s difficult.”

To smooth over the uproar caused by these racist comments, Holtec executives agreed to meet with us to discuss their commitment to the city.

During that meeting, we asked for detailed employment data. We’re still waiting.

Comments like those, coupled with a total lack of transparency, force us to conclude that these promises to rebuild Camden were mere window dressing to get tax incentives that has instead rewarded the politically powerful.

The Economic Development Authority, which oversees the Grow NJ tax incentive program, has also fallen down on the job.

EDA officials recently responded to an open records request from advocates about diversity and inclusion plans for the program by admitting that the state doesn’t have any records on minority contracting and hiring practices from tax credit recipients.

If companies relocating to Camden were serious about building up our city, they would publicly commit to hiring local residents.

They would be working to expand employment opportunities in one of America’s poorest cities by working with our public schools to develop workforce training programs.

And these companies would be willing to take on the building trades unions. Political allies of the South Jersey machine, they have reaped major benefits from the construction boom sparked by the tax incentive program but have done too little to ensure that apprenticeship programs are available to people of color and Camden residents.

Instead of pursuing these potentially transformative initiatives, these companies have taken up some of our city’s most valuable real estate and converted it into suburban-style office parks.

Camden residents, in turn, have been left with substandard infrastructure, an aging housing stock and a $27 million schools budget deficit that is leading to layoffs and school closures.

The new task force commissioned by Gov. Phil Murphy must get to the bottom of how these tax credit deals were put together and who is really benefiting.

Any future incentive program must be capped and evaluated for effectiveness. It must include incentives for historic preservation, housing and workforce development.

It’s time to stop these giveaway to corporations and political interests. We must stop gentrifying development and truly invest in the people of Camden.

Kevin Barfield is President of the Camden County NAACP.

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