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The Economic Opportunity Act: What's In It for South Jersey?

Pet Projects

The act also provides incentives for several specific projects and includes language that critics argue seem to have been written with other projects in mind. One such endeavor takes advantage of some of that available Camden land Norcross is referring to and is, in fact, a project he champions.

The project in question is the impending construction of a big-box retail development anchored by a ShopRite and located along a main thoroughfare that runs through Camden to connect Philadelphia to New Jersey. The act provides an extra 10 percent incentive grant to “a supermarket or grocery store (minimum of 15,000 square feet) selling fresh products or a prepared food establishment selling nutritious, ready to serve meals” that’s situated in “a distressed municipality lacking access to nutritious food.” The USDA has designated much of Camden as a food desert; the store will be 75,000 square feet.

What bothers skeptics about this program is that it reduces the job requirements to levels they find inappropriate. In fact, while other industries or zones must comply with a set of rules that define a full-time employee, this program allows the incentive recipient to define its own guidelines according to “generally accepted by custom or practice,” which are typically below 35 or 40 hours per week. These types of retail jobs also tend to be low-paid and lacking benefits.

The structure of this provision leads Jon Whiten of New Jersey Policy Perspective to question whether there might be a better way to encourage companies to provide food and jobs to areas that need both.

“Is any job a good job if people don’t have jobs? To a certain extend it is. But people might not get full-time jobs or good jobs that can help them get off social services and into the middle class,” he said. “And you don’t want to bring everybody’s standards down. Should the state be in the business of subsidizing that? I would say no.”

Another bonus program seems to target Subaru, whose executives are considering moving their American headquarters from Cherry Hill to Philadelphia. Camden County freeholders have been lobbying for a program to help convince the auto manufacturer to stay in the county and it appears they may have gotten it.

The law stipulates that companies applying for certain tax credits can receive credit for 100 percent of gross tax receipts for each newly created job and 25 percent for each retained job unless “the jobs are part of a megaproject which is the United States headquarters of an automobile manufacturer located within a priority area or in a Garden State Growth Zone, in which case the business shall be entitled to tax credits equaling 100 percent of the gross amount of tax credits for each retained full-time job.”

Again, Jon Whiten: “Are there other ways to approach that besides putting in language that weakens what’s intended to be a statewide bill designed to create jobs? To a certain extent it seems people felt they could get all of their little pet things in here, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the right way to go about it.”

Less controversial but equally region-specific are the creation of an Atlantic City tourism district that comprises any number of publicly owned properties and clusters where a majority of businesses support tourism; an aviation district designed to foster a cluster of aviation-related businesses one mile around the Atlantic City airport; and a port district radiating out from “each marine terminal facility established, acquired, constructed, rehabilitated or improved by the South Jersey Port District,” which is based in the city of Camden. All three areas provide added bonuses or incentives or lessen the requirements for various types of qualifying projects in those areas.

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