Top South Jersey business leaders meet in Camden to discuss state of city

Gov. Phil Murphy and his economic development team, led by New Jersey Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan, gathered in Camden on Tuesday with business, community and faith-based leaders as well as the mayor, state legislators and stakeholders of the city to discuss the economic landscape and the state of the city.

Murphy was in a room with a host of subject matter specialists in a variety of fields that offered expertise on everything from on what is working now and what will stimulate economic activity in the future.

In addition to the committee, speakers around the boardroom who talked with the governor included Mark Clouse, CEO and president of Campbell Soup Co.; Mark McDonough, president of New Jersey American Water; Peter Hovnanian, CEO and president of J.S. Hovanian & Sons; Lara Price, chief operating officer of the Philadelphia 76ers; Kevin O’Dowd, co-CEO of Cooper University Health Care; Richard Smith, president of the state NAACP; Christina Renna, CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey; Antonio Tillis, chancellor of Rutgers University – Camden; Andrew Cooley, chief strategy officer of EMR USA Holdings; Louis Greenwald, state Assembly majority leader; Scott Thomson, former Camden County Police Department chief; Gabriel Rodriguez, Camden County Police chief; Dr. John Mastinger, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Virtua Health; William Sproule, executive secretary-treasurer of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters; Vincent Guest, senior pastor of Sacred Heart Church; and Stephen Mack, senior pastor, Little Rock Baptist Church.

Dana Redd, CEO of Camden Community Partnership, talked about the dialogue in the room during the meeting.

“To have a meaningful and substantive conversation between our business leaders and Gov. Murphy was incredibly productive for the group” Redd said. “This isn’t information being relayed to the governor by staff, but a firsthand account for him on what is working now and what will stimulate economic activity in the future.”

Camden Mayor Victor Carstarphen talked about the importance of a direct discussion with policy-makers to take the city to the next level.

“I applaud (the governor’s) interest in the city and his partnership in assisting us to enhance the quality of life for the community. Post-pandemic, I think it’s time for us to start taking a second look at the tools urban areas need to keep up and grow in the current economy. Throughout my administration, the governor has been a great partner, and I hope we can continue the positive momentum for the residents of Camden,” Carstarphen said.

The chairman of Cooper University Health Care and a board member of Camden Community Partnership, George E. Norcross III, said he was happy to have the governor in the city.

Camden County Commissioner Jeffrey Nash, who moderated the event, talked about the progress made in the city to date.

“If you look at where we’ve come from, there is a demonstratable difference in the city today from 10 years ago, but we cannot become complacent and forget about the promises we’ve made to the people of Camden,” Nash said. “We need to keep pushing to improve the city and deliver on those important objectives and goals that have not been attained yet, and I believe this conversation was an important one to move closer to fulfilling those promises to the community.”

Some of Camden’s progress mentioned over the last 10 years includes:

Job opportunities have been bolstered throughout the city and the local workforce has grown significantly; last year, the city recorded its lowest unemployment rate, 6.7%, in more than 30 years, according to state labor statistics; in addition, wage growth has risen significantly higher over the last 10 years to complement job growth and the reduction in unemployment; and more than $2.5 billion made in private and public investment.

There is also a new public safety paradigm rooted in community policing. Since the Camden County Police Department operationalized in 2013, murders are down almost 70% and violent crime has been cut in half since 2012.