The seven-county geography that is South Jersey obviously is not a separate state, but it does have different needs, ones that are unique to the region — and ones that make the region misunderstood by legislators from Central and North Jersey.
The Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey is hoping to bring clarity to the issues that are most impactful to the area.
On Monday, the chamber will release a 32-page policy report: “Long Story Short: South Jersey — A Busy Policymaker’s Guide to Understanding a Misunderstood Region,” which gives a breakdown of all seven counties (Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem) — and then details four issues that impact each of them:
- Lack of public transportation/transportation infrastructure;
- Broadband accessibility;
- Equitable incentives tailored to South Jersey’s unique needs and underserved areas;
- Shortage of housing options.
Chamber CEO Christina Renna, who prepared the report along with government affairs head Hillary Chebra, said the organization felt it was important to bring the region to life for those who live outside of it.
“South Jersey is deeply misunderstood by policymakers,” she said. “Although the region has many similarities, its differences make holistic policy measures difficult to enact. As a result, South Jersey is at times neglected when well-intentioned policies are crafted and intended to have a statewide benefit.”
Chebra said the hope is that a better understanding will lead to more focused action, including legislation.
“With the release of this report, the CCSNJ aims to educate readers about what makes South Jersey, South Jersey,” she said. “If successful, our hope is that future economic policies will be crafted with the region’s unique landscape and needs in mind.”
The report said South Jersey is in position to succeed. A key reason: It is one of the only areas of the state remaining with the space for major economic expansion.
It just needs legislative help.
“As the new legislative session begins, now is the time to look towards maximizing South Jersey’s strengths and enacting policies that will make the region, and, therefore, the entire state, a friendlier place to do business,” the authors said.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most pressing needs and concerns:
Lack of public transportation and transportation infrastructure
Overview: Much of South Jersey is a “transit desert,” with little passenger rail service south of the city of Camden and minimal bus service. The simple fact is that, the farther south you go, the worse public transportation options are.
- Better marketing of Atlantic City Line, the River Line and the PATCO Speedline;
- Completion of the Glassboro-Camden Line;
- Completion of New Jersey Transit’s South Jersey Bus Rapid Transit system;
- More bus lines to “transit deserts” with new economic opportunities and jobs, such as the New Jersey Wind Port in Salem County;
- Extension of Route 55 into Cape May County.
Overview: The inability to access high-speed internet in certain areas of South Jersey, specifically Cumberland and Salem counties, is a clear obstruction to economic growth and workforce development.
- The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities’ newly established Office of Broadband Connectivity should prioritize South Jersey;
- Establish more creative public-private partnerships to provide affordable internet to rural, unserved homes and businesses;
- Accessing more federal and state funding for broadband infrastructure and to invest in broadband technologies for underserved areas.
Equitable incentives for South Jersey
Overview: Economic incentives are a fundamental part of New Jersey’s business retention and attraction strategy, but they are not often tailored to the unique needs of the region. For South Jersey to grow, the state must take into consideration how to rebuild the poorest communities that often have the highest unemployment rates and disproportionally impact people of color.
- More flexibility in how these programs are designed, with consideration given to each specific county’s needs;
- Better alignment of incentives to broader economic needs of South Jersey (including worker training, public housing and transportation);
- Greater access to capital;
- More incentives that focus on the diversification of the region’s economy.
Shortage of housing options
Overview: Since the pandemic, the homeless population has risen 17% in New Jersey — with some of the most significant increases seen in South Jersey.
- Provide incentives for developers to repurpose vacant shopping malls and office spaces into housing options;
- Direct housing funding toward the populations that have seen greatest spike in homelessness;
- Identify housing opportunities near new business development projects;
- Create housing options for recent graduates.
The research for the report began in March 2023 and consisted of interviews with over 30 economic development leaders from across South Jersey, as well as information from the CCSNJ’s 1,200 member companies.