CourierPostOnline

Camden Tries To Reach Out To Businesses

CourierPostOnline — Thursday, January 22, 2009

By DEBORAH HIRSCH
Courier-Post Staff

At one time, Camden was home to three major manufacturing companies and more than 50,000 jobs. But half a century of urban decay and escalating crime has made for bad business in the city, not to mention the current national economic depression.

City and business leaders want to change that — or at least try. On Saturday, they'll host a free summit at Rutgers University designed to help Camden's existing small businesses stay afloat, and attract new ones.

Camden City Council President Angel Fuentes said the idea for the summit came out of a meeting with about a dozen business owners in July who felt that the city only paid attention to attracting businesses along the downtown waterfront.

"If we did, we apologize," Fuentes said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "That was never our intention."

Over the past four months, Fuentes said he worked with NJ Citizen Action and Wachovia Bank to organize an event for small businesses to address their needs with city and community agencies.

"We are eager to turn conversation into action," said Mike DelBene, vice president of communications for Wachovia.

During the summit, members of the city's zoning and planning boards, parking authority, purchasing office, housing authority, police, code enforcement, redevelopment agency and other departments will discuss strategies for promoting local business. They'll also talk about resources available to small businesses, such as tax incentives for new employment, low interest loans and free business planning.

Those resources aren't new, but there hasn't been an organized effort to make business owners aware of them, said Raymond Lamboy, president of the Latin American Economic Development Association Inc. Individual business groups have held workshops here and there, he said, but this will be the first coordinated approach to growing business in Camden in years.

Lamboy estimated that about 1,000 businesses operate in Camden, many of them along six major "corridors" including Federal Street, Haddon Avenue and Mount Ephraim Avenue. A couple of businesses along each of those corridors have shut down or reduced hours over the past year, he said.

Lamboy said he's been working with police to make sure more officers are visible in those areas, but it's still difficult to attract shoppers who live outside the city. Even Camden residents often shop in Cherry Hill or other towns because they can't find all the products or services they need locally, he said.

About 100 people have already registered for Saturday's summit. Lamboy said he hoped it would become an annual event.

Fuentes said he's also trying to create a "one-stop shop" at City Hall where prospective business owners can pick up information about all the resources available to them.

"In Camden we need to connect with the new businesses," Fuentes pointed out. "If not, they'll walk away."

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