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Tax breaks promised jobs in New Jersey’s poorest city — they mostly didn’t deliver

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Children look out at homes in Camden, New Jersey. Many companies that benefit from state-level tax breaks employ barely any of the city's residents. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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In 2014, a New Jersey tax program aimed to revitalize the city of Camden by attracting businesses as a way to spur economic development in one of the state’s poorest cities.

Now, the scheme is under scrutiny after newly released data show that many of the companies that relocated — including giants like Lockheed Martin and American Water — failed to boost the local workforce by not hiring more residents. Marketplace’s David Brancaccio spoke to WNYC senior reporter Nancy Solomon about her reporting on the newly released disclosures.

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: So was there a requirement to hire local workers? Or was that just a hope and an expectation?

Nancy Solomon: Well, it was certainly a hope by the folks who live in Camden. But I mean, there were requirements that jobs move into the city. But many of the companies that got the tax breaks, they were already in New Jersey, sometimes a few miles outside Camden in the suburbs of Camden. And they moved their operation into the city and moved their employees in, but never was it anything about hiring Camden residents.

Brancaccio: Well, it certainly worked to get a lot of these companies to move — move they did. And it certainly worked on the companies’ part because they got tax breaks. But then there was curiosity among people in the community, and what, was there a petition by activists and the community?

Solomon: Yes, Camden’s city council, faced with this petition, instead of going to the ballot, they went ahead and passed an ordinance that requires all companies — not just the ones with tax breaks, but all companies in Camden that have more than 25 employees — to file twice a year to certify how many Camden residents are in their employ.

Brancaccio: And so the data came, it was this big trove. You’ve been through it, painstakingly. Did companies hire local people en masse?

Solomon: A few did but not so much. I mean, there are 11 companies that got the really jumbo-sized tax breaks. And about half of them did hire Camden workers. Most of them tend to be companies that have a larger blue-collar workforce. But about half of the companies have an almost entirely white-collar workforce. And those companies all have really low numbers in terms of Camden workers.

Brancaccio: Lockheed Martin got a pretty good tax break.

Solomon: Yeah, they got a $107 million tax break. They have currently three Camden residents working for them out of 229 total.

Brancaccio: Okay, the list goes on. I mean, just to touch on a couple. American Water got $164 million in tax breaks. And I think the last calculation I saw had seven local residents. What are some of the companies say when you talk to them about this?

Solomon: They point to the benefits that Camden derives from their presence there. Some of them — and Subaru really being the most generous of the bunch — have donated money to different nonprofits in the city. You know, there’s nothing to document exactly how many jobs that creates for people in Camden.

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