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Don't Tie Camden's Economic Recovery to Pentagon Contractors

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This article is submitted on behalf of Dr. Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad, a Rutgers-Camden professor and progressive Democrat candidate for New Jersey's 1st Congressional District

Some years back Camden, New Jersey’s economic recovery was linked to the construction of prisons; a rather morbid approach to community renewal that was met with strong local opposition. Recently, we in Camden have been encouraged by the presence of a growing university district, hospital construction, and residential and entertainment venues on the river front. These latter day economic developments have been life-enhancing and, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision for just and peaceful ways, promote a healthy community while offering substantial private and public investment opportunities and much needed employment.

We now find some area leaders in the business and public sector are pleased that Camden is becoming "A Player in a Surprising Industry: Defense" as the bold headline declares in a January 19 Newsday.com article.

I am running for Congress as a progressive Democrat in New Jersey’s 1st District. The development of good paying jobs that create the foundation for a stable middle class is an important focus of my campaign. But, I want good jobs with peace at union scale wages for those at or near the bottom of South Jersey’s economic heap. I also want an end to wars of aggression and exorbitant Pentagon spending. I see Pentagon related defense contractor profit taking as problematic no matter how it’s packaged - in this case as a major tool of salvation in Camden's economic recovery.

From the prison-industrial complex of a few years ago to the growing military complex of today, is this Camden's economic fate? Does it have to be or are there real economic alternatives?

The presence in Camden City of defense contractors has done little to drive down the city's poverty and joblessness. That defense contractor payrolls have added 700 jobs in six years is not saying much since the 700 jobs require a highly technical work force. Congressman Rob Andrews (NJ-1) welcomes military contractors yet states in the aforementioned article that it creates job slots for people, "if they can get a quality education." Moreover, most of the technically skilled workers do not live or spend much of their earnings in Camden. No Camden City middle class is being created by their presence.

I believe Camden's recovery ought to be rooted in life-enhancing, green type industries such as those proposed in the Apollo Alliance
. The Alliance is a national coalition of labor union, environmentalist, business, church and peace groups that aims to build new industries, offer job opportunities to poor communities, help in the recovery of old rust-belt industrial towns and do it all with a clean environment in mind.

Camden and its shore line of the Delaware River needs an area-wide economic initiative that relies on technologies that produce for peaceful purposes. Call such an initiative the Delaware River East Green Line Project. It would be a positive and productive way to turn area economic fortunes around. I favor the Apollo Alliance sponsored ideas that the City of Oakland, California and three other East Bay cities laid out in their recently announced formation of the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership together with leaders of the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The partnership’s ambitious goals are to build the heart of the East Bay into a dynamic Green Corridor and to lead the world in environmental innovation, emerging green business and industry, and renewable energy.

Rep. Andrews who, according to the same Newsday.com article, "became a proponent of trying to get private businesses to create military uses out of commercial technology" shows little concern about using university research and industry advances in technology for peaceful purposes. Nor does he seem to mind that these upstart high-tech military contractors have little or no loyalty to staying in Camden once they get on their feet. In his quest to grow big profits, Brad Blumberg, CEO of the defense contracting  firm, Smarter Agent, is "not especially loyal to Camden" and "will go where the economic deal is best." Meanwhile, Blumberg's firm enjoys the incomparable benefits of being housed in a brand-new public facility funded by the citizens of Camden and New Jersey at the Waterfront Technology Center.

What if the universities located in Camden City such as Rutgers-Camden could, like U. Cal. at Berkeley, use their academic and research capabilities to help the proposed Green Line Project get off the ground. Since the national energy bill passed last December, and supported by Rep. Andrews, allocated a miserly $125 million for work force training for new green jobs, I would call for a far more substantial amount to educate inner-city and inner-suburban students and workers to take jobs in the new green industries.

An alliance like this holds promise for a green American way to 21st century economic prosperity. That's the real ticket to Camden's recovery and revitalization.

by Dr. Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad


Stepping Forward with New Vision & Renewed Hope


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Dr. Ibn-Ziyad has demonstrated an abiding concern for racial justice, humanitarian and environmental issues and has been active as a member or leader (1988-present) in the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (Washington, DC), the (more...)
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