Writer: Joey Garrand
2 min read September 2021 — Cumberland County’s economy proved resilient throughout the pandemic. Now, it’s experiencing burgeoning growth and diversification. At the heart of this success lies The Authority, the county’s economic development arm that is helping to develop $650 million in projects throughout the region.
Jerry Velazquez, president and CEO of The Authority, shared with Invest: the current strategy with regard to fostering further economic strength in the region, drawing from its 2020-2030 master plan. “We intend to make significant investments in the infrastructure across our county to improve the viability of businesses and the livability for residents — extensive broadband access, expanded sewer service and more powerful electricity for new large industrial and commercial sites.”
This robust investment in infrastructure is crucial in accommodating the economic vitality that the county is experiencing and further anticipating. At the heart of the matter is diversification. “Technology such as our upcoming county data center, healthcare such as the Inspira network, and food manufacturing such as Oatly — we see these various sectors of the economy and their flagship companies as the future for sustainable growth in Cumberland County,” said Velazquez, highlighting a few significant projects in the region.
Specifically with regard to food manufacturing, Cumberland County is positioning itself as a hotspot for food innovation, a logical step for a region already known for successful agriculture. “For example, on May 16, we held a ribbon cutting for our Food Specialization Center in Bridgeton, which supports food technology at new companies in the early stages of production,” said Kim Ayres, senior vice president of economic development at The Authority. Several tenants are now occupying the recently constructed facility, including the first tenant, Chank’s Pizza Cones.
The favorable business climate in Cumberland County, compared to other regions in New Jersey, has helped to draw a great deal of investment. “All the inputs into operating a business are less expensive here than in other parts of the state. Lower costs translate into the ability for companies to generate additional revenue,” said Velazquez.
Of course, The Authority’s ample resources and focus on communication have played a tremendous role in the economy’s success as well. The Authority operates like the private sector but has governmental resources and advantages. “Yes, we’re a government agency but we think like entrepreneurs and, therefore, offer Cumberland County the best of both worlds, namely the vast resources of the government and the nimble thinking of an entrepreneur,” said Ayres. “Our new brand of The Authority expresses these concepts well and positions us as the one-stop business resource for the county, no matter the size of that business.”
Laura Wallick, Program Director at New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC), agrees. “The Authority is very proactive in supporting businesses to move and expand in Cumberland County. The team utilizes their long-standing relationships with public and private industry professionals, including NJCC, to connect business leaders to the resources they need to successfully relocate or grow in Cumberland County.” Over the past four years, NJCC has worked with The Authority on more than 20 projects totaling in excess of $43 million, ranging from large-scale commercial and industrial projects to financing small businesses.
The Authority’s approach helped to stimulate economic growth over the past year, despite the pandemic impact. “We worked with small shops to navigate the various new assistance programs and ultimately secure funding, while also partnering with state and federal agencies such as USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), USEDA (U.S. Economic Development Administration), NJEDA (New Jersey Economic Development Authority) and NJCC to make further investments in our municipalities and expand commerce in our area,” said Ayres.
For example, The Authority helped to secure a grant from U.S. EDA to build the Food Specialization Center in Bridgeton. The Millville Public Library is another example, with The Authority helping to secure about $3 million in funding from the state of New Jersey, which matched about $3 million in local fundraising by the library.
Moving forward, The Authority’s goal is to create a collaborative societal ecosystem. “We foresee the best results when all sectors of our diverse economy work together and grow in unison. For example, our work on talent pipelines from Rowan University, CCTEC and general education high schools supports hiring efforts in technology, healthcare and advanced manufacturing, which in turn support quality of life in the county through good wages and a community fabric,” said Velazquez. “As long as we continue to take this holistic approach to our economy and think strategically about the ecosystem of education, work and life, we’ll maintain a very positive outlook for Cumberland County.”
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