Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read July 2021 — The Cumberland County Improvement Authority (The Authority) serves as Cumberland County’s multipurpose financing, development and project management agency. Its primary purpose is to plan, finance and construct public improvements such as schools, municipal buildings, transportation facilities, housing developments, infrastructure redevelopment, roadway construction and beautification, and convention facilities. President and CEO Gerard Velazquez, III spoke with Invest: and called the area “a hidden gem” with its quality of life among its biggest assets.
What differentiates Cumberland County from other areas in South Jersey?
Quality of life in Cumberland County is really one of its greatest assets. The ability to make it to an urban metropolitan area in less than an hour really gives us a unique opportunity to grow the county. It’s a hidden gem: From a travel and quality of life perspective it provides everything anyone could want.
What are some of the significant developments in the county?
The Improvement Authority is the economic development arm of the county. We started in 2013 with 39 landfill employees and we hadn’t completed any redevelopment or economic development activities. My role when I came here was to transform the authority from a landfill operator to a redevelopment authority. Now, we have about $650 million in projects and 100 employees. Our mission has been trying to get people to understand that the success of the county depends on the success of the municipalities within the county.
Over the last year, we finalized our 2020 – 2030 master plan and have utilized that strategy to drive development. Eds and meds are a cornerstone of this, given the presence of Rowan College SJ, Rowan University and the Inspira Health system. We want to take the corridor that used to stop in Glassboro down to our location. We want to further diversify the economy so that we are not dependent on one specific sector. We are focused on technology and we have a data center that will soon be located in the county. We are building on the executive airport to facilitate services for private jet maintenance. We want to bring workforce opportunities to the county that do not currently exist. COVID, while obviously not a good thing, is also a blessing in disguise. It has forced people to think differently and realize they do not need to be within an urban metropolitan area to get a job done. This has benefited us.
What business incentives does the county offer?
We have all the same incentives on the state level as our neighboring counties. The added advantage we have here is cost, including land, labor and construction. 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.
Where does the county’s economy stand today?
We are in good shape. We are predominantly a manufacturing-related economy, so we did not experience the same downturn as Cape May or Atlantic County. Food manufacturing, warehousing and food storage have all grown in the county and now our biggest problem is supply of raw material to build these warehouses. This is the only thing holding back our manufacturing growth. We are due to start construction on several projects and we have experienced significant delays with steel and resin procurement.
What is the importance of sustainability to your organization?
The authority operates as a self-sustaining operation, so we are not taxpayer funded. All the revenue we generate comes from fees, including landfill tip fees, developer fees and lease revenues. For us, sustainability is extremely important. We own all the infrastructure for a methane gas energy microgrid using methane gas from the landfill to generate electricity. The entire complex we work from is run from the microgrid. We also have the only direct discharge treatment plant in the state, which was just fitted with an evaporator to eliminate the leachate that is generated from the landfill. We cannot just raise taxes or increase fees; we need to prepare to ensure that we remain sustainable. This is also true of the economy, which is why we want to diversify our activity into more industry sectors.
What is your outlook for the region in the next 18 months?
If we can get the data center and the aviation opportunity off the ground, the combination of those with the healthcare and food fields, creates great strength from an economic perspective. From an energy perspective, we are also paying a lot of attention to legislation. We have built our organization around energy opportunities. The federal and state government’s initiatives around this are very important to us. From an economic standpoint, we need to start focusing on reopening schools and getting people back to work. Another employment opportunity we are paying attention to is vocational training for those who do not want to attend a four-year college. There is a scarcity of these professionals across the country so there is a big opportunity to bridge this gap.
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