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UEZ Reforms Raise Hope for Camden Businesses

CAMDEN, NJ – City business leaders say reforms to the state’s Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program should help existing businesses grow and make it easier for new ones to open.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver signed the urban enterprise reform package last week, earmarking $42.5 million for the program this fiscal year and up to $82.5 million annually going forward. Oliver was serving as acting governor while Gov. Phil Murphy vacationed in Italy.

“Small businesses in Camden are definitely on the rise, so I think it’s only right to bring in as many incentives, grants and resources as possible for (them),” said Rashaan Hornsby, owner of several local businesses and the president of the Haddon Avenue Business Association.

Hornsby said the additional funding will help businesses “enhance and scale up their operations” along retail corridors like Federal Street and Mt. Ephraim and Haddon avenues.

Oliver – a state Department of Community Affairs commissioner who will now chair the UEZ Authority – said she expects the revitalized program to significantly help designated cities and their businesses as they rebound from the pandemic.

The UEZ program was created in 1983 and is best known for allowing retail stores and other businesses to charge half of the state’s 6.625% sales tax, or roughly 3.3%, to attract customers. 

Camden was one of the state’s five original UEZ cities along with Bridgeton, Newark, Plainfield and Trenton. There are now 32 zones in 37 municipalities encompassing over 7,200 businesses.

Business leaders here are optimistic about the potential new benefits.

“Small businesses are the real economic engine,” said Ray Jones, president of the Camden Business Association. “Any type of program where they can offer assistance for small businesses, that … helps our bottom line and keeps us in business so we can create jobs.”

Many anchor stores and large corporations already receive generous tax breaks, so Jones said it makes sense for other incentives to be offered to small businesses. Jones, who owns a private security company, expects UEZ changes to accomplish less for non-retail businesses like his.

But, Hornsby said allowing businesses to cut their sale tax rates in half have been a boon to brick-and-mortar retail businesses, like his clothing store called MAGIC on Haddon.

Hornsby also owns a paper and cleaning supply company and an e-commerce business which he hopes to move into the city at some point. “Depending on how long it stays around, I think businesses like my paper company will eventually be able to benefit from (other) UEZ resources,” Hornsby said.

The new reform measure also makes business-to-business purchases of $100,000 or less, tax-exempt. Previously, there was no cap, making it a better deal for larger businesses. That full tax exemption will still apply to new construction and major rehabilitation projects, explained DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan.

Other UEZ reform measures include:

  • Subsidized unemployment insurance for employees who earn less than $4,500 per quarter
  • Energy sales tax exemption for manufacturing firms with more than 250 employees, 50% of whom work in manufacturing. 
  • Tax Credit Options (owners may choose one of the following) 
  • Up to $1,500 for hiring new permanent full-time employees. 
  • Up to 8% corporate business tax credit on qualified investments.

Hornsby expects the new UEZ funding may allow some neighboring Haddon Avenue businesses to make renovations. “It’s going to really allow businesses to make … façade improvements which will be more attractive to residents (and) people who work here.” 

Interim Mayor Vic Carstarphen is also pleased about the UEZ program changes. “Local businesses and consumers alike will greatly benefit,” he said in a prepared statement.

Although UEZ-designated businesses were still allowed to charge lower sales tax, the state has not funded economic incentives for UEZ businesses since 2011 when Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on such money, claiming it “produced a negative return on state investments.”

Hilary Chebra, from the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey, still disagrees with that assessment. 

“We think (those) programs were incredibly beneficial,” in Camden and other South Jersey communities like Bridgeton and Millville, she said. “Between the time that it started and in 2011, (Camden) saw at least 4,000 additional full-time jobs (and) a good 500 part-time jobs were created.”

Chebra is glad to see program funding restored given the challenging year or more that many businesses have had.  “Anything that can give them a little step up getting back to business would be great. We think this program would definitely help,” she said.

To take advantage of the UEZ program incentives, business owners in qualified areas must be in good tax standing and must register with the state through the Premier Business Portal. Detailed instructions on how to do that are available online.

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For all CCSNJ media inquiries, please contact:

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