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'Buy Camden' Ordinance Gives a Leg Up to Local Business Owners

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CAMDEN, NJ — Local business owners in Camden will now have a leg up during a much-need time.

On Tuesday night, the City Council passed the "Buy Camden" purchasing policy - an ordinance requiring Camden to contract out at least 30% of its goods and services from local businesses.

Another major component of the bylaw is to encourage larger corporations and anchor institutions to procure a portion of services from city businesses. While entering a community benefits agreement (CBA) wouldn't be required, it would be strongly encouraged as part of the commitment.

The passing of the ordinance comes at a critical time a year into economic woes felt by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It also catches Camden up with business corridors in other major metropolitan areas like Philadelphia and New York City, said Vice President of the Camden Businesses Association (CBA) Nichelle Pace.

“This is a huge step, and it’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel,” Pace told TAPinto Camden after the meeting.

Councilman Angel Fuentes sponsored the ordinance along with Councilman Vic Carstarphen and Councilwoman Sheila Davis.

“[Pace and CBA President Ray Jones] are the architects of this legislation that [we have] discussed since as far back as August…I’m sure down the road perhaps amendments, but for now it is good,” Fuentes said.

The mayor’s spokesman could not immediately provide how much the city contracted out to local businesses in 2020.

“This will be monumental for our community, as we're moving forward with a lot of other municipalities to make sure we're being inclusive in our small business practices, as well as to let everyone know including the public, that this was a labor of work with all Camden based-talent,” Pace said during the public portions section of the meeting.

The ordinance, which can be found on the council agenda, defines local business as having their main office in Camden County and be in operation for at least a year. To be considered a small business, the ordinance states it must have a maximum of 100 employees and annual gross revenue that doesn’t go over $5 million. Franchises only qualify if they are independently-owned and run within a parameter of local zip codes.

Reaching this point has been long in the works by the CBA, which almost exactly one year ago launched an online portal to organize business owners regardless of size.

The website, as well as the latest ordinance, strives to also connect small- and micro-businesses to large corporations already based in the city like American Water, Subaru and Campbell’s Soup.

According to the ordinance, the city “seeks to expand opportunities for small [Camden] businesses located within the City of Camden. Small and locally owned businesses are the bedrock of an economically self-sufficient community as they employ residents, invest in neighborhoods, and provide wealth-building opportunities for entrepreneurs…”

Giving priority to local businesses is pivotal to the city’s future, Jones said toward the end of the meeting.

“Simply put, small and diverse businesses are an economic engine that drives this nation. When we contract we hire local people….and organically Camden can rise,” said Jones, also a small business owner. “In order to fully move the needle and become a model city in the state - if not the nation - we must engage our anchor institutions as well, to join our initiative. This ordinance is a great step in the right direction.”

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