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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Who will be responsible, who will lead?

Frustrations seem to be everywhere I look. I am a glass half-full type of person, but these are trying times. Even in this bad economy, I try to look at how to be positioned when things get better or to innovate as things get worse. Camden seems to be nonplussed by the difficulties the rest of the country faces. Camden, like cities such as Flint, Michigan or East St. Louis, Illinois, or Gary, Indiana have been in trouble for so long that there seems to be no relief, regardless of the situation. It's almost like a hostage situation where the city residents, leaders, and institutions get so accustomed to the situation, they can't see an exit when the door is wide open.

Camden has two significant advantages that should be valuable - proximity to a major city (Philadelphia) and a major University in the city (Rutgers). Camden is close enough to Philadelphia to take advantage of it. Symbiosis can be a good thing. Rutgers has adopted a serious undertaking of its Land Grant University mission to engage its community. That means Camden and South Jersey.

Why is Camden not able to take advantage of being so close to Phily?
Camden needs a property strategy that makes financial sense. Right now it does not make financial sense to buy property in Camden - value (in $, services, and quality of life) is less than the taxes charged and the likelihood of property value increases, even if the property is rehabbed or built new. Subsidies are supposed to help minimize the risk to investors (rich or poor). But at some point, the market improves and the risk decreases, lessening the need for subsidies. In Camden, that equation is not working.

What can Higher Ed do for Camden?
Education is the key to advancement. There are 3 institutions of higher learning in this little city. We should be the most well-educated city in the tri-state area. Why aren't these institutions serving the city in which they sit? And by serving - I mean working in a strategic fashion with each other and with the city and state to be an economic engine. We are the way out that the hostages cannot see. And the institutions are blind to the triage that they could provide and instead, continue to tinker at the margins and wonder why things don't get better.

The state is in a fiscal crisis. Rutgers is having a massive budget problem and I am sure Rowan and the Community College are in a similar fix. The residents of Camden need jobs and an economy. The federal government is offering a boatload of stimulus funding right now to address economic ills and put people to work, get people educated, improve health care, and build a new energy technology and infrastructure. The city government is in no position to deliver much of anything, even if it had more money because there is no leadership or organization that functions consistently. Am I the only one connecting these dots?

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