Camden's bright future depends on businesses | Opinion

Cooper’s Poynt Waterfront Park in Camden, New Jersey.

Looking back on 2017, we can see our county seat turning a very sharp corner in its transformation into a stabilized municipality. This foundation is made of a new industrial and corporate base to drive Camden into the future, with companies such as Holtec International, Subaru of America, and American Water .

A sense of hope and change is in the air, and it is tangible to anyone who steps foot inside its borders. This alteration has been spawned in much the same way that manufacturing plants accelerated the industrial revolution more than a century ago.

It’s been said many times, but the number one way to stop a bullet is with a job. In that respect, Camden was identified in April 2017 by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, as having the largest year-over-year job growth in the nation. By expanding employment opportunities and putting more people to work, we are effectively taking people out of the narcotics trade and expanding economic horizons and undermining criminal resources.

Let’s look at some of the city’s crime statistics from last year. Homicides are at a more than 30-year low, meaning that the 2017 homicide numbers are about 50 percent less than 2016 and a reduction of 67 percent from 2012.

In 2017,  Part 1 crimes — that is, murder and non-negligent homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft, and arson — were just over 4,100. To find a comparable year, you would have to go all the way back to the 1960s. At the end of the day, we are talking about almost 3,000 fewer crime victims annually than in 2011 and more important, significantly fewer funerals being held by families in Camden.

To put that in proper perspective, by contrast 33 percent of the city is under the age of 18 years old, meaning many city residents have never seen crime rates this low in their lifetime. Think about that for a second: A significant subsection of this city has never seen crime this low as long as they have been alive.

That said, police officers cannot revive a city unilaterally. In fact, they are but one branch on a large tree. The other branches are made up of education, economic opportunity and a strong social safety net that doesn’t allow the most vulnerable to slip through the cracks. This tree needs a well-fed root system fed by community engagement, job training programs and strong leadership. Right now, all facets of this network are working in a coordinated effort to create a better city and county and are pulling in the same direction.

Moving forward, continuing to raise the high school graduation rate, to keep kids from dropping out of school, and to invest in educational infrastructure will consistently aid public safety in the city.

For instance, high school dropouts are nearly four times more likely to commit crimes than high school graduates. Since Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard was appointed, Camden’s graduation rate has risen 17 points and the dropout rate has been cut in half.

We have seen the poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, drop 25 percent in the most updated statistics released in 2017. The economic rebirth is starting to take hold putting more residents back to work and providing access to jobs that did not exist in past years.

The bottom line here is progress has been made on a variety of different fronts. That said, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we can say mission accomplished.

Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. serves on the Camden County Freeholder Board and was at the forefront of implementing the Camden County Police Department in 2012.