Let's give the benefit of the doubt to Camden employers who've gotten colossal public subsidies but can't seem to recruit, train, and retain enough city residents to fill new jobs at their companies.
Let's grant these employers the goodness of their oft-stated intentions to do right by a city that since 1950 has lost most of the 44,000 manufacturing jobs that once made it an economic powerhouse.
And let's also get real about the challenges facing no small portion of the potential workforce in a city that for generations has been one of America's profoundly poorest places.
A place where real estate values are low but the cost of living is high, where the effects of racism are not only a legacy but a daily reality. Where unemployment stood at 9.95 percent, twice the national rate, in July, and where until recent years more than half of all students dropped out of high school.
Realistically, what sort of job skills — let alone career prospects — are some of the folks trying to survive in such circumstances likely to possess?
It's a fact that some young and not-so-young people in Camden (and elsewhere) are unable and sometimes unwilling to work, and have little personal exposure to the realities of holding down a job, and as a result are vulnerable to washing out of or cycling through even the most promising of opportunities.
It's an inconvenient truth.
But while we're speaking truth and getting real at risk of giving offense, let's also make sure not to let these employers off the hook.
I refuse to believe that an extraordinary and unprecedented $1.5 billion in tax incentives for more than two dozen companies in Camden is insufficient to yield some sort of collective down payment on an equally extraordinary and unprecedented effort to recruit, train, and retain workers who live in the city.
Let's set aside for a moment the fact that the legislation to release this tsunami of public subsidies for private companies required so little in return for those hundreds of millions.
Even if there's no requirement to do so, surely a company capable of attracting sufficient public and private capital to relocate or expand in Camden is also capable of trying harder and working smarter, and longer, to hire locally. Or at the very least, such companies ought to be capable of figuring out how to connect with city programs, like Hopeworks, that already are training young people for tech-related or other opportunities.
For $1.5 billion, we should expect no less. We should have expected no less from the beginning. And the fact that no real strings seem to have been attached to this money says something about the elected officials and political power brokers who set this plan in motion — and about whose interests they put first.
Hint: It's not New Jersey taxpayers, a group that includes many thousands of Camden residents, even though it's our money they're spending.
I was, however, heartened that so many politicos, business leaders, and city residents gathered this week to launch "Camden Works," which Mayor Frank Moran described as a new initiative to connect city residents with job opportunities.
I hope the Camden Works initiative works. I really do.
But I must point out that this effort is being proposed only after the outrage sparked by Holtec CEO Kris Singh's stinging observations about the job readiness of Camden residents. Had there been no controversy, would evidently ineffective efforts to hire locally have continued?
If so, it's likely that far too few of the new jobs being created — at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars each in public subsidies — would have ended up being held by people living in a Camden zip code.
Such as zip code 08104, which encompasses much of what used to be called South Camden below downtown and between the Delaware River and Broadway.
Amid the many dramatic development projects in the heart of the city, where marquee names like Subaru, American Water and the 76ers adorn bold new buildings, the city's harsher realities can too easily be ignored.
But last weekend, as a friend and I drove north on Broadway from the South Camden Theater Company to the heart of the city, ignoring reality was impossible.
Depleted and desperate landscapes that once held homes, businesses and industries extended into emptiness in every direction. Anxious and emaciated young women waved at passing cars, hunched on sidewalks in front of empty buildings or wandered the intersections of block after ruined block.
The weather was beautiful, and downtown's eds-and-meds corridor and waterfront construction cranes lay just a few blocks away. But on much of Broadway, once a regional commercial hub, the city looked as if it were beyond hope.