Higher education and civic leaders touted partnerships among colleges, high schools and businesses as keys to revitalizing Camden.
That was among the takeaways at the annual meeting of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, a nonprofit economic development organization that is working to implement urban redevelopment projects. The meeting attracted hundreds Thursday at the Adventure Aquarium.
Cooper’s Ferry Partnership CEO Kris Kolluri welcomed the turnout, especially in light of the Philadelphia Eagles holding their Super Bowl victory parade that day across the Delaware River from Camden. He said the Eagles waited 85 years to throw a championship parade and compared that time frame with Camden’s rise.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time for this inflection point,” Kolluri said. “The fact that you’re here today is a validation that this inflection point is real. Camden’s rise is palpable.”
“Hopefully with your continuing support, we’ll be a meaningful contributor to the trajectory of Camden,” he continued. “Our mission as a community and economic development entity is unconditionally tied to a holistic strategy that our stakeholders have asked us to comply with.”
Kolluri said he wants prosperity to be sustainable and inclusive. Cooper’s Ferry Partnership is working to attract new businesses to Camden, upgrade its transportation network, and develop neighborhood-driven plans to rehabilitate homes and business.
Cooper’s Ferry is working on $40 million of transportation projects to ease congestion and provide better access for Camden neighborhoods. It also is developing $30 million of parks projects.
“We realize that this effort is a collective effort,” Kolluri said. “There has never been a time in my 25 years that I have been associated with this city where the forces of business, government, nonprofits and residents have all been single-mindedly dedicated to making sure that the city succeeds.”
Camden Mayor Frank Moran said construction is underway on the $1 billion Liberty Trust waterfront development, adding spending in public, charter and renaissance schools is resulting in more students graduating from high school and having the skills to succeed in college and the workforce.
“For us, this is tangible proof of economic opportunity that is being created for the region and the residents of our city,” Moran said. “But progress, prosperity, and opportunity cannot truly be complete unless every neighborhood of this great city benefits from Camden’s renaissance.”
Also Thursday, Rowan University President Dr. Ali Houshmand, Rutgers University-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon, Camden City School District Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, and Camden County College President Donald Borden took part in a panel discussion on education during the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership meeting.
Haddon said she identifies higher education’s role in Camden as defining the “eds and meds” corridor.
“We can be extraordinarily creative in the ways that we create pathways for development of our students,” Haddon said. “We define what it means to be a good worker in the 21st century.”
Individual people succeed through partnerships between colleges and businesses
Borden called partnerships the pathway to success.
“We have to provide as much opportunity as possible for the students, not just in Camden City, Camden County, South Jersey, and the Delaware Valley,” Borden said.
Houshmand said Rowan University has invested $50 million in research so students can work on meaningful education projects that can benefit Camden.
“Institutions of higher education are large business enterprises and they really are massive economic engines,” Houshmand said. “To the extent that they can put all their resources in partnership with industry together, wonderful things can happen and you will build a great city. A wonderful example is Glassboro. Ten years ago no one cared even to drive through it. The same thing can happen in this amazing city with a great history.”
Camden’s proximity to Philadelphia is an added bonus, he said.
Rouhanifard said the graduation rate at his school has increased in the last five years, while suspension and drop-out rates have declined and more parents are connected to their children’s education. Many families, he noted, do not have a car and rely on public transportation.
“Being able to walk your kid to school is a must and so from a [kindergarten] to eighth [grade] standpoint we made major investments,” Rouhanifard said. “From high school and our partnership with higher ed, we have made some gains as well. Our objective has been to meet kids where they are and to give them a choice to find a meaningful career.”