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A Time of Exciting Growth

A Time of Exciting Growth

Gloucester County is seeing new industries emerge, higher education evolve and several communities thrive.

With its unique combination of pre-served farmland, picturesque parks and lakes and sprawling neighborhoods, it is no secret that Gloucester County is a desirable place to call home.

The advantages of living in the county include proximity to higher education institutions at Rowan University and Rowan College at Gloucester County (RCGC) along with first-rate health systems in Washington Township and, starting next year, Mullica Hill.

People also appreciate the ability to visit a thriving downtown in Pitman or experience the exciting growth in Woolwich Township.

To preserve the quality of life that residents have come to expect, county leaders continue to support the economy in a myriad of ways.

“When people have good jobs that allow them to support their families and afford their homes and take care of their parents and educate their kids, there’s nothing better that you can do to build a community,” Freeholder Heather Simmons says. “So investing in employment opportunities, workforce development and education is paramount.”

Workforce Development
With the goals of job creation and job retention, the Gloucester County Workforce Development Board (GCWDB) brings together business executives and county and state government agencies to develop a workforce that meets the needs of the area. 

“The key word is collaboration,” says Simmons, a liaison to the board. “None of these entities would have as great an impact on workforce development if they tried to do it on their own. Our workforce development board at the county, along with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Rowan College at Gloucester County, Rowan University and private industry, have really partnered to develop and launch a new customizable approach to training and education for the future workforce.”

Among the resources of the GCWDB is the American Job Center in Thorofare, which helps job seekers with résumé writing, interviewing skills and determining the training or education they might need to take the next step in their careers.

The board sponsors two mega job fairs a year—which are open to employers at no cost as long as they have current openings— as well as smaller job fairs throughout the year focused on specific audiences or industries.

Earlier this year, the GCWDB also introduced the Mobile American Job Center. Through a mobile app called Engage by Cell, residents can stay up to date on employment trends and job opportunities on their phones. It already has 6,100 users and 10,000 are expected by the end of the year.

“That’s one of our newest initiatives and we’re really excited about it,” Simmons says. “It upgrades our technology and the way we engage with businesses and residents. … It automatically sends out text messages on new businesses, hiring events, updated information on current job openings in the county and the whole region.”

As for where those job opportunities will be coming from, the GCWDB has identified several growing areas in the local economy, including health care and education, a sector that Simmons says is expected to grow at a rate of 11.3 percent over the next five years. Rowan, Jefferson Health New Jersey and Inspira Health Network remain among the top 10 employers in the county, and Inspira is expected to open its brand-new hospital in Mullica Hill in the fall of 2019.

“That’s going to be huge,” Simmons says. “When you look at the world-class health care that is available now, folks don’t have to cross the river when they have a catastrophic illness in their family—they can get the kind of health care they need and deserve right here. Not only is the health care access here but the education and training of the workforce is here to fill those jobs as well.”

Food manufacturers represent five of the top 20 employers in Gloucester County— Rastelli Food Group being the largest—and advanced manufacturing is another sector on the rise. But the area that really has leaders hopeful is logistics, distribution and e-commerce, which is the most rapidly growing industry in the county.

According to Simmons, more than 2 million square feet of warehouse space has been added over the last two years, leading to 1,600 new jobs and wage increases of over 2 percent. Amazon opened a new facility in West Deptford in September, joining its two locations in Logan Township, and now has 4,500 full-time employees to become the top employer in the county.

“We have access to highways, access to ports, access to airports and access to rail,” Simmons says of the county’s appeal to large companies. “Geographically our location midway between New York and Washington is ideal.”

A New Era at RCGC
Formerly known as Gloucester County College, RCGC has already made significant moves in recent years through its partnership with Rowan University. As the college continues to adapt to the evolving landscape in higher education, it is spearheading several other noteworthy initiatives.

Foremost among those is a possible merger with Cumberland County College to create a single college serving both counties, similar to Atlantic Cape Community College. According to Dr. Fred Keating, the president of RCGC, the merger has been backed by the freeholder boards and trustee boards in both counties and is now awaiting approval from the Middle States Commission, which is expected to give its ruling in March. If it does, the merger will be effective July 1, 2019.

“It will be a bigger, better and more academically aggressive institution with Rowan University as the partner,” Keating says. “It will also allow us to save revenue and operational costs as we streamline the cost of purchasing equipment, labor and so on. … It’s got academic benefit, it’s got expansion capability and it protects two institutions in a tough economy. It just looks like a good package and the time is right.”

RCGC is also aggressively pursuing the “eds and meds” model of tying together education and medicine. The college is hoping to become a premier partner of Inspira, creating connections to the new hospital in Mullica Hill and the existing hospital in Vineland. 

“We’ll have an education and medicine corridor right down Route 55, cutting through the heart of both counties,” Keating says. “We’re expanding our academic programs at both sites in projection of that relationship and we’re making a bigger move in nursing and allied health, as well as some of the behavioral sciences like sociology, psychology, social work and education.”

Keating is optimistic about Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine expanding to the Sewell campus at RCGC, and the college has also collaborated with the Rowan School of Engineering as it increases its commitment to STEM-related fields.

Finally, the Rowan Work and Learn Consortium was introduced earlier this year. A partnership between Rowan, RCGC, Gloucester County Institute of Technology and industry and government leaders, the program addresses college affordability, vocational skills and workforce development. 

“All of these things are things that five years ago would not have even been dreamt about in our counties and certainly in the southern part of our state,” Keating says. “But we seem to be a combination of good and lucky, we have the right people in the right places and the timing is right. … We’re going to be giving the people of this region a lot of options. We’ll hopefully keep people in our region to go to school here, work here, pay taxes here and contribute to the community.”

Woolwich Township’s Rise
Once a largely rural area, Woolwich Township has been hailed as one of the fastest growing municipalities in the state and along the East Coast since the early 2000s. According to the U.S. Census, the population increased by more than 7,000 people between 2000 and 2010 and continued to show growth as of 2017.

The population boom has led to more development, but township officials are wary of completely transforming the area.

“We have an extremely aggressive farmland preservation/open space program,” says Matt Blake, director of community development in Woolwich. “As we grow and reinvent ourselves as a community we don’t want to lose touch with those characteristics and assets that drew people to Woolwich in the first place. We’re not a town that does growth at all costs. We target growth and want it in the right way at the right places.”

One location that has long been considered a prime spot for growth is the Route 322 corridor, just off Exit 2 of the New Jersey Turnpike. For more than 10 years township officials have been envisioning a regional center at the site consisting of shops, restaurants and residential units, but the lack of sewer capabilities in the area always stalled the project.

But thanks to an expansion of the sewer treatment facility in nearby Logan Township, Woolwich is moving forward with installation of public water and sewer, hoping to commence in March.

“That area literally is the largest remaining turnpike interchange purposed for development in the state—it’s the last frontier,” Blake says. “Once we break ground in a major way on those projects that it’s going to be a major game-changer. In fact, as word is getting out about that project, we’re already seeing a flurry of land speculation, property changing hands and developers for a wide variety of projects coming into the township with pre-application meetings. I think if even half of them materialize with a site plan that moves to construction over the next two years, the lay of the land is going to begin to change dramatically.”

Possible uses for the site, now known as the Kings Landing Regional Center, also include light industrial, warehousing or office space, as well as residential. Blake says the township is leaning away from single family homes and toward townhomes or urban flats to create higher density and a more vibrant, walkable community.

The township is also open to innovative ideas. For example, just off Route 322 is a Cold War Nike Missile Bases—a tower 60 feet in the air built to defend against missile strikes from Russia during the Cold War.

“That’s an example of where we might do something creative, like attract a bar and restaurant or maybe a microbrewery that has sort of a Cold War or Forbidden Planet theme,” Blake says. “It’s that idea of creating those destination venues that are going to make people want to come to Woolwich, not just to shop but to have a cool experience and stay longer.”

Growth in Woolwich is not just limited to the regional center. It has become a culinary destination with offerings like Center Square Tavern and David & Sons Meats, while Independent Spirits Distillery—the first of its kind in Gloucester County—had its grand opening this summer.

“I was so surprised when I realized that we’re actually the first craft distillery in Gloucester County since Prohibition,” owner Kerry Thomsen says. “That just blows me away that we managed to be the first one in such a highly populated county. The breweries and wineries are all around and we wanted to do something a little different.”

Located on 10 acres of farmland, all of Independent’s spirits are distilled on site using locally sourced grains and produce.

“We do everything naturally; our vodka is not flavored with anything, we don’t put any sugar in our moonshine,” Thomsen says. “We’re trying to be as healthy as possible with alcohol. We’re in the spirit business and fortunately people have been enjoying the spirits.”

Unearthing History in Mantua
Thanks to research led by Dr. Kenneth Lacovara on a four-acre quarry behind Lowe’s Home Improvement on Woodbury-Glassboro Road—and a $25 million gift from two Rowan alumni—the Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University has emerged as not only a hotbed of information about dinosaurs, but also an economic boost to Mantua.

Once an ancient sea floor, the site contains thousands of fossils, including shark teeth, marine snails and sea turtles.

“Mantua has united around the Edelman Fossil Park of Rowan University and is experiencing the pride of place that comes with the realization of the community’s pivotal place in the history of paleontology and Earth history,” Lacovara says.

Although the park is not currently open to the public, it hosts “Dig Days” throughout the year in connection with the Mantua Economic Development Office and Gloucester County Freeholders. School groups, scouts and seniors have all been among the 15,000 visitors who have searched for fossils.

“The overwhelming number of community connections that have been made through this project within the school districts, with the students, parents, businesses, residents and employees here within the township has ignited a sense of pride, volunteerism and partnership to continue to see this fossil park succeed,” Mantua Mayor Pete Scirrotto says.

Ironically, Mantua’s connection to the past has provided a spark for its future. Plans for the fossil park include a world-class museum and visitors’ center focusing on STEM education, so within the next few years the possibilities for the site are boundless. 

“It’s hard to imagine now, but Mantua will become a national and international tourist destination,” Lacovara says. “The economic impacts of the Edelman Fossil Park will ripple throughout the community and will bolster existing businesses, encourage the development of new enterprises and create jobs in the region. Research indicates that museums have huge knock-on effects in the economies surrounding them. The Edelman Fossil Park is poised to buoy businesses in the region in both expected and unexpected ways.”

What Businesses are Saying
PARKE BANK, Daniel Sulpizio, Senior Vice President/Director of Retail Banking 
“I am privileged to serve on the county’s Workforce Develop- ment Board and see the amount of jobs being added here in the county and how new employers and employees are embracing the growth. In addition, as president of Gloucester County Habitat for Humanity, we work very closely with the county and are able to turn vacant lots into ratables and fill those homes with families that add to the community.”

LEDDEN PALIMENO LANDSCAPE COMPANY, Joe Palimeno, Owner/Landscape Designer 
“I am pleased with the steady stream of business we get from existing clients and the amount of new prospects each season. [I appreciate] the people and the relationships that we continue to make. The suppliers and vendors are there to support us in our efforts to provide the highest level of quality.”

DELAWARE VALLEY SAFETY COUNCIL, Alaina Onesti, Marketing Administrator 
“It’s exciting to see all of the new businesses popping up in the area. The economic growth and jobs produced in the county over the last few years help everyone. For years, we’ve been known in the petrochemical and industrial industry. The growth in the area has helped us grow our programs and expand our reach into other industries like food service, transportation and manufacturing.”

PCH TECHNOLOGIES, Timothy Guim, President 
“I am excited to see the growth [in the county], especially around Rowan University. Not only does it create jobs as they build, but it also creates a highly educated workforce for Gloucester County and beyond.”

ACCU STAFFING SERVICES, Kristin Gimello, Director of Business Development 
“It’s great to see what is happening in Gloucester County right now, especially since I was raised here and still reside in the area. Businesses are establishing themselves and investing in Gloucester County, helping to create more job opportunities for local residents and also attract talent from the outside.”

PREMIER ORTHOPAEDIC ASSOCIATES, Thomas A. Dwyer, President/CEO and Orthopaedic Surgeon 
“To accommodate the anticipated orthopaedic needs of the community we are presently building an office on the campus of the new hospital. Our business continues to expand at all [of our] Gloucester County offices. We have hired extra staff from the community to enhance the patient experience. We remain excited over the future growth of the county.”

 
To read the digital edition of South Jersey Biz, click here.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 8, Issue 9 (September 2018).

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