Pascale Sykes launches multimillion-dollar economic development project in South Jersey

MILLVILLE — The Pascale Sykes Foundation is launching a multimillion-dollar economic-development endeavor intended to help low-income working families in four South Jersey counties.
The largest part of the 10-year project involves spending what organizers hope will be as much as $15 million to stimulate existing businesses in, and lure new businesses to, Atlantic, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.
While the money will finance various economic development projects, the main thrust involves bolstering small businesses in downtown areas, said Wayne Meyer, president of the nonprofit New Jersey Community Capital. The New Brunswick-based company administers the funds for the project.
Pascale Sykes already provided $4.1 million toward that effort, Meyer said. He said his company wants to grow that money to as much as $15 million, which will eventually be distributed through grants, loans and other financial agreements.
Another part of foundation’s project involves a more than $500,000 marketing campaign designed to attract tourists, businesses and others to the four-county area. The campaign bills the region as “New Jersey’s Heartland.”
The campaign will use different media outlets to advertise the four counties as a place to “live, work and play,” said Phyllis Lacca.
Lacca’s Atlantic City-based Masterpiece Advertising will oversee the advertising campaign, which will primarily target millennials and baby boomers.
The economic development program, announced at Cumberland County Improvement Authority headquarters here Thursday, is part of Pascale Sykes’ “Strengthening Families Initiative.”
That initiative began about five years ago. Part of its goal is to give low-income working families the chance to find better jobs with livable wages, said foundation President Frances Sykes.
“We support the independence, integrity and well-being of working, low-income families, those missed by the safety net, those trying to do the right things to become self-sufficient,” Sykes said.
“We believe that families need a steady source of income and healthy, vibrant communities in which to live and work,” she said. “We also believe that the basic support of family self-sufficiency is jobs.”
The program announced Thursday also will work in conjunction with state and county economic development efforts, foundation officials said.
Some Cumberland County government and business leaders are enthusiastic about the program.
“This is a game-changer in our county,” said Albert Kelly, mayor of Bridgeton, which is one of Cumberland County’s poorest municipalities.
The program should help small businesses whose owners can’t get financial help from large financial institutions, he said. Pascale Sykes’ track record of working with agencies in the county shows their dedication to helping its residents, he said.
Greater Vineland Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dawn Hunter called the program “awesome,” adding that it should help the four counties compete with North Jersey in attracting new businesses.
“I keep saying we need a reason for people to stop and get off of Route 55,” she said.
The program announced Thursday represents the final part of the foundation’s three-part Strengthening Families Initiative.
Officials with Pascale Sykes, a nonprofit organization with offices in Vineland, said the foundation already has spent $10.3 million to bolster nine social service agencies in the four counties. Those agencies have helped about 8,000 families, they said.
The foundation also invested $2.1 million in four transportation systems — including the Greater Bridgeton Area Transit in Cumberland County and the English Creek-Tilton Road Community Shuttle in Atlantic County — aimed at getting people to and from work. About 6,000 people used the systems in June, foundation officials said.
Sykes said the foundation is targeting the four counties because “they have the most potential due to their unappreciated and undervalued assets.” Gloucester County also works with Cumberland and Salem counties in connection with social service organizations, she said.
Foundation officials said they plan to spend $50 million in the four counties by the time the foundation closes in 2023. The money represents the bulk of the foundation’s assets, they said.
Officials said there is much work to be done in the four counties.
State Department of Labor and Workforce Development statistics show Atlantic, Cumberland and Salem counties had the first, second and third worst unemployment rates, respectively, in New Jersey in June.
The rates were 8.8 percent in Atlantic County, 8.3 percent in Cumberland County, and 7.1 percent in Salem County. Gloucester County had a 5.9 percent unemployment rate.
Gloucester County is the only one of the four counties where the median income for 2009 to 2013 exceeded the state figure of $71,629, and then only by about $2,900, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show.
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