Stockton University Atlantic City campus

Stockton University's arrival — or rather its return — will have a long-term positive impact on the local economy, but officials caution against overly optimistic ideas that it will radically reshape the city's fortunes.

ATLANTIC CITY — Stockton University’s arrival — or rather its return — will have a long-term positive impact on the local economy, but officials caution against overly optimistic ideas that it will radically reshape the city’s fortunes.

A new report from the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton included a study on the institution’s long-range impact on its host city and determined the university will ultimately serve as a catalyst for economic growth. But, despite the rosy outlook, the study’s author cautions against putting too much stock in the university’s ability to alter Atlantic City’s growth.

“Clearly, (the campus) will deliver a lot of long-term benefits, even if it’s not transformative in some magic-bullet sense,” said Oliver D. Cooke, assistant professor of economics at Stockton and editor of the South Jersey Economic Review. “But it will make very important contributions going forward.”

Cooke studied three comparable higher-learning institution openings and their impact on the surrounding metropolitan economies. He examined those institutions’ impact on areas such as procurement, diversification and commercial development, foot traffic, real estate and community development. Cooke theorized Stockton’s presence could benefit Atlantic City in each of these areas.

But, educational attainment for the residents of Atlantic City and the surrounding area will have the largest, and most influential, impact in the long term, he said.

Having more college graduates leads to higher wages, a well-trained and prepared workforce and additional economic opportunities for the city.

“It’s hard to understate the importance of that,” Cooke said.

Anchor institutions, which Stockton now is in Atlantic City, “serve as a magnet for existing employers” in the region, which provides additional opportunities for growth.

Sixth Ward Councilman Jesse Kurtz, who represents the neighborhood Stockton now calls home, said the university’s impact can already be seen in the Lower Chelsea neighborhood.

He noted several new businesses, such as Chico and Sons pizzeria, Drip N Scoop and a family dental office — all three of which either expanded from existing locations or relocated — as evidence of Stockton’s immediate economic impact.

“There are projects that have happened or are underway, and it’s because of the Gateway Project,” Kurtz said. “Those projects were enabled and inspired by the arrival of Stockton and South Jersey Gas.”

Kurtz said there has also been an increase in real estate transfers and overall interest in long-vacant properties in the neighborhood.

Still, the councilman said the long-term benefits of Stockton will require “leadership and a focus” from stakeholders. He cited the flawed mentality of people who believed Revel Casino Hotel had the ability to automatically transform the South Inlet as a reason a more concentrated effort is needed to capitalize on Stockton’s arrival.

“We don’t magically add another element to the local economy just because Stockton opens its doors,” he said. “Stockton alone doesn’t solve the economic development situation by itself. It’s an ongoing process and requires consistent work and attention.”

Brian Jackson, chief operating officer of Stockton, said part of that ongoing effort is the city’s designation of a university overlay district around the campus.

The overlay allows for additional zoning uses in the district and lacks the ability for condemnation of personal property, something other neighborhoods in Atlantic City have seen as a result of defined districts.

“For us, it was important that we become part of the community instead of dropping in and walling ourselves off,” said Jackson. “We recognize that we can play a critical role in how Atlantic City is transformed going forward.”

Jackson said that although university and city officials have high hopes for Stockton’s impact, “it’s important to manage expectations.”

“We’ve been very careful to do that, to not overpromise,” he said.

Cooke’s research of the three other colleges — University of California, Merced; Nevada State College, Henderson; and Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville — reinforces that idea.

“These three openings also make clear that such institutions will not quickly nor radically transform their local economies,” he wrote, later concluding, “Despite the understandable interest in Stockton’s role in the economic revitalization of Atlantic City and its economy in the near-term, those contributions (whatever they may be) will, in the long run, be dwarfed by the far more significant educational ones it delivers to those who walk through its doors.”

Contact: 609-272-7222 ddanzis@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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