By Nanette LoBiondo Galloway
Overcoming Atlantic County’s greatest weakness and progress made on economic development is the goal of Republican Freeholder-at-large candidate Frank Formica, who has been on the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders for the last nine years.
The incumbent Formica, 66, has been chairman of the freeholder board for eight of those years, but has no more authority than the rest of the board members other than formulating the agenda and setting committees, he said.
Formica owns and operates two bakeries – Formica Brothers in the Ducktown section of Atlantic City where he was born and raised, and Baker Boys in Pleasantville, where he also packages breads for other companies.
Growing up, he worked in the family bakery until he was drafted a year out of high school. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1971 as the Vietnam War was winding down. He served until 1973 when he received an honorable discharge on a hardship because his dad became ill, which brought him back to the bakery.
“When I was in my 20s, I started the Ducktown Revitalization Association and served as its president for 17 years,” he said. Then, magazine publisher Bob Guccione purchased the bakery with the hope of building the Hollywood casino.
When casino gaming was approved, Formica left the bakery to work at Resorts International Hotel Casino as a dealer and later supervisor and equal opportunity employment officer.
“Then, fate took a hand and Dad called to say my uncle had passed and if someone didn’t buy the bakery, it would have to close. That’s when I left my 30 suits and three pinky rings behind and took over the business,” he said.
The business has “expanded and contracted” several times over the last 31 years, “but I’m still not making any more money than my uncles did,” he said.
When former Freeholder Tom Russo retired in 2011, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson told him he thought he would make a good freeholder.
“I had been active in politics as a layman for many years,” he said.
Formica said his greatest accomplishment on the Freeholder board, has been the revitalization of the autonomous Atlantic County Improvement Authority, which had “powered down” a bit when the CRDA was created. The authority responsible for building the Atlantic City Expressway, Atlantic Cape Community College, the annex to the Atlantic City Convention Center, now Boardwalk Hall, also allowed the FAA to locate at Atlantic City International Airport.
Most recently, the ACIA provided $127 million in guaranteed bonds to allow AC Devco, a public-private partnership, to build the Stockton Atlantic City campus.
Formica is focused now on supporting development of the aviation research industry at the airport, where the FAA will be a tenant in the first building opening before the end of the year. Six other buildings will house other big-name aviation research companies and are waiting in the wings to create as many as 200 new jobs, he said.
“We are not just moving pieces on a chess board. These are real, high-paying jobs,” he said.
Taking over the “insolvent” South Jersey Economic Development District, which had control over the aviation research park project, allowed the county to move the long-stalled project forward.
The county funded a feasibility study to determine how to revive the Atlantic County economy after years of decline, including the loss of 30,000 casino jobs. The Angelou Economics Report identified diversification of the economy as the county’s top priority and the best way to start would be expanding aviation research in a one-mile area around the airport. The county put together an economic development committee, hired a director and has been working to make it happen.
“Development of aviation research will be the catalyst to economic development in Atlantic County along with a new wave of businesses, such as breweries and distilleries and entertainment venue,” he said. “My eye now is on the racetrack area and other areas of the county that can be developed.”
Formica said one of the most important jobs in county government is to “make sure the peoples’ money is being used to the highest and best use.” The county’s strong bonding capacity has been achieved by funding capital projects through the county’s operating budget.
“We have one-half of 1 percent in debt service,” and the capacity to take on more debt, he said.
Being accessible to the public, fighting for veterans’ rights and increasing services for senior citizens have been his priorities, he said.
Although he feels his experience is his strong suit, Formica said he is “running scared” in this year’s campaign, mainly because of the emergence of women in county politics. There are three female candidates vying for the three open seats on the board. Democrat Celeste Fernandez is challenging Formica for the at-large seat, Maureen Leidy is challenging Maureen Kern for the District 2 seat, and Barbara Butterhof-Rheault is challenging Jim Bertino for the District 5 seat. The board is currently controlled by Republicans 6-3, and now has four women on the dais.
Democrats are running on a platform to bring more social services to county residents in need, but Formica said the county already has some of the best social programs of any county in the state, including Meals on Wheels, Senior Nutrition Sites, Meadowview Nursing Home, and a fleet of 12 passenger vans that take the elderly and disabled to doctor’s appointments and food shopping. The county also operates five health centers around the county, he said.
“When someone says we’re not doing enough, they don’t know what they are talking about,” he said, admitting that the need is great.
Of the 275,000 people living in Atlantic County, 102,000 of them are on some form of public assistance, he said.
Formica said it is sad to know that so many people are in a bad situation as a result of the casino implosion and economic downturn, but the best way to help people is to create good paying jobs.
Formica, recipient of numerous awards, including the 2011 Bailey Award, NAACP Community Outreach Award and the Chelsea Neighborhood Association World of Difference Award, is married to Annie. He is the father of four adult children and five grandchildren, and lives in Linwood.
Copyright MediaWize 2018