By Lynda L. Hinkle
Freeholder Kate Gibbs of Burlington County knows how to make being different work. “I was in m
y twenties when I was elected,” says Gibbs, “and being young, a woman and a Republican in the labor movement enabled me to bring a very different perspective to the job. A new set of eyes brings innovation. It also gives me a greater understanding of a wide range of issues, not just labor issues, and how they impact people’s everyday lives. I am exposed to many different people and perspectives, and together we can create positive change.”
In her day job, Gibbs is responsible for business development for the Labor Management Fund of the Engineers Labor-Employee Cooperative, established by the members of Local 825 Operating Engineers. She works to connect the union’s signatory contractors with developers to create job opportunities.
“We focus on developing and promoting our workforce,” says Gibbs, “and advocating for economic development and investments in infrastructure, all to create work opportunities. I am a liaison between the contractors and the Union. We have a contractor toolkit we developed to help with project tracking which is a time-consuming task, especially for contractors who don’t have staff to do this. We also support developers with local permitting processes and connect them to contractors that may not have otherwise had opportunities to bid.”
With a background in politics before running for Freeholder, Gibbs says her work helped prepare her for the challenges of county government. “New Jersey has over 500 municipalities and I have 26 counties in my region. That means I go to planning and zoning board meetings all over the state and get to see what works and what doesn’t work, what needs common sense solutions and how things can be done better. It also helps me to see the unintended long-term consequences of policy decisions so I can better help direct our decisions in Burlington County.”
Gibbs formerly served on the Board of Rowan College at Burlington County and helped oversee the transition from Burlington County College to Rowan College at Burlington County. Extremely proud of her work there and the college’s contributions to the county, Gibbs says: “We have given affordable access to education to Burlington County residents. You can get a four-year degree for $30,000 which removes barriers to higher education for so many. I took on debt to earn an undergraduate and Masters in Business Administration degrees, so I know how important access to an affordable, quality education can be for people. We also have a Workforce Development Institute, which is a national model for working with businesses in the community to create specific curricula that meet the labor development needs of businesses looking to expand or locate in the area. This makes us more attractive to business and ensures we have the best trained and most skilled workforce.”
Gibbs oversees a market recovery grant program that provides subsidies to contractors that enables them to bid competitively. She is also responsible for overseeing Public Works and Health as well as Engineering, Highway, Buildings and Grounds, and serves on the Planning Board, Personnel Committee and Water Quality Management Board.
One of the projects to which Gibbs has contributed significantly is the revitalization of the Route 130 corridor. “We’re in the process of redoing our survey and evaluating zoning and planning rules. We talk to local mayors and councils and ask if their zoning rules match their vision for the town, then help them craft a plan that makes more sense for their town and the region.”
As the youngest female Freeholder serving in the state of New Jersey, Kate Gibbs has a long game for supporting not just her union, but the labor movement in general as well as continuing to develop and engage her community with her unique perspectives. Says Gibbs: “I don’t look at any issue ‘as a woman’ or ‘as a trades person.’ They are all pieces of the puzzle that fit together.”