Closing of banks in rural areas angers some NJ farmers

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Some New Jersey farmers say that the closing of several bank branches in rural parts of the state is making their jobs more difficult.

News 12 New Jersey spoke with farmer Tom Freiberger, who was harvesting hay on the farm that his family has worked on for three generations. Freiberger says that when he collects the payment from other farmers who pay him for the hay, he typically heads to the branch of Bank of America in nearby New Egypt.

But that branch is closing in November. Bank of America also recently closed a branch in Allentown.

There will soon be only one bank left in New Egypt – a branch of the bank BB&T. Other Bank of America customers tell News 12 that they are not happy about having to drive another 10 miles to a bank in Burlington.

“The transactions of our business are done in a hay barn, out in the field, in pickup trucks. We're not in an office setting,” Freiberger says. “We accept checks and we have to go to the bank weekly to deposit them. When the bank is not close and local, that's a bigger inconvenience for us for sure.”

Demographers say that the current trend of closing bank branches is of no surprise. They say that as development booms in once-shrinking cities like Newark and Jersey City and smaller towns along rail lines, rural areas of Sussex, Hunterdon, Ocean and Monmouth counties are losing population.

“And very little traditional suburban development is going on. So the world has changed dramatically,” says James Hughes, dean of Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Between 2000 and 2016, New Egypt's population dropped from 2,519 to 2,075, according to U.S. Census data.  Experts say that this means corporations that operate banks or lay fiber optic cable for high speed internet are slowly pulling back on places like this.

“Unless you have a certain population threshold, all of a sudden maybe the doctor’s office closes. Maybe the branch bank closes. So the problem of losing population is losing services and setting that negative spiral in to effect,” Hughes says.

A spokesperson for Bank of America tells News 12 that the decision to close the bank was made based on a wide range of factors, including more people doing their banking online.

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