Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce Excited About 2017 Tourist SeasonBut Don’t Expect Big Promotion From State
New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is one of four declared 2017 Republican gubernatorial candidates, was supposed to be the featured speaker at the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Chamber breakfast meeting at the Holiday Inn in Manahawkin on Feb. 8, but she canceled at the last moment. But there were still quite a few speakers at the meeting, which launched the chamber’s 103rd year. Chamber Chief Executive Officer Lori A. Pepenella was the first, and she had quite a bit to say.
In 2014, the chamber had launched a long-term planning project, Vision 20/21, she told the rather large crowd of members. “2017 is the year we activate all those plans.”
The chamber, she said, had developed “specifically tailored business plans that can be customized.” It was advertising the joys of Southern Ocean County on the side of Philadelphia buses and on billboards at the entrance to the Ben Franklin Bridge and on Interstate 76 near Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. (This was the fourth year the chamber had done so, she later told The SandPaper, adding the chamber was also renting billboard space for the first time near the entrances of the Holland and Lincoln tunnels in New York).
The chamber is getting ready for its ninth Wedding Road Show, on Sunday, April 23. “We bring people in from as far away as California to book their weddings here.”
It is also going to engage Stockton University for a study in 2017. The chamber is changing the entertainment format for Chowderfest Weekend this fall, featuring “multiple acts instead of one band throughout the weekend.” It has changed the name of its newsletter “The Bridge,” now titled “Land & Sea.” It has set up an exhaustive schedule of chamber meetings and events for 2017, and told attendees to be sure to grab one.
New chamber President Jillian Elasasser of Panzone’s Pizza & Pasta was up next. She thanked the outgoing president, Andrea Driscoll of The SandPaper, saying her “involvement and passion is second to none.” Elasasser then introduced the rest of the chamber’s new officers: first vice president Skye Gibson, a certified financial planner from Manahawkin; second vice president Jeremy DeFilippis of Jetty Life in Manahawkin; and treasurer Malcolm C. Burton, a Manahawkin-based architect. Elasasser also had the rest of the board of directors stand up, and reminded members that anyone who wished to be a board member should submit a letter of interest by June 1.
Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari was the third speaker to take the microphone.
“Making money is a good thing,” he told the chamber members. “When you make money, you put people to work.”
Vicari then went on to give an abbreviated “State of the County” address. Although he didn’t explicitly say it, it was obvious he believes the state of Ocean County is good, especially for business owners.
“What’s the most important thing to people in here? Taxes,” he said, answering his own question.
Well, said Vicari, the county’s taxes in 2016 went up only $9 for the owner of an average home. Meanwhile, the county maintained its AAA bond rating. Another important thing, said Vicari, is a talented work force. That’s why the freeholders support MATES, the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science in Manahawkin, and the rest of the Ocean County Vocational School District; and why he’s happy many of the county’s other school districts are starting to emphasize science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
“If I have a talented work force, people will come here,” said the freeholder.
Vicari also stressed the buy-local movement in Ocean County.
“Spend your money in Ocean County and you put a friend or a neighbor to work. That campaign used to be for Christmas. Make it year ’round.”
One longtime problem the freeholders are still trying to make inroads against, said Vicari, is Route 9.
“Route 9 is the same as it was in 1929. If you watch ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ it is the same road! Route 9, from Lakewood to Little Egg Harbor – the whole area – has to be done (widened).”
The final speaker of the morning was Jake Buganski, acting executive director of the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism. Buganski is new to that position, appointed in mid-December after serving as president of the Corning and Southern Finger Lakes/Steuben County Conference and Visitors Bureau in upstate New York. Previous to that, Buganski, who has worked in the industry for 12 years, was executive director of Visit South Jersey, one of the state’s official destination marketing organizations.
“When I come to places like this, where everything is in such good hands,” he began, “I don’t have much to do.”
Well, the chamber and its members probably still wanted to hear about help that would be pouring in from the state.
Buganski didn’t have much new to report. He didn’t announce any new grant programs. He said nothing about a new television ad campaign extolling the wonders of the Garden State to the rest of the country, a la the successful rollout in the 1980s of the “New Jersey and You – Perfect Together” ad featuring then-Gov. Tom Kean. He didn’t talk about a bump in his division’s budget.
The trend for the advertising of states, he said, is to focus on economic development (think of the recent TV ads for New York state that extol lower taxes, an innovative business climate and new industries).
Still, Buganski acknowledged that tourism is important for economic development because “the first visit (by an entrepreneur) to an area is as a tourist.” And he did tick off a couple of new programs his division was launching.
It has a new tool, he said, in “Arrivalist,” a technology that tracks the changes of locations of network-enabled devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. If the state or a DMO has been advertising online, Arrivalist will alert the user when a tourist who had been exposed to an ad shows up in the area that had been advertised. It is a way to allow states and chambers of commerce to find out which messages and media outlets are influencing people to show up.
His division was also making an effort to attract travel writers, “some of the writers for large publications,” to visit the state.
After Buganski’s remarks, it seemed as if the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce would have to do most of its own heavy lifting.
— Rick Mellerup