The name Princeton is known around the globe. But the same is not true for the county that contains the famous university and town. Yet Mercer County is a fine place to spend an afternoon or a weekend. Working to raise the county’s profile are Michele Siekerka, president of the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce (MRCC), and Kimberly Stever, executive director of the Capital Region Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (CRCVB).

The Mercer Chamber and the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau are co-incubating to form an arts and business council and a nifty new traveling gallery that is intended to promote a relationship between the business and arts communities of the area. “There are a lot of exciting things happening, and we will provide a space to help foster that here in our joint offices” says Siekerka. “We are just continuing to grow with the community.”

According to Stever, the time is right for just such an exhibition space. “We thought it would be very appropriate to utilize our meeting space here, which is used by businesses throughout the region, to feature original artists,” she says. “We want to promote art to our business community.”

Both Siekerka and Stever will be on hand for a special event entitled “New Home, New Connections.” It is a grand opening and ribbon cutting for the MRCC and the Capital Region Convention and Visitors Bureau’s new offices at 1A Quakerbridge Plaza Drive, Suite 2, in Mercerville, and takes place on Thursday, June 1, at 5 p.m. Sponsored by Merrill Lynch, Nexus Properties, Trap Rock Industries, and AAA Mid-Atlantic, it will feature the unveiling of the new traveling gallery. For more information, call 609-689-9960.

The gallery, which will initially feature art from Mercer County Community College provided by a variety of area artisans, is expected to offer a new exhibit every 10 or 12 weeks. But as of now, there are no shows scheduled after the first one. “We want to make sure we can do this first one and do it really well because we are still novices at this,” says Stever. “But we have begun to reach out to a number of different arts organizations in the area. Our hope is that we will be able to offer a very diverse showing.”

While traditionally, arts and business mix about as well as oil and water, Siekerka says that there are tangible benefits to fostering art. “Art can be a very good economic driver for an area,” she says. “That is because people will go to an exhibition or a show and then eat dinner and shop in the area as well. The arts attract many different kinds of people who may never go into the area. This allows other businesses to take root and grow around arts venues.”

In fact, Siekerka says that Mercer County is often overlooked as a tourist destination despite such cultural establishments as McCarter Theater, Passage Theater, Grounds for Sculpture, Trenton Thunder Baseball, and the Sovereign Bank Arena. “There certainly are a number of exciting things to do in Mercer County,” she says. “We believe that there is more that can be done to build on them.”

Nestled neatly between New York and Philadelphia, the Capital Region has a variety of often overlooked historical attractions, including the William Trent House Museum in Trenton and a number of Revolutionary War sites in Trenton and Princeton areas. “We would like to involve an arts and business council with the historic sites in the area, but we need to find the right fit,” says Stever.

With a stated mission to stimulate the economy through tourism throughout Mercer County, Stever is working to get the word out in a variety of ways, including direct mail, a soon-to-be launched outdoor transit campaign, placement in the new AAA tour book guide, and an online contest.

“We are going to overlay traditional marketing with some non-traditional promotions,” she says. “One thing we will be doing is an online contest wherein every month we will offer what we are calling a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It won’t be just two tickets to an event but two tickets to a real life experience.”

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Stever is a graduate of Temple University. She worked for Anheuser-Busch theme parks for nine years, spent two year promoting the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and eventually owned her own company, which generated revenue and revitalization for tourism through Pennsylvania.

The Capital Region Convention and Visitors Bureau works to connect businesses, services, and attractions with visitors, meeting planners, tour operators, and group leaders, and the travel media. Offering a variety of marketing materials, a website, familiarization tours, networking events, and other activities, CRCVB works to promote the region, enhance businesses’ visibility and name recognition among potential customers and clients.

With over 1,200 member companies representing over 45,000 employees, the MRCC is one of the largest chambers of commerce in the state. Born and raised in New Jersey, Siekerka has been president of the organization since 2004. A graduate of Rutgers University and Temple University School of Law, she was an associate at Backes & Hill, a law firm in Trenton, before partnering with several attorneys in Hamilton Township to form Needell, Siekerka and Castellani. A resident of Robbinsville, she is has been a member of board of education for the Washington Township School District since 1996.

Living a Mercer life, Siekerka knows of what she speaks when she guarantees that visitors will find beauty, history, unique cultural and historical attractions, and a thriving arts environment whether they choose the county for a family outing or find new places to visit after doing business in or around Princeton or Trenton.

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