#b#Paul O’Brien#/b# may not have won the race for the Plainsboro Township Committee in 2009, but his candidacy produced results nonetheless: the Plainsboro Business Partnership, which had its first meeting in September, 2009. “It was part of my platform to bring together the residents with the businesses of the town,” says O’Brien.

To gather information about what kind of organization was needed, he started by going door to door and asking businesses if they were participating in the Princeton Regional or Greater Mercer chambers of commerce or any other networking groups.

“I found that the majority of folks don’t,” says O’Brien. “I decided to create an entity so that we could promote ourselves to residents of Plainsboro and allow business-to-business networking as well.”

Partnership meetings are free and the organization has no membership fees. The people who sponsor the meetings donate their space and, if they so choose, provide food or beverages. Many alliances are formed at these meetings, says O’Brien.

The partnership’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, February 22, at 8 a.m. at the Caddyshack Bar and Grill, 70 Hunters Glen Drive. A representative of Bancroft Brain Injury Services in Plainsboro will speak about traumatic brain injuries and the programs offered at Bancroft for rehabilitation and treatment. For information about the meeting or the Plainsboro Business Partnership, contact Ed Keenan at Ed@documentdepot.net. For information on Bancroft Brain Injury Services, contact Lynn Tomaio at 856-616-6454 or ltomaio@bnh.org.

O’Brien’s own habits have been strongly influenced by his involvement in the partnership. “If I want to get coffee, I go to It’s a Grind [located in Plainsboro Town Center] because I know the owner, John Nuzzo,” he says. And of course once he went the first time, the comfortable atmosphere of the establishment drew him back again.

For his own business, Golden Rule Real Estate, based at 607-A Plainsboro Road and which provides placement help for assisted living facilities while helping families sell their homes, O’Brien also turns to fellow Plainsboro businesspeople when he can. “When I need any collaterals, I go to Document Depot, owned by Ed Keenan,” he says. Before the partnership, he didn’t even know there was a printer in Plainsboro.

O’Brien explains why Plainsboro in particular needs an organization whose goal is to bring the people of the town together with its businesses: “Plainsboro is a very transient community, driven by a large number of rental apartments and condominiums,” he says. “People tend to come and go at a quicker pace.”

Because these citizens of Plainsboro may be less established, he continues, they will automatically jump to big box stores on Route 1 or Route 130 for their commercial needs. To counter this tendency, the partnership’s website, myplainsboro.com, sends out a weekly E-mail newsletter (“This Week in Plainsboro”) to about 1,200 people. The website also includes banner ads. Princeton HealthCare System, for example, purchased one to advertise its community education and outreach program to Plainsboro citizens.

The count at meetings averages about 30 people, but O’Brien expects an uptick in the numbers with the higher-profile speakers planned for the next few months. Each meeting starts with a half hour of mingling, networking, and business card exchange. This is followed by a roll call, where each attendee has 20-30 seconds to say who they are, what they do, and what they are offering. The morning closes with a topical speaker. Meetings are held every fourth Tuesday.

Future meetings will feature Barry Rabner, CEO of Princeton Healthcare System, on March 22; Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu on April 26; and State Senator Linda Greenstein on May 24.

O’Brien grew up in New Milford in Bergen County. He earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Pace University in Manhattan in 1990 and also has a master’s in public administration from King University in Union.

He worked in mental health and human services, focusing primarily on brain injury rehabilitation at Rehabilitation Specialists. Soon he ran the company’s residential departments, and, when he left, was director of sales and marketing.

After six years with Rehabilitation Specialists O’Brien became program director for HealthSouth in North Brunswick, where he was in charge of moving some group homes and supported apartments into Plainsboro. When he took the job he moved into a small one-bedroom apartment but ended up liking Plainsboro and bought a condominium and then a townhouse.

After two years with HealthSouth O’Brien moved into the world of assisted living. With a certificate in assisted living administration he worked for a few companies, but ended up at Bear Creek in West Windsor. “I was recruited while the company was in bankruptcy protection and was changing ownership,” says O’Brien. “I saw that as a challenge and ended up turning the company around.” When he arrived in 2002 the facility had only 19 residents; when he left in 2002, it was up to 97.

At that point O’Brien had begun to tire of the 24/7 responsibility for facilities and staff required in his field. He had always wanted to run his own business and thought about what would work best for him. He did not want to be stuck in a shop all week, and, having just bought his condo, his attention turned toward real estate.

In 2004 he started as a real estate agent with Century 21 Carnegie, which was purchased and became Gloria Nilson GMAC. When he got his broker’s license he opened his own real estate brokerage in 2008.

Having been a resident of Plainsboro since 1996, O’Brien had noticed something peculiar each time he got his sample ballots. “I thought it was strange that only one party [Democrat] ever ran,” he says. “As far as I could recollect, every election was unopposed.”

Thinking that the lack of choice was not good for the democratic process, O’Brien, a Republican, decided to give it a shot. “If people know they are going to be opposed, maybe they will do things a little differently,” he says. “Win or lose, it’s a victory because people had a choice.”

He does not plan on running again, but he deems the experience to have been very beneficial. “As a result of that, we have the Plainsboro Business Partnership, which is very positive for the community,” he concludes.

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