Sometimes, all it takes is a new venue for one’s fullest potential to burst forth. Remember that student who seemed bright and able in high school, but it wasn’t until he passed through the university halls that he really blossomed into his own?
Perhaps the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s move up the road and around the corner to 182 Nassau Street may be seen as more of a midlife refocusing.
After all, the 52-year-old chamber has expanded from the cozy house at 9 Vandeventer Avenue to its markedly more business-like office suites on the third floor in a building overlooking Princeton’s main street, doubling its size to 2,000 square feet. With 880 business and 1,800 individual members, the chamber has seven full-time staff members, with the potential to hire additional staff in 2014 if the organization’s growth continues at its current rate.
The chamber’s growth is evident in its operating budget for 2012, which is about $1 million, up from $650,000 just three years ago, according to President and CEO Peter Crowley.
The chamber board of directors, led by Chairman Patrick Ryan, comprises 36 business leaders from throughout the region.
“Compared to three years ago the chamber has seen steady progress in its fiscal strength as well as an increase in its program and its membership growth,” says Crowley. “Our membership retention rate has averaged 90 percent, reflecting the strong affiliation that our members have for the chamber’s impact in supporting their business growth and increasing their networking opportunities.”
U.S. 1 Newspaper is among the chamber’s membership.
Crowley says that membership growth has exceeded 10 percent each of the last three years with increasing representation from the five counties it represents — Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Hunterdon, Somerset, and Bucks County, PA.
The chamber also continues to expand its international reach through associations with the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
“Our corporate sponsorship has more than doubled in the past three years,” Crowley adds. “We are proud to represent a strong cross section of the educational, not for profit, professional service, and local business community, including partnerships with a majority of the Fortune 500 companies that call the Princeton region their home,” he says.
The new quarters provide more muscle-flexing room just as the chamber itself is explosively diversifying with many more arms into many new commercial elements.
As for the chamber calendar, it was already chock full with seven public events each month — not counting committee meetings — and nearly 100 events per year that are supported by more than 50 chamber member volunteers.
Chamber events include three monthly meetings (a lunch, a breakfast, and an after-hours networking) and numerous special events (the golf outing, an awards gala, a spring economic summit, a mid-summer marketing showcase in Palmer Square, and the annual Albert Einstein Memorial Lecture.”
To this array, under Crowley and Robert J. Hillier, who was board chairman in 2011, the chamber added special subgroups for young professionals (Leeep), and for women — Women In Business Alliance (WiBA), and an additional symposium, focused on healthcare. It also made alliances with new organizations, including the Plainsboro Business Partnership (see sidebar on page 33). All of the programs meet about six times a year.
In addition, the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce currently partners with SCORE, Trenton Small Business Week, the Lieutenant Governor’s office, the NJ State Chamber of Commerce, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber also continues to have an affiliation with the capital region Minority Chamber of Commerce, the organization that has replaced the Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce.
Crowley, Hillier, and the chamber board of directors saw geographic and demographics that they felt required some individualized attention and they endorsed the segmentation model. “We are not fragmenting anything here,” Crowley says. “Rather, we are becoming an umbrella organization that hopefully allows our various sectors to better unify.”
Ryan, who also chairs the Hopewell Valley Community Bank, modestly claims, “I’m not a banker. I’m just the son of a beer salesman.”
Granted, for many years, Ryan’s father owned and ran Ritchie & Page (R&P) Distribution Company. And yes, in 1981, Ryan did return home to join his dad in running the family business.
However, previously, Ryan had earned both bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Virginia, and served in Korea and as a special agent in the United States General Service Administration. By 1998, after many years of community involvement, Ryan was a natural to step in as Hopewell Valley Bank’s chairman.
Crowley, whose mother was a homemaker and father a career employee of AT&T Bell Labs, came to the chamber in 2009. He is a career banker who was one of the original founders of the Bank of Princeton in 2007 and was its first president and CEO.
He led the bank through its capital raising period, bringing in more than $25 million, and overseeing the launch of its first three branch locations.
Previously, he plied his senior executive skills at Bank of America, PNC Bank, Midlantic, and Citibank.
After earning his bachelor’s degree at the College of Holy Cross and MBA in finance from Temple University, and before banking, Crowley gained his noticeable marketing skills while working for Union Carbide. For the last 31 years, he has raised his family in Princeton. “I feel solidly invested in this town,” he says.
Hillier, who famously dubbed his home town “the best little city in the world,” grew up with an entrepreneurial bent. His father was the RCA scientist who invented the electron microscope and his mother owned three Princeton flower shops.
Hillier grew his architecture firm, sold it, and started another firm, now on Witherspoon Street. He is also in the publishing business, with Princeton magazine, Obit (an online magazine), and Life Stories (his new print publication) plus part ownership in Town Topics community newspaper.
The roster of special events this year do not include a trade show — an annual event previously conducted by the chamber every September or early October.
According to Durst, the chamber is holding other events that will take its place, including the Plainsboro Business Partnership’s outdoor showcase, and the Mid-Summer Marketing event.
“We see a health program and women’s program on the calendar,” says Durst. “Our second annual healthcare symposium will take place on Thursday, September 27, and our first Women in Business Alliance conference will take place on Monday, October 22.”
As for the new office itself? “What I really love is the openness of it,” says Amanda Sandlin, Chamber communications chief and the first individual you see upon opening the door at Suite 301. Even as you read this, small stacks of cardboard boxes still lurk in a few corners. The seven-person staff, however, spread out in their individual, low-walled offices, chatting easily back and forth.
Houses with complete walls are fine for families. Siblings have the chance to escape and slam doors to punctuate their privacy requirements. But when inter-office communication is the goal, homes provide the type of segmentation the Chamber really doesn’t need. The office at 182 Nassau holds only two fully walled-off rooms. The rest offer blond wood and frosted glass partitions for a light effect.
“What we really love about this new office,” note Ryan and Crowley in near unison, “is finally having a real conference room.”
The luxurious high-backed chairs ringing the dark wood boardroom table bespeak business’ modern council ring. Easily accommodating 18, it provides that hub where any of the Chamber’s 22 committees may meet and make things happen.
So when you visit the Princeton Chamber in its new, more business-elegant setting, you will notice one thing has not changed. An awful lot of work and organizing still buzzes out of this hive. And on more days than not, there is some chamber event for you to attend.
Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, 182 Nassau Street, Suite 301, Princeton 08542; 609-924-1776; fax, 609-924-5776. Peter Crowley, CEO. www.princetonchamber.org.
At the core of the chamber’s activities are its three monthly networking events: the Business Before Business Networking Breakfast; the Monthly Membership Luncheon; and the Business After Business Networking Event. (For several years former U.S. 1 business editor and current occasional writer for the paper served on the chamber’s meeting planning committee.)
Business Before Business Breakfast Meetings. Held on the third Wednesday of each month at the Nassau Club, the session starts with a networking period between 7:30 and 8 a.m., followed by a breakfast buffet. The program itself runs from 8 to 9:15 a.m. Cost to attend is $25 for PRCC members and $40 for non-members.
The speaker at this month’s meeting, on Wednesday, June 20, will be Tracey Syphax, CEO of Capitol City Contracting, on “Embracing Diversity as a Growth Strategy.”
Other speakers have included Temple University economics professor William Dunkelberg; Wayne Hasenbalg, CEO of the state Sports and Exposition Authority; and Mitch Henderson, coach of the Princeton University basketball team.
The Monthly Membership Luncheon. These meetings, held on the first Thursday of each month at the Princeton Marriott on College Road East, feature a speaker to address topics of local, regional, state, national, and global interest.
They begin at 11:30 a.m with a networking session, followed by a buffet lunch, and ending at 1:30 p.m. The cost is $45 for chamber members and $65 for non-members. The speaker at the Thursday, June 7, meeting will be Joseph Herring, CEO of Covance. His topic: “It’s Not the Economy. It’s About the Customer: How to Grow in Good and Bad Times.”
Other recent speakers include Diana B. Henriques, senior financial writer for the New York Times; Chris Kuenne, CEO of Rosetta; John Crowley, CEO of Amicus Therapeutics and subject of the movie “Extraordinary Measures,” and Bill Marrazzo, CEO of WHYY.
Business After Business Networking. These meetings, scheduled at various times during the month, run from 5 to 7 p.m. They are held at chamber member establishments such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Forrestal Village, Eden Autism Services in Forrestal Village, Holiday Inn of East Windsor, and Streamline Air in Ewing. This month’s meeting is at the Triumph Brewing Company on Nassau Street on Thursday, June 14.
The event offers food, an open bar, and the opportunity to network with other business people. The cost is $25 for members and $40 for non-members.
Reservations are recommended for all three monthly events. Call the chamber at 609-924-1776, or register online at www.princetonchamber.org.
In February, 2011, the chamber formed Princeton Leeep — an organization aimed at connecting younger business professionals and aiding the general community.
For the young person, walking into a room filled with established veterans can feel daunting, and perhaps not overly relevant. The young entrepreneur often needs different tools and speech topics from the established owner.
Money may be merely a way for keeping score for the three-decade owner, but it’s a vital walking stick for the person just getting launched. The latter seeks information on funding sources, not exit strategies.
She or he also wants to invest more networking time with others currently experiencing the same challenges. Thus Leeep — whose e’s equal Exchange (social), Engage (philanthropy and cultural), and Excel (development) — offers social gatherings with speakers who will help audience members brand their way out of the cube farm.
“We also see Leeep as a group to better connect our members with the community,” says Crowley. Leeep applicants are asked how they might best serve the organization and the community. Leeep’s recent alliance with the community’s United Way chapter is just part of several philanthropic efforts.
Leeep’s next gathering is a Tuesday, June 19, “cultural night out” at Morven Museum and Gardens. Contact Adam Perle, chamber vice president, (firstname.lastname@example.org), who started the program and now serves as chamber liaison to the group.
Women in Business
Launched in February, 2011 by Lorraine Holcombe, chamber director of finance and operations, the group has gained a strong cadre of adherents.
Women require different tools than men in the business arena, notes Holcombe, who is staff liaison to the group. Alliance speakers tell of the professional woman’s ways of individually branding herself, or garnering capital for her company.
Woman-owned firms comprise more that three-quarters of the nation’s marketing firms started this decade. Yet women’s businesses are winning fewer than five percent of government contracts.
WiBA events, held about six times a year, draw capacity crowds. Under the leadership of board member Michelle Everman of the Mercadian Group, WiBA will stage its first Women’s Leadership Conference at the Forrestal Marriott on Thursday, October 11.
Princeton has such strong representation in the healthcare and pharmaceutical areas that last fall the chamber held the first annual healthcare symposium. Like the annual economic summit, it was a half-day event, and it will be staged again this year on Thursday, September 27.
To anyone strolling Nassau Street on a weekend, it is markedly obvious that Princeton has become a tourist destination, and the Princeton CVB puts out the welcome mat. The bonding with the Princeton Regional Convention Center & Visitors Bureau provides dual membership, acts as a catalyst for state funds, and above all, helps bring more folks crossing the thresholds of Princeton businesses.
Led by Lori Rabon (general manager of the Nassau Inn), the chamber and CVB are planning for visitors to have street-level access to tourist information by means of a kiosk and racks of folders at the front of the Princeton University Store.
Upcoming Chamber Events In 2012
Thursday, June 7
11:30 a.m.: Monthly Membership Luncheon, Joe Herring, CEO Covance. $65. Princeton Marriott.
Tuesday, June 12
5 p.m.: Plainsboro Business Partnership — Business Showcase. Van Doren Street, Plainsboro.
Thursday, June 14
5 p.m.: Business After Business networking, $40. Triumph Brewing Company.
Tuesday, June 19
5 p.m.: Princeton Leeep Cultural Night Out. $25. Morven Museum.
Wednesday, June 20
7:30 a.m.: Business Before Business networking, “Embracing Diversity as a Growth Strategy,” Tracey Syphax, CEO Capitol City Contracting. $40. Nassau Club, 6 Mercer Street.
Thursday, July 12
11:30 a.m.: Monthly Membership Luncheon. Speaker: Jeff Bedser, Internet Crimes Group. $65. Princeton Marriott.
Wednesday, July 18
7:30 a.m.: Business Before Business networking. “Body Language and Beyond: How to effectively communicate to groups,” Eileen Sinett. $40. Nassau Club, 6 Mercer Street.
Tuesday, July 24
4:30 p.m.: 6th Annual Mid-Summer Marketing Showcase. Palmer Square.
Thursday, October 11
8:30 a.m.: Women’s Leadership Conference. Breakout sessions and speakers highlighting leadership opportunities for women. $75. Princeton Marriott.
Friday, November 9
Young Professionals Conference sponsored by Leeep, time and location to be announced.
Wednesday, November 28
5:30 p.m.: 2012 Business Leadership Awards Gala. Jasna Polana, 8 Lawrenceville Road.