‘We are quickly becoming the Chamber of Commerce for the central New Jersey region,” says Robert Prunetti, president and CEO of the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce. The organization has a membership of more than 1,000 businesses that come from several of the surrounding counties, including Burlington, Hunterdon, and Middlesex, and even Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

To add a “local flavor” and make sure that each of the many neighborhood business communities in the area has a voice in the growing organization, the Chamber acts as an “umbrella organization” sponsoring several chapters that focus on the local business communities throughout the area.

The Chamber recently expanded these local groups to nine, including its newest, the “GRO” or Greater Route One Chapter. Other chapters include East Windsor, Ewing, Hamilton, Greater Bordentown, Hopewell Valley, Lawrenceville, Robbinsville, and Trenton.

Each of the chapters follows individual meeting schedules and schedules a variety of events, depending on individual members’ interests, explains Prunetti. These include “meet the mayor” and “state of the township” events, networking meetings, and events promoting local businesses.

The GRO Chapter focuses on the northern communities in the Central New Jersey region, including Princeton, West Windsor, Plainsboro, and South Brunswick, though members attend from communities throughout the area.

“The group is designed to help its members to meet other business people in these communities, to ‘GRO’ the community, build relationships, and strengthen the region economically,” says Prunetti. The chapter plans to host three networking breakfasts and two luncheon programs each year, including a “meet the mayors” event.

The group’s next meeting will be a luncheon on Thursday, January 12, at 11:30 a.m. at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, 2 Village Boulevard, Princeton Forrestal Village.

The speaker, Marc Edenzon, CEO of Special Olympics, NJ, will discuss, “What are you doing for your Business to prepare for 70,000 visitors?” Cost: $35. Reservations can be made online at www.mercerchamber.org. More information on the GRO chapter in general can be obtained by E-mailing Christine Murray, McCarter Theater, at cmurray@mccarter.org.

Thousands of athletes, their families, coaches, volunteers, and spectators will visit Mercer County in 2014 when the Special Olympics national games comes to the area. More than 3,500 athletes will participate in the week-long event.

This will be the first time the national games will be held in the state, and it will be the county’s first national event of this scale. It has been predicted that every hotel room, restaurant table, and athletic field in the area will be used that week, June 14 to 21, 2014.

The competitions will be held primarily at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. The Olympic village will be located there. The opening ceremonies will be held in Newark at the Prudential Center. Special Olympics New Jersey has a sports complex located at 3 Princess Road, Lawrenceville.

Before taking over from Michelle Siekerka as head of the Chamber in 2010, Prunetti was the president of Phoenix Ventures, a Trenton-based public affairs firm. He is also served as Mercer County executive from 1992 to 2004.

He led the effort to build Mercer County Waterfront Park, home of the Double-A Trenton Thunder baseball club, and to revitalize the waterfront area surrounding the stadium. He is also the owner of a restaurant, Cafe 72, in Ewing.

Prunetti graduated from the College of New Jersey with a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration. He also holds a master’s in public administration from New York University.

All chamber members are “intrinsically a member of all of the local Chapters,” explains Prunetti, and can choose to participate in as many of the meetings as they would like.

There is no additional membership investment required. “Our chapters function as a watchdog in our towns for issues that adversely affect business. They are the local resource that helps businesses in each of these towns get through challenges and grow.”

Prunetti also does not see the growth of the Mercer Chamber as a challenge to other local chambers in the area.

“Each of the chambers in the area, such as the Princeton Chamber, has its own focus and flavor. Business people join a chamber for a variety of reasons and they choose the organization that best suits their needs — and many of our members choose to join more than one chamber,” he explains.

The growth of the Mercer Chamber has allowed it to do more in advocacy for business at the state level as well as at local levels. “We can offer more in helping individual businesses with a wide variety of issues,” he says.

The changes and direction of growth from local to regional chamber that have taken place in the last few years have been “organic” in nature, rather than part of a marketing plan or growth strategy, Prunetti says. “There has been no marketing push to make this happen. After taking a look at our membership, where they are coming from, and how many have businesses located outside of Mercer County we feel that the best way to help our members is to view ourselves as others are viewing us — as a regional organization.”

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