Corrections or additions?
This article by Michele Alperin was prepared for the January 8, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Mercer’s New Centerpiece for Corporate Training
Red brick set against white panels, crowned with
silver triangles, the Conference Center at Mercer blends with its
surroundings at Mercer County Community College, yet signals its
of educational outreach into the business community. Reflecting the
center’s role as nexus between college and community, its outside
design is "as close to the campus as possible," says center
architect James Faridy, "but somewhat different — like the
diamond on the ring, so that people will know `there’s the corporate
The idea for the new center was a natural outgrowth of the college’s
success in workforce training, says Robert R. Rose, president of MCCC,
referring to the programs offered by the college’s Division of
and Community Programs.
Rose Nini has been dean of this division for 18 years. She has built
an impressive enterprise for corporate education and training that
receives no government subsidies. Yet this program was severely
by lack of space, and prospective corporate participants were daunted
by having to trek from far-flung parking lots.
"We were growing by leaps and bounds," says Nini. "At
the same time, college enrollments were growing, and it became
to find space on campus for training. We have always had to make do
with what the academic division was not going to use for a particular
semester. We couldn’t plan ahead."
"Now we are planning these wonderful one and two-day
says Nini. "Now we can leverage the reputation we have built.
We are not just going into the conferencing business — this is
another whole layer of services provided to the business community
on top of our courses and customized training." Carpenters are
still putting on finishing touches, but the first conference is set
for Monday, January 13.
The technology here is so advanced that the center can webcast
in real time. Everything is here, from the talent pool of MCCC’s
to the workstations for computer training. And the center has its
own dedicated parking lot.
To scientifically verify the need for a new center, the college
a study by Response Analysis. As expected, it showed businesses
to retool the work force and invest in their own employees as well
as individuals looking to enhance their skills.
Although the center was initially conceived as a home where Nini’s
division could expand programs, the concept later shifted slightly
to its current configuration as a training center for both MCCC and
the business community.
Financing for the center was secured through a pool of government
money available to community colleges in New Jersey, says Eric
MCCC’s vice president of administration and finance. Under the program
the county sells bonds, and the state then pays half the cost back
to the county.
Eventually the college also expects the conference center to be a
financial resource. Companies are being offered naming rights in
for donations to the MCCC Foundation, which solicits support both
for scholarship programs and technology upgrades at the center.
National Bank has already stepped forward to set its name to the
Design details grew out of intensive discussions between
Nini, Nunzio Cernero, the division’s assistant dean, and the team
from Faridy Veisz Fraytak, the firm on Lower Ferry Road that focuses
on educational institutions.
Users would require computer labs, training areas, conference rooms,
plug-ins for laptops, video and teleconferencing capabilities,
access, networking spaces, and areas to use cell phones. Division
staff and the IT department would need office and planning space.
Instructors needed spaces to prepare their materials.
The building that resulted from the cooperative effort is uniquely
flexible. The 219-seat tiered auditorium is fully wired for laptops
and Internet access and is acoustically designed to be a theater
There are eight training and breakout rooms, which vary in capacity
from 14 to 126 people. The five computer labs accommodate from 14
to 22 people; four use stand-alone PCs, and the fifth uses laptops
so that it can double as a regular meeting room. All rooms are
soundproof. The 3,000-foot bricked atrium can be used for social
as well as for conference registration. More than two-and-a-half
high, it has large windows and a slate floor. Dee Rosebrock,
center manager, hopes to display sculptures on the atrium floor and
to showcase Mercer County artists.
"We are capable of running a large conference of 200 people with
breakouts or a number of small-group activities," says Rosebrock.
"We could have 10 small groups simultaneously or some
The key is flexibility, she explains. A huge space is unnecessary,
because most professional training tends to be done in smaller
The facility, which will be available seven days a week from 7 a.m.
until late in the evening, will also have a full business service
center off the atrium for office support and transportation
Other design details reflect the careful planning process:
correct furniture; a small kitchen for center staff as well as a
catering kitchen; ceiling projectors in almost every room; smart
two chair lifts, one in the auditorium to take disabled instructors
to the stage and another at the front of the building; a green room
for instructors behind the auditorium stage, where they can change
and stow their paraphernalia; and patios outside the auditorium and
the multipurpose/dining room for outdoor seating in warm weather.
The up-to-date technology, integral to the center’s design, will
video conferencing, teleconferencing, and webcasting, and the center’s
wiring infrastructure has a gigabyte capability. Internet connectivity
extends throughout the facility, and the center has its own servers,
enabling companies to download their own software and use it for
Because the current technology is 100 times faster than previous
Rose expects the system to meet the community’s needs for an extended
period of time.
The Conference Center will have its own dedicated technician to handle
the day-to-day audiovisual and technical needs of clients but will
also have access to staff within the college to address more
"Our onsite technicians and engineers can also do the legwork
to set up sites we project to," says Rosebrock. If a remote site
goes down during a conference, her staff will be able to troubleshoot
and walk people at the other end through the process.
Citing half a dozen potential clients with very sophisticated
needs, Rosebrock says, "They must be comfortable using our IT
people and know that we can do what we promise."
Rosebrock describes several potential uses of the new center’s
can bring in 125 sales people for a five-day training program that
is transmitted simultaneously to its offices world wide. "We will
record and feed the training program through the Web," explains
Rosebrock, "and people at their desks can watch the training
as it occurs on our West Windsor campus," selecting only those
parts pertinent to their work. The result is savings for the company,
"They don’t have to fly people in, house them, and have them away
from the office for couple of days."
an environment where people from a limited number of sites can all
teleconferencing can be useful for quickly communicating information
like a corporate policy change to large groups.
professional audio tapes, video tapes, and CDs, including taping,
editing, and production. Besides being able to send the tape to people
who could not attend the conference, Rosebrock says, "It gives
you a history — what happened, what did we decide, where are we
A graduate of Kean University with a master’s degree
in industrial relations and collective bargaining from Rutgers,
ran a training institute for the state and then was in charge of
conference sites. For nine years she directed a conference center
for Solaris Health Systems, then moved to be assistant manager of
the Chauncey Conference Center.
Customers are becoming more sophisticated about their needs, she says.
"When customers call, they are not expecting you to be an order
taker. They are asking for input into their meeting, how it should
be designed, the impact of different setups."
Sensitivity to the needs of the conference attendees may require extra
expenditures in the short term, "but it’s worth it — it’s
an investment." She is always thinking five years into the future:
"We have to build a customer base that knows we give what we
that we meet needs."
Consequently, she and her staff prepare carefully for each booking.
For example, they do Internet research on a company and its
to find ways to "surprise and delight them." In a previous
job, when she booked Best Foods (owners of Entenmann’s baked goods
as well as a number of sauces), her chefs served Entenmann’s desserts
used their sauces in lunch recipes.
If more than one organization requests the facility at the same time,
Rosebrock has to ensure that the organizations will complement each
other. "You wouldn’t book a big social event and a meeting at
the same time," she explains, "because the result would be
noise competition, with a band on one side and people needing to
on the other." Sales meetings can also be loud, which might
scheduling another group alongside.
Once the customers arrive, says Rosebrock, "every staff member
becomes an ambassador for the center as well as its eyes and
If they notice customers walking around with sweaters, then the
needs adjusting. If the customers are in a big room and people are
asking questions, someone would discreetly proffer a hand-held mike
to make it easier to hear. "You have to be proactive," she
explains. "The key is being involved without intruding."
Because the quality of the food service can make or break a
Rosebrock’s staff will give it special attention. "Coffee that
is cold or bitter can negate what was happening in the meeting
Her staff interacts with clients, noticing whether people are sending
back nearly full plates or are not even tasting certain entrees. Or,
if they notice that attendees particularly favor some food item, such
as a popcorn snack, they might serve it again later in the week. With
an outside caterer, the Corner Cafe from Cranbury, the center will
offer full food and beverage service, including bar service, for meals
The center already has 200 bookings for 2003, including corporations,
colleges and universities, and professional organizations, and
expects the center’s bookings to reach the 60 percent average
to break even. Although most business will probably be within a
radius, inquiries have come from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and as far
away as Washington State.
The final pillar that makes the new center unique is the potential
for synergy between the center and its institutional backdrop, MCCC.
An organization renting a room at the conference center will be able
to draw upon the college’s expertise in corporate training. "The
college has over 25 years of experience in custom designing training
programs to meet an organization’s needs," says Rosebrock. If,
for example, the client wants a session on communications, college
staff will custom-design a training program and provide a
In addition, the college’s own extensive full-color television studio
and public radio station will extend the technological reach of the
center. The center will be able to keep buying the very latest
because it has a place to send the used ones — the college’s more
than 50 computer labs.
Other creative ways to use the college community are under
— theater students doing murder mysteries; fitness center staff
leading stretch breaks; physical therapist assistant students
chair massages. At a hard-hat walkthrough in December, students from
the Hospitality Management Club, who are in the college’s Hotel,
and Institution Management program, helped welcome guests.
Nini is thinking outside the box: "We have ideas
that we haven’t even shared yet about programming and nifty weekend
packages." One possibility is a new approach to team building
— using the college’s culinary kitchen as a place that coworkers
can prepare a meal together under the auspices of the college chef.
"We have a wonderful fitness center, and we hope at one time to
do weekend executive training sessions and build in time at the
center and pool."
The new center will also enable Nini’s division to pursue different
educational formats. "Because we have the auditorium," she
says, "we are developing a whole dimension of new programming
— one and two-day conferences." Already on the calendar are
conferences on charter schools; small business in the age of the
Fish — the popular new way to improve morale and boost results;
project management — a tool for organizational success; and a
two-day conference on entertainment technology.
This conference follows up on a newly signed agreement between Mercer
County and Manex Entertainment Inc., the high-tech special effects
and animation movie company that expects to move to Trenton. The
has a strong computer graphics department that uses the same hardware
and software as the entertainment industry, and it hopes to provide
staff and training for Manex.
Because companies are moving to day meetings so that they do not have
to pay for hotel rooms, says Rosebrock, the center is developing a
day meeting package. For a set price it will offer space, meeting
planning, support, flip charts and other supplies, food and beverages,
and audiovisual equipment. "The Day Meeting Package tells a
that it will cost X amount per person, with no hidden charges,"
explains Rosebrock. "It is less confusing for people, because
they know what they are getting up front." She adds that such
an arrangement is usually more cost-effective than a la carte and
allows companies easily to budget meeting costs ahead of time.
with more circumscribed needs, she adds, like a meeting room and
only, would do better a la carte.
The center has not yet published a rate list. "We want to compete
on level of service and giving people an extraordinary experience.
We will be cost competitive, but that is not how we are going to
ourselves," says Nini, citing the conference centers at ETS and
Merrill Lynch as her competition. Currently the center offers
rates and by this summer will offer a day meeting and a half-day
President Rose believes the conference center will attract new people
to the campus, and their positive experiences with the facility and
the quality of service will bring them back to the campus to take
advantage of other programs.
The center will certainly help the college to have an even greater
economic impact on the surrounding community, helping to create a
well-educated work force that can compete nationally and
"I am committed to doing everything we can to facilitate our
with business and industry," Rose says.
Although the economic downturn has somewhat reduced the demand for
training in the short term, Rose is not worried about future use of
the center: "As the economy turns around, we expect to be doing
more, which will require more use of the facility." He also notes
that many large corporations consider professional development
as part of their lifeline: "They continue to do it, regardless
of the economy."
Nini is determined to provide these businesses with programs relevant
to what’s going on in the county and the region. Says Nini; "I
feel confident that our new home will make it all possible."
Campus, Box B, Trenton 08690. Rose C. Nini, dean, corporate &
programs. 609-689-0908; fax, 609-890-6338.
10 small groups in rooms with ergonomically correct seating. Rooms
are available seven days a week from 7 a.m. until late in the evening
with no staff overtime charge. It offers satellite teleconferencing,
webcasting, videoconferencing, ceiling projectors, smart boards, six
equipped computer labs, laptop ports and Internet connection for each
participant, dedicated servers for client use, and a full business
Until July 1 Mercer is making introductory deals for both rooms and
rooms-with-meals. Its prices will be somewhere between the NJHA
Center (about $35 per day per person including two meals) and
Yard Marriott and Conference Center (under $70 per day).
All the conference center directors seem to agree that
there is plenty of business to go around. The real problem, when you
schedule a conference, is finding an open date. But to prevent
apples and oranges, consider the potential for extra charges: overtime
for evening hours, tax and gratuity, Internet connections, and AV
staff hours or equipment. If an LCD projector is not included, that
could cost from $200 to $550. On-site equipment, such as computers,
will be cheaper and easier than off-site rental. Also, classroom
with desks requires a larger room than theater seating. Ergonomic
chairs are usually available in conference centers and not in hotels.
Unless otherwise stated, day rates are per person for a group of 100
people and include breakfast, lunch, two breaks (or
breaks, which are more luxurious), and basic AV materials (easels,
overhead projectors etc). Internet connections, wireless mikes and
LCD projects cost extra. Overnight rates for a group of 25 include
dinner and lodging.
08540. David Givens, general manager. 609-452-7800; fax, 609-520-0728.
Home page: www.forrestal.com
Day meetings can cost $100 to $120 per person. Overnight, $365 per
person, depending on time of year, arrival and departure times, and
"future potential." High speed Internet access, webcasting,
videoconferencing, and teleconferencing. Business center with computer
stations, computer rental available.
Doral has a full-service spa with indoor pool and whirlpool, 25 wooded
acres with a rope trail for teambuilding workshops by Cradlerock,
and courts for tennis, volleyball, and basketball.
"We won the Pinnacle award — voted on by conference center
users throughout the country — 10 times in 18 years, so we must
be doing something right," says Alan Garabedian, director of sales
Box 6652, Princeton 08541-6652. Mary Janelle, managing director.
fax, 609-683-4958. Home page: www.chaunceymeetings.com
including continuous refreshment breaks and gratuities. Maximum of
200 guests for 100 guest rooms and 21 meeting rooms. Largest room
seats 150 classroom style. Laurie House can accommodate up to 15
for high-level meetings. The center is managed by the
Marenzana Group, and two-thirds of the business comes from outside
organizations who use it for training, education, nonprofit, R&D,
scientific, or strategic planning.
Videoconferencing, webcasting, T-1 access for presenters.
can be broadcast on an internal server to meeting rooms. Computer
rental from inventory, $150 to $250 per workstation, satellite
available for teleconferencing.
$295 to $325, gratuities included.
Township 08831. Dominique Audron, general manager; Lina Llona,
director. 732-521-0070; fax, 732-521-0687. Home page:
public, though the restaurants and golf courses are only for members
now. But those who attend the conferences can enjoy Forsgate’s cuisine
and its famous links. Seven meeting rooms can accommodate from 5 to
600 people, and there is a boardroom for high-level meetings. DSL
Internet access is provided, and all AV equipment is available.
A day meeting special, through March, costs $35 per person (including
continuous refreshment breaks, and DSL Internet access, tax, and
The regular price is $65. With golf included, the price is $175 to
$250 per person, with a five foursome minimum.
West Lafayette Street, Trenton 08608. John Yakes, sales director.
609-421-4000; fax, 609-421-4002. Home page: www.marriott.com
in a ballroom, three large conference rooms and four small breakout
rooms, and an executive boardroom. "Plus we have the meeting rooms
that seat 500 and 220 people at the adjacent War Memorial," says
John Yakes, sales director. All the Marriott’s conference rooms have
built-in sound systems, speakers tucked into the ceiling, drop down
screens, sound-proof wall surfaces, ergonomic chairs, and wide
Day rates are $69 per person including service charge, but not
tax. The overnight package is $210 plus parking and tax.
Road, Plainsboro 08536. Meaghan A. Cannon, director of operations.
609-282-1000; fax, 609-282-2126. Chris Quinlan.
training center is run by Harrison Conference Services (800-422-6338).
The 35 conference rooms hold from 10 to 100 people with ergonomic
chairs, up to 415 people in an auditorium with amphitheater seating,
and there are 310 sleeping rooms.
Webcasting and a television studio for telecasting is available.
Day rates are $125 per person (discountable to $109) and include the
services of a conference planner. weekends. The negotiable overnight
rate is $359. Amenities include fitness center, pool, and Harry’s
Cranbury 08512. Eileen Griswold, managing director, Bowen Group.
to 27 people, open to corporations and nonprofits. Catering kitchen
and TV with VCR and DVD available. From $10 to $25 per person per
day, plus tax, no gratuities. Available weekdays and evenings,
to Exit 8A.
760 Alexander Road, Box 1, Princeton 08543-0001. Steve Krebs,
Jodi James, sales and marketing coordinator. 609-275-4140. Home
people in the Garden Room for reception, or dinner and dancing. NJHA
members pay only for AV equipment and food, and some groups hold
conferences. Other users are nonprofits, for-profits, bar mitzvah
celebrations, and even weddings — but alcohol cannot be served.
In-house technician available for videoconferencing, audio recording,
and teleconferencing; the touch panel ceiling-mounted projection
costs $385. Laptop rental, $100.
Rates posted on website. Day rate for 100 people is $30 to $35.
about $210, including $30 per overtime hour per staff person after
5 p.m. and lodging at AmeriSuites. "We price at 10 percent below
the competition, with no extra charges for gratuities," says Jodi
James, sales director.
James welcomes MCCC’s new center and looks forward to having a place
where she can refer her overflow. "We get lots of calls and we’re
very busy," says James. "But we have a lot of business from
the state, and I think some of that will go to Mercer."
12 Center Drive, Jamesburg 08831-1564. Denise Hecht, conference center
executive director. 609-860-1200; fax, 609-860-2999. Home page:
people, classroom style, plus conference rooms for 15 and 22 people.
It is used by the state department of education, plus 30 to 40 outside
Equipment includes 20 new Dell laptop Pentium IIIs available at $50
per computer per day, a smart board, and a T-1 line. Videotaping can
be sent by video E-mail. "We work with the department of education
and when the political situation changes it is nice to see it as well
as hear it," says Denise Hecht, conference center director.
Room rent is $750 per day for largest room, $250 to $500 for
rooms. Breakfast $3 to $6. Trainers from $500. Full catering for lunch
and dinner (from $12.50) is provided from Sir Ives or the Cranbury
Inn. Overnight at the Holiday Inn or Courtyard Marriott, 1 1/2 miles
Monmouth Street, East Windsor 08520. Carey Tajfel, general manager.
Gloria Manning, conference center sales. 609-448-7000; fax,
This 200-room hotel has just-renovated facilities for a conference
of up to 750 people. The tiered amphitheater can seat up to 40 people,
and the auditorium has room for 250, theater-style, and 168 people,
classroom style. A dozen breakout rooms have non-glare lighting, large
work surfaces, and acoustic control. The ballroom can hold from 80
to 500 people. The ballroom and adjoining garden can hold up to 300
178 Ryders Lane, New Brunswick 08901-8535. Cheryl Garson, conference
& event coordinator. 732-932-9144, extension 2148; fax, 732-932-6952.
Home page: univinn.rutgers.edu
Of the five available conference rooms, the largest can hold up to
100 people. Day rates are as low as $23 per person, with no tax or
gratuities. All AV equipment is extra, and high-speed Internet access
is available. Half the clients are from Rutgers, but other users
government, church groups, and fraternities. The center also has a
public hotel with 36 rooms with private baths costing $94 for single
occupancy including breakfast.
757, Plainsboro 08536. Father Joe Morris, director; Maggie Bessett,
office manager. 609-520-9626; fax, 609-520-0593.
This conference center welcomes nonprofit and religious groups, some
state groups and even some for-profit groups if the topic is
or philosophical. Rooms rent for $10 per person per day plus $8 for
lunch. Overnight is $45, or $70 with three meals, or $120 for two
weekend nights with five meals. The AV equipment is minimal, but there
are two chapels, a basketball/tennis/racquet ball court, an indoor
gym, and 44 tree-shaded acres.
Hotel Meeting Space
08540. Farrukh Mirza, general manager. 609-520-1200; fax,
Day rates are $59 with tax. An overnight package might be $170.
08540-6293. Jordana Neumann, director of catering and convention
609-987-1810; fax, 609-987-0399. Www.hyatt.com
The grand ballroom can hold 500 seated classroom style. Day rates
start at $60.
Lori Rabon, general manager; Mariela Rocco, director of sales.
fax, 609-921-9385. Www.nassauinn.com.
rate is $42 plus tax, gratuities, any AV supplies, and parking.
08540. Jayme Knast, banquet manager. 609-452-2500; fax, 609-452-1371.
costs $500. Day rates work out to about $35 plus AV, tax, and tip.
Overnight conference rates could be about $160.
Ridge Road, Princeton 08540. Louis Jamison, general manager.
fax, 609-452-2494. Home page: www.radisson.com
plus nine break-out rooms, plus gathering space by the pool. The day
meeting package is about $70, including gratuity.
Boulevard, Princeton 08540. John Crouch, general manager.
fax, 609-452-1223. Home page: www.westin.com,
Day rates start at about $60. For 20 people overnight, rates might
start at $250, with three meals.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.