For the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce, the future means change.
While the chamber will be closing the doors of its Avenue C office as of July 1, this is not a sign that the chamber is going out of business.
“We’re just changing our approach,” said Matt Duran, who became president of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce early in 2007.
This includes a change of rates charged for membership in order to better attract new members.
The chamber will also be unveiling a new Web site that will allow members and others to communicate with the chamber.
The site, designed by a firm that exclusively specializes in Chamber of Commerce Web sites, will be interactive to allow members to communicate with fellow members, to share ideas, and promote market community events and programs.
Duran said the chamber wants to begin opening the door to other businesses.
The role of the chamber has to change, Duran said, mainly because Bayonne itself has changed.
Historically, the organization’s primary goal is to foster and promote the economic well-being of its members.
In the past, the chamber represented large manufacturers, and in the heyday of the 1940s and 1950s, often was seen as a powerful voice in the community, helping City Hall to shape pro-business policies.
Most of the large manufacturers that once made up the economic base of the city have moved out. The world is in the midst of one of the greatest economic downturns in decades.
“We’re just changing our approach.” – said Matt Duran
Its role as the representative for large companies is no longer viable, so it must seek a new role representing the kind of businesses that exist in Bayonne and those that Bayonne expects to attract in the future.
This means the chamber must alter its rates for membership to attract new membership, rather than the larger manufacturers it represented in the past.
Fees range from $125 for non for profits, charities, restaurants, and businesses. Businesses already located within the Town Center district would pay $125 annually to belong, while the chamber would charge $275 for national chains and financial institutions.
Other companies are charged an annual fee based on the number of employees – $150 for companies with 10 or less employees, $225 for companies with 11 to 20 employees, and $500 for companies with 21 or more employees.
“The chamber’s goal is to provide a united voice for the Bayonne business community,” Duran said.
The chamber recently conducted a business card exchange at Café Bello in order to begin the process of networking with business owners in Bayonne.
This is something Duran plans to do quarterly, but might even have it every other month if there is an interest.
“Café Bello was a gracious host,” he said. “It was total win-win for the chamber and for the restaurant. We had about 40 people there.”
The chamber also allows members an avenue for advocating business interests with various city boards. Members would also get the advantage of the chamber’s marketing programs.
This city, Duran said, is one of the best kept secrets in the area, the southern portion of the Hudson County Gold Coast that will become a viable economic engine once the economy recovers.
Bayonne has been resilient and is perhaps one of the great hidden potentials for the future because it is the last piece of the Gold Coast. Duran believes its location near New York City gives it more of an advantage in dealing with the possible recession.
Once seen as a blue collar working class city, Bayonne is undergoing a transition.
Companies like Best Food and Maidenform are gone, while new businesses such as Bayonne Crossing are coming in, he said.
“This is the gateway to the region, and the city of Bayonne is undergoing a rebirth,” he said. “People will come through here on their way to New York City.”
In the past, the Chamber of Commerce served as a kind of liaison between government and some of the bigger companies. This role has changed slightly as the larger manufacturing companies move out and the city becomes more retail oriented.
Business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the Bayonne Town Center Management Corporation and the Bergen Point Merchants’ Association are active in the community. In the future, the role of these groups will expand with new residential developments and an increased demand for service.
But the chamber, he said, needs to distinguish itself and give businesses a reason to become a member.