Growing stronger every day
Bayonne Chamber of Commerce sees increase in membership
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Mar 10, 2010 | 2855 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MAKING PROGRESS – Since Matt Duran took office as president, the Chamber of Commerce has changed direction, seeking to get more involved with the local community.
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Nobody has to tell the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce times are tough. Yet remarkably, changes the chamber has made over the last few years are starting to pay off – perhaps because local businesses are finally seeing the benefit of having an organization dedicated to looking out for their interests.

In March, both organizations will hold a meet-and-greet.

Some of the advances this year came from an energetic attempt to go out and recruit new members, as the chamber’s role in the community has changed. This was the key to the chamber’s future when its board began to review its role last year.

Changed since the industrial days

In the past, the chamber represented heavy industry and large manufacturers, but lost focus as these types of businesses left Bayonne. In the heyday of the 1940s and 1950s, the Chamber of Commerce often was seen as a powerful voice in the community, helping City Hall to shape pro-business policies. Now most of the large manufacturers that once made up the economic base of the city are gone, and the world is in the midst of one of the greatest economic downturns in decades.

“Bayonne is one of the best kept secrets on the Gold Coast.”— Matt Duran

Matt Duran, who became president of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce early in 2007, said reaching out to the community through a variety of “meet and greet” events has allowed the chamber to introduce itself to a new business community and has brought in new members.

A new chamber for changed times

Duran said the new chamber reflects the change from manufacturing to service industries, so naturally some of the new members are in finance and even medical professions.

Next year, the chamber will continue this push, he said, with an even greater effort to team up with other organizations – such as the Bayonne Town Center and United Cerebral Palsy of Hudson County – in order to better connect with people who are involved at the heart of the community.

Cognizant of the increased burden on local businesses in the down economy, the chamber has lived up to its promise to reduce its rates in order to increase membership by appealing to smaller businesses who might have been unable or unwilling to pay the original rates.

In order to get more in touch with the new age of the internet and to cut overhead, the chamber closed its offices and expects to unveil a new Web site in the spring that will allow members and non-members to interact with the chamber through email and to have access to the latest information available. In the past, members and non-members often left a phone message and someone later got back to them with the details.

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 community events and programs.

“We’re hoping to unveil the new Web site on June 22,” he said.

The chamber is expected to connect with Town Center in the spring, looking to find common ground upon which to build a stronger business community. The new ties to the UCP of Hudson County present a new face of the chamber, which hopes to reach out to the community through well-established, Bayonne-based, not for profit organizations.

In March, both organizations will hold a meet-and-greet at the very popular Ten East restaurant at South Cove Commons Mall, where they hope to generate interest in both organizations and raise funds for UCP’s programs.

The meet and greet concept really took off in 2008 when the chamber brought together more than 60 business people at Café Bello. Even when people do not immediately become members, the events generate new positive relationships between people, who get to see and talk with other business owners.

“We’re picking up four or five new members a month,” he said.

The chamber is seeking new trustees too, people who can help continue the rebirth of the organization and its move into modern times.

A voice for business

The chamber also allows members an avenue for advocating business interests with various city boards. Members 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. Duran believes its location near New York City gives it more of an advantage in dealing with the possible recession.

He gets questions from around the county through the chamber email asking about Bayonne.

Oddly enough, the most often asked question involves Bayonne’s 110-foot monument to the victims of 9/11, located in Harborview Park.

“People are always asking if it is real and ask us to send pictures of it,” he said.

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