“What is today about? Today is about seeing what the town of Secaucus can do for you.”
Mayor Michael Gonnelli was speaking to a room full of local merchants and business people who had gathered on Wednesday, June 11 at the LaQuinta Hotel for a “Business Breakfast and Brainstorm.”
Gonnelli and several other prominent speakers provided an overview of services available in the town and region. Representatives from different town facilities and services like the public library and the green initiative set up informational stations and spoke with the attendees, who were also encouraged to network among themselves.
“It’s great that these businesses want to get involved in the community,” said state Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, one of the speakers at the event. “These businesses are also our residents. It’s not their primary home but they probably spend more time here than they do at home.”
In addition to his job in Trenton, Prieto is the construction code official for the town of Secaucus.
“We want to make sure that they’re taken care of – any issues, any concerns,” said Prieto about the local businesses. “That they can come to us and we love to see them involved in our community.”
About 100 businesses RSVP’d to the event in advance. Closer to 150 showed up to hear what Secaucus had to offer.
“When you have to set up more tables,” said Prieto, “it’s a great success.”
What Secaucus has to offer
Gonnelli spoke about many of the amenities available within the town, including the Recreation Center, which is available to businesses operating in town as well as residents. Although the town pool is now open only to residents, Schmidt’s Woods next door is available for business functions and events, and rental of the space includes pool access.
“I would suggest that those of you who just travel to and from work every day, take some time out and ride around the town and see what’s going on,” said Gonnelli. “And call. If we can help you, we will.”
Gonnelli spoke about the town’s green initiatives and environmental awareness and praised certain local companies for their service to the community, singling out Macy’s as a model for companies concerned about their environmental impact and encouraging attendees to speak with them about ways to go green.
He also praised Goya, Outback, Home Depot and United Way for their ongoing support of the food pantry and other charitable programs.
“I’ve never experienced a town that is so involved in trying to incorporate businesses.” – Nichole Spike
Prieto described his political roles and spoke from a statewide perspective. Talking about the Meadowlands Commission, a group formed in 1968 to oversee development of the region, he explained that Secaucus, as a successful community, pays “the lion’s share” of taxes to support other areas within the commission’s purview, but that last year the town received a one-time break from the governor, and he was hopeful of a permanent solution to the imbalance.
Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber, an organization representing nearly 1,200 local businesses, spoke of the chamber’s roots as the Secaucus Merchants Association in the 1970s.
“Over the years, our destination-related assets have grown tremendously,” he said, referring to attractions within the region. “We have dinosaurs in Secaucus. We have raceways in Jersey City. We have knights in the castle in Medieval Times in Lyndhurst. Tremendous ethnic restaurants all across this region. And more and more things to do.”
He spoke enthusiastically about the American Dream complex coming to the Meadowlands, as an attraction that will bring more people to the area.
Tom Considine, the recently appointed CEO of Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, spoke along with Lynn McVey, the hospital’s COO. They stressed the many improvements at the hospital and the increase in rating from a C to an A.
“We’re Secaucus’s hospital, we’re soon to be the American Dream’s hospital,” said Considine, going on to describe several healthcare options being redesigned by the hospital under the Affordable Care Act, including both in-network and out-of-network options for local residents.
Following the presentations, attendees networked extensively among themselves and at the informational stations set up along one wall.
“I just made some great connections,” said Superintendent of Schools Robert Presuto. “We have a program in our high school where kids work in local businesses part of the day.” Presuto talked with representatives from the Meadowlands Regional Chamber, who volunteered to help place kids in jobs.
“I’ve never experienced a town that is so involved in trying to incorporate businesses,” said Nichole Spike, director of community care at Kipnis Physical Therapy in Secaucus. “I’m from South Jersey so I didn’t think it was going to be this much of a commuter town. It’s really connected. It’s great.”
“There’s a lot of good things going on. The hotels are full. Business is thriving here,” said Michelle Emilio, chief financial officer for Allegro Sanitation. “I like the fact that a lot of local businesses and residents are taking care of the people that are having a hard time eating. I didn’t realize it was such a problem. So I think we’ll talk to Mike [Gonnelli] about that.”
Allegro Sanitation is a recycling operation that has been in town since 1965. “I know Mike since he was a kid,” said Allegro’s vice president, Nick Milano. “He used to work for DPW. We have the transfer station on Secaucus Road and he used to come in there with the town trucks all the time.”
Win Powers is a Secaucus resident and an elder at the Woodcliff Church in North Bergen, which serves as a community center for the homeless and runs youth programs and a food pantry. “The mayor invited us to this event because he wanted the businesses in the Secaucus area to support us,” he said.
“The businesses here in some way are benefiting from the communities in Union City, West New York, North Bergen,” said Ratiba Lafi-Grullon, who works on charity programs at the church. “All those people support Secaucus businesses because this is where they come to shop, this is where they come to eat, this is where they come to the movies.”
“The mayor of Secaucus is always sponsoring us, always helping us out,” she continued. “He’s been giving me clothes and we do a toy drive every year for the past 17 years.”
Asked what he learned from the session, Powers said, “There are a lot of resources. Just that you have to make the contacts.”
Lafi-Grullon had a different takeaway: “Business people are not as mean as they always portray them to be.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.