2 min read September 2021 — The Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber was established in 1959 to engage businesses and communities in the Princeton area. President and CEO Hal English spoke with Invest: about the growth of the local business community, mitigating pandemic related issues and his outlook on the future.
How is your organization helping businesses to manage this unprecedented time?
It’s more important than ever for the chamber to connect members. We‘ve recently created a phone app so that anyone on their smartphone can search for a member and connect with them to do business with each other. Allowing people to know who the chamber members are is a feature that we are excited about. We also created a digital magazine focused on lifestyle content, including some chamber information and upcoming events. Lastly, we changed our website because we are now a larger team after we merged with another chamber to create one of the largest chambers in the state of New Jersey with over 1,400 member companies. The website is faster and more user- and business-friendly. We also advocate for grants for our members from the state of New Jersey. We are always talking with the governor’s office, the Senate and representatives about what we need regarding COVID funds coming into the area. We want to make sure it is spent wisely.
One of the current initiatives involves our work with a nonprofit from the city of Trenton to create a startup business incubator and secure funding. Prior to COVID, funding for startups was hard to get but there is now money available through the Economic Development Authority in New Jersey. We think that is important because a lot of small businesses are made up of entrepreneurs who lost a lot through no fault of their own. We want to help them create new businesses and we’re creating our own nonprofit foundation to be able to help with grants.
What was the impact of PPP loans on the region where you operate?
The impact was amazing given how quickly this government program was implemented. It was wonderful to see how people stepped up. It was difficult for the banks and lending institutions initially to start it up because it was all new. It came down quickly and it was frustrating for the smaller businesses and for those that had to wait. The lending institutions were jammed because everyone needed and wanted the loans. But they got the loans and the forgiveness has been good, as well. The second round was even better because they created a website and used technology, which is the way to go. We knew technology would get us to the future but it was never as needed as it is now. It’s a good example of a government program that was done well despite its fast implementation.
What would be the most pressing infrastructure needs as businesses and the economy recover?
New Jersey is getting a great share of the federal infrastructure bill. We are proposed to receive $6.8 billion just for highways, which creates spinoff jobs for construction workers, planners, engineers and attorneys, for example. We’re getting over $1 billion for bridges. The last report I saw stated that 30% of our bridges desperately need improvements. We’re proposing $21 billion for public transportation, which is crucial to attract today’s new jobs. With Amazon located outside the cities, we need to get people to and from work in a safe and efficient manner. The Hudson River Tunnel going to New York and the Portal North Bridge project are in the infrastructure package, which will create thousands of needed jobs. The supply chain will also benefit from that. New Jersey itself has a $17 billion capital plan, so infrastructure is going to be the way to build us out of this mess we’re in. This will be the largest infrastructure expenditure since President Eisenhower in 1956.
What strategies have been implemented by your members or businesses in the region to mitigate supply chain and labor shortages?
Smaller businesses have changed their hours of business to focus on quality rather than quantity. For instance, restaurants toned down their menus and hours. They are not just suffering from labor shortages but also from the supply chain issues, where it may be difficult for them to get product, for instance. We’ve seen some frustration from restaurant customers but we need to be patient while we get through this. The chamber has a career website so that any company looking for employees can post jobs and all of our members can see that to hopefully help make a connection. We’re also talking with our community colleges about job training.
What is your outlook for the organization and its impact on the local economy?
For all intents and purposes, there’s going to be a boom and we’re prepared for it. We’ll get our employees ready to get back into our companies and workplaces. In the next few months, we’ll have everyone back to work, whatever the rules may be. The next four years will be a makeup time for what was lost last year. We have all that infrastructure money coming and that creates the future and thousands of jobs. It will do well for New Jersey. Our priorities include helping mainly our small employees but also getting folks back to work comfortably considering the issues and legal challenges related to working safely.
For more information, visit: