By: Yolanda Rivas
2 min read January 2020— The Gloucester County Chamber of Commerce’s focus on business development and education has positioned it as the fifth-largest chamber in the state of New Jersey. The chamber’s partnerships with local county colleges and universities have been key for businesses and the local workforce. Les Vail, president and CEO of the chamber, discussed with Invest: the different ways the chamber is promoting Gloucester County as an economic engine in the region.
What have been some of the highlights for the Gloucester Chamber of Commerce over the past 12 months?
We have been making a concerted effort over the past year to improve branding and marketing to ensure that our message reaches as many people as possible. We initiated a partnership with Rowan College of South Jersey that provides around 30 percent discounts on degree tuition fees for any of our employees and members. We are already seeing that initiative bearing fruit, with over 12,000 unique visits per week across our social media platforms and a significant uptick in returns on our email blasts.
How is the chamber working to promote South Jersey as a catalyst for economic development in the tri-state area?
We have grown to become the fifth-largest chamber in the state with almost 1,000 members, and a big reason for that success is our focus on business development. We act as the middleman to help companies and executives connect with each other. Our efforts on education are also vital. We firmly believe that economic development starts with educating the workforce, as this is what attracts new businesses to the region.
Manufacturing, for example, has a great need for employment. Gloucester County is the fifth-largest region in the country for food manufacturing. The sector offers competitive wages, but it is struggling to find sufficient numbers of skilled workers, not only for now but for the future. The industry does not necessarily require a college degree, but usually requires some form of certification. That’s where our partnerships with local county colleges can have an important impact. We listen to the business community and we support them in their efforts to increase the number of qualified workers for this industry.
What kinds of businesses are you trying to attract to the Gloucester County region?
We are not known as a technology hub, but we have a research institution and two medical schools that are contributing in this area. So we are looking to attract technology-based industries that can offer competitive wages. We have the land capacity and infrastructure in place to attract these businesses.
What are the main challenges facing businesses in the county?
Workforce is still the main issue. We need more plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Manufacturing businesses and refineries, despite offering attractive salaries, are struggling to find their future workforce. It is important to change the mindset of young people today and to let them know that not every career requires a college degree. We need to find people without college degrees and include them in the workforce by giving them valuable skills that contribute to the economy. This process starts in high school, so it is encouraging to see institutions like Gateway Regional High School offering guidance and advice on potential career paths to students from an early age.
To learn more about our interviewee, visit:
Gloucester County Chamber of Commerce: https://www.gc-chamber.com/