STAFFORD – The theme of 2019 is “Thrive in 105” for the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce (SOCC). Celebrating their 105th year and recognizing the milestones reached in 2018, the Chamber held its annual State of the Chamber breakfast event on Jan. 16 at The Holiday Inn in Manahawkin.
The event’s keynote speaker was Joseph Simonetta, Senior Partner of Public Strategies Impact, a Trenton-based firm. Simonetta brought the latest news from Trenton on various hot button issues that could affect local businesses, such as short term rentals (i.e. Air B&B rental-types), the legalization of marijuana, minimum wage hikes, tourism funding, and a ban on plastic bags.
According to Simonetta, of the approximately $42 billion in revenue raised in New Jersey each year, about half of that is raised by the tourism industry in the coastal counties.
One of the major concerns brought up by members was the plastic bag ban, something that Stafford Township has recently taken up with. In September, Governor Murphy’s administration came up with a “more robust” bill to ban the use of plastic bags in the state, said Simonetta, which intends to ban plastic bags, polystyrene and single use straws. The ban includes a fee for paper bags, of which retail will keep half. This bill, should it be signed into law, would supersede all local laws on the plastic bag ban, including Stafford’s.
A Successful 2018
At the event, Lori Pepenella, Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber, took members on a journey from 1914 to 2019, through the Chamber’s history.
1914: The SOCC was the first organization to lead cars over the causeway into Long Beach Island.
1938: The SOCC was the first to create a visitor’s guide.
1940: The SOCC created their first promotional movie.
1942: The first SOCC visitor center was opened.
1989: The SOCC held the first ever Chowderfest celebration.
1996: The SOCC launched their first ever business and community website.
Which brings us to 2018: the year in which the Chamber celebrated the 30th annual Chowderfest, held a record-setting 40 meetings and networking events, gathered over 26,000 people throughout the year, and added towns like Ship Bottom, Barnegat, and Little Egg Harbor to their ranks, to name just a few achievements.
“We have a major challenge every day to make sure that our mission of advancing our economy and allowing businesses to thrive happens every single day,” said Pepenella.
Some 2018 highlights for the Chamber include:
- Became a trusted verifier for Google
- Invited to be a presenter at the Global Tourism Conference in Anaheim, CA
- Received the NJ Tourism Award of Excellence for the Southern Ocean Made Brew Trail
- Named the Chowder Capital of NJ, after going international in 2018
- Re-accredited as one of NJ’s two globally accredited organizations; one of 200 internationally
- Received a $146,000 grant from the NJ Division of Travel and Tourism to promote destination marketing and management
“In 2018 we really started to focus on innovation in the area, using businesses to project what needs to happen in the next few years,” Pepenella explained.
She noted that 2018 was a great year for the Chamber, which has seen a consistent increase in economy and business in recent years since Superstorm Sandy hit land in 2012.
“We certainly have seen an increase in economy…and redevelopment,” she explained. “As far as vacation economy, as a tourism destination, we’re constantly building and increasing desirability to come here, and that’s always up.”
Despite the natural disasters and the severe weather that LBI has seen of late, Pepenella said that new business moving into the area and seasonal visitors continued to demonstrate an upward trend in 2018.
While this may not seem to be the case, looking at the empty storefronts lining Route 72 in places like the Stafford Plaza, Pepenella argues that the Chamber continues to receive requests from business wanting to open their doors in the southern Ocean County area.
“We get requests from businesses [wanting] to expand here on a regular basis…a lot of it tends to be professional services, retail,” she added.
The Chamber also launched a Southern Ocean Made program in 2017 which accredits businesses that “reduce, manufacture, and employ locally,” which has already accredited nine businesses. This program helps to promote local business as well.
While working hard to bring in new business, the Chamber also works a year-round campaign to bring in visitors in the LBI region using beach culture to paint the area as a “year-round resort,” said Pepenella.
The Chamber uses specific campaigns to attract people by interest, such as culinary events, Chowderfest, seafood festivals, Founded in Family businesses, unique businesses, the Annual Wedding Road Show, and Chocolate Week, which is coming up in February.
By advertising the region as more than just a summer vacation spot, with events throughout the year, the Chamber hopes to bring people down to LBI, especially “people who might not know about us,” Pepenella added.
Plans For 2019
In 2019, the Chamber plans to focus on the upcoming Philadelphia Flower Show, publish a 2019 Land and Sea Guide, and, as a new stakeholder in the NJ Sea Grant Consortium, the Chamber is working on putting together a Coastal Resiliency Committee, said Pepenella.
The Coastal Resiliency is in the early stages, so Pepenella did not say too much, but she did mention that they will host an event in March to discuss the various factors that need addressing on the island, for example, the excessive flooding during any amount of rainfall.
To kick off Thrive in 105, the Chamber plans to highlight nonprofit organizations, volunteer Fire Companies, First Aid and EMS organizations with First Responder Fridays.
“The 105th Anniversary Committee, the Board of Directors and the membership wanted to extend gratitude for the time, talent and sacrifice that these 24 organizations give to our community each day.” stated Pepenella in a press release. “We recognize that we cannot have a thriving business community without their volunteer efforts, and that safety is always the most important factor when choosing a place to live or vacation.”
The next Southern Ocean Chamber event will take place on Jan. 29 at the Southern Ocean Medical Center with the Women in Business Roundtable.
The annual Chocolate Week festivities will be held February 10-17, 2019. A full list of the Chamber’s 2019 events can be found at visitlbiregion.com.