Nearly six years ago I stumbled into a meeting with the Director of the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce (MCRCC). The people at the meeting were discussing creating a Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) within the chamber in order to promote tourism in MiddlesexCounty. Although I thought tourism in this county was somewhat laughable, they were serving sandwiches so I decided to stay for the meeting.
Since that inaugural meeting, we have seen this idea develop and grow into a high functioning part of the MCRCC. The mission to collaborate with the business community has been greatly enhanced by our efforts with the hospitality industry. Thanks to the financial support from our charter members, state grants, and membership dues we have seen the CVB become a valuable resource for our county’s economy.
Travel and tourism is not something that is foreign to Middlesex County. Our history for travelers goes back before colonial times. Route 27, which dissects the county, was called the King’s Highway in the 18th century connecting New York and Philadelphia. New Jersey is the crossroads of the American Revolution and Middlesex County is the crossroads of New Jersey. No where else does the Turnpike and Parkway intersect. Our commerce has something for everybody along Route 1, Route 9, Route 18, Route 34 or Route 35. An employee at the gift ship I was at in Xian, China asked me where I was from in the United States, and when I said NJ he said , “Exit 8A?” (which is also located in Middlesex County). There is no place else that can be called the home of Thomas Edison and Elsie the Cow.
Middlesex County is the definition of a great location with so much to offer. We have first-rate theaters, diverse ethnic restaurant choices, a rich history, first class hotels and meeting rooms, and a nationally prominent university. These are the reasons that these numbers make so much sense.
The state total is over $ 38 billion, and one tenth of our employment base is tied into travel and tourism.
In 2011, Middlesex County tourism generated $ 1.8 billion of revenue and provided for over 35,000 jobs. Middlesex County has and will continue to be near the top in occupancy tax dollars collected, which directly assists municipalities with the ever-increasing burden of property taxes.
Understanding the financial value to this industry is how a regional CVB and MCRCC can help grow our economy. As I said, our first few years with a volunteer board and a decreased amount of state aid, we were still able to develop a strategy and plan to promote travel and tourism. In 2012, we began to see the implementation of this plan beginning to take hold. Our sleek modern website, travel guide, search engine upgrades, and direct radio advertising has seen a significant increase in our visibility and viability. Our website in 2012 had a 500% increase in hits, our RFP collaboration with hotels has generated some significant business opportunities, and our outreach to local municipal leaders has extended our capacity for local business.
We look at 2013 as a watershed opportunity to have the MCRCC and CVB play a vital role helping our local businesses recover from the doldrums we have seen over the past few years. We see the Big Ten participation and the Superbowl Game as major boosts to the travel and tourism industries in MiddlesexCounty. But I believe it would be too limiting to call tourism a sight specific business. If our restaurants got more people to eat dinner out, there will probably be more work for local plumbers. If more people visit Middlesex County, our gas stations will sell more gasoline and accountants will have more service station owners needing tax assistance.
Our Freeholder Director announced at his reorganization last week of how much additional collaboration he hopes to achieve with us in 2013. Our partnership has always been extremely valuable, but having additional support will go a long way to a stronger economic development plan for our county.
We plan on using our business support for over 100 years as a stepping stone to advance the potential positive impact coming our way this year. We will be promoting Superbowl and Rutgers packages. We will be fine tuning our marketing research, we will be hosting Meet the Mayors meetings, and we will use our marketing tools to help you grow your business. We want to help. We know our value, and we want you to join us to work together for the greater good for Middlesex County residents and businesses.
~BN (Speech given at the Convention of Visitor’s Bureau 2.10.13 event)