Hoboken’s small businesses still haven’t fully recovered from the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy almost a year ago – and some never will, said the president of the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce last week. Arguing for the expansion of the chamber’s membership, Greg Dell’Aquila, who owns the downtown workspace Mission50, said that business that did survive the storm must come together to form a collective voice that could lead to bolstered advocacy, higher profits, and a greater sense of community.
“If we’re going to really become a sustainable, volunteer-based business advocacy organization, which is what we want to strive to be, we need to find a way to serve our members better,” he said. “The way to do this is to drive up our membership.”
Toward this goal, the Chamber recently announced a membership drive that doubles as a contest, with major payoffs for the Hoboken business that recruits the most new members to the group.
The prizes include a comprehensive marketing package which includes postcards, free digital marking consultations, and free half-page advertisements in local publications, including The Hudson Reporter.
Dell’Aquila described the membership drive as an important aspect of the cyclical nature of local commerce – a business joins the Chamber in order to enjoy the resources it provides, but those resources are rarely available to everyone without an impressive membership. But the payoffs, especially in a smaller community like Hoboken, are worth it, says Dell’Aquila.
“A collective voice is much louder.” – Chamber of Commerce President Greg Dell’Aquila
In addition to gaining access to a much wider set of resources, Dell’Aquila discussed his belief that a larger Chamber’s powers would be much greater than the bargaining power it boasts currently. The chamber has about 200 members currently, but if it can reach 500 by December 2015, it would become a significant player in Hoboken, economically and politically.
“It’s pretty common that a business owner has a problem with parking or outdoor seating permits or something, and they go before the city council angry or upset, and they look like a raving lunatic,” he said. “That’s not conducive to getting anything done. But a collective voice is much louder.”
On the mayoral election
Dell’Aquila said that the Chamber would maintain its historical tradition of refraining from endorsing candidates for municipal office ahead of an election, but did describe his ideal candidate.
“We want a mayor, a council, an administration, and an entire city government that is willing to recognize us as a major player in local business and open the lines of communication,” he said. “The more communication we have with the city, the better off we are.”
Dell’Aquila refrained from praising or criticizing the administration of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who is running for reelection against state Assemblyman Ruben Ramos and 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti in November. Still, he said that he wanted a mayor with a plan to boost local business.
“They’re going to have to come up with their own agenda,” he said. “But once they do, we’d love for them to come down and show it to us. There has to be a way for us to communicate with them, and vice versa.”
Dell’Aquila also said that he feels the next administration, whether lead by Zimmer or one of her opponents, should take significant care to treat the business community as a whole, rather than individual constituents.
“We want to be treated as a collective,” he said.
Awards coming up, Buono visiting
The Chamber will host its second annual Hoboken Business Awards ceremony in November, hoping to build on the success of last year’s inaugural event, which sold out and raised $25,000 for a post-Sandy, pro-Hoboken marketing campaign.
This year, Dell’Aquila said the chamber decided to add a new award alongside the classics (best business, best new business, etc.) meant specifically for the most environmentally-friendly business.
The winners of the membership drive will also be announced at the ceremony, which will take place Nov. 14 at the Elks Club, but at the same time, Dell’Aquila said, the evening itself serves as a type of membership drive.
“Last year, we sold the event out, but a lot of people that came weren’t necessarily members,” he said. “But by the end of the evening we’d gained a handful of new recruits.”
Event with Women in Business
The other exciting fall event the chamber’s planned in conjunction with the Chamber’s Women in Business Council, an organization chaired by Elizabeth Barry, is a visit from state Sen. and gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, who will speak with women at their monthly Coffee Empowerment Series on Sept. 24.
The visit isn’t political, said Barry, as the chamber does not endorse candidates for statewide office, either, but more an opportunity for Buono to share her experiences and inspire local women to become more active in local commerce.
“The senator’s attendance means that word about what we’re doing with women in business is spreading outside of Hoboken,” she said. “The more women we have involved, the bigger role we can play.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org