But while only four years have passed, many impactful events have changed the landscape for business in Bayonne: a major storm that throttled and crippled the city, a change in municipal administration, and two new infrastructure programs that while they are good for the city, have presented their own challenges and opportunities.
So Dorans is hitting the ground running, building on what Virga achieved.
Saying that Virga reinvigorated the chamber, put it on the right track, and took it to a higher level, Dorans said he will keep involved members interested and energize others to participate.
“I think Vinnie’s biggest mantra was the involvement of the members,” Dorans said. “Get them involved, get their voices heard, and bring up the support of membership.”
Taking an already active board and opening it up to more and more members is job one for the new president. One of his first moves will be to take the monthly board meeting and open it to the general membership on an every-other-month basis.
“I’m looking for more commitments,” Dorans said. “I want more people to be involved in membership, marketing, finance, legislative committees. I’ve already started to reach out to some members.”
Dorans is also talking about building on the business partnership that Bayonne High School is forming with New Jersey City University to bring back a “junior” chamber of commerce.
While the chamber has been very successful in holding networking programs for the current membership, Dorans wants to increase those and create other events to bring the city’s business leaders together.
While the Bayonne chamber is known for its businesses of all types and sizes, Dorans wants to help small business owners willing to start a business and see it through to success.
“We want people to know we know what it is to take a risk,” Dorans said. “They are not alone. It’s very difficult, starting a small business by one’s self, finding financing, references. It’s tough coming out of the gate.”
Dorans is one of those small business entrepreneurs himself, as vice president of In-Line Air Conditioning Co.
Although the membership committee, under the leadership of Realtor Ben Costanza has done a fine job, Dorans would like to see even more new members sign up. Currently, the Bayonne chamber boasts 130 members.
Part of that membership drive will be an effort to use technology more and be more efficient. The organization has already moved away from paper memberships; new members apply at Bayonnechamber.org., where they can join on the spot and have immediate access to chamber information, as well as their own personal portal to which they can post updated information and update events.
But Dorans said he believes one of the biggest issues for Bayonne businesses is the traffic problems being created by the two major reconstruction problems in town: the Bayonne Bridge Raise the Roadway and New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s Interchange 14A Improvement Program.
“Right now the biggest challenge is getting the word out that Bayonne is open for business.” – Matt Dorans
“Members’ businesses on the highway [Route 440] depend on the cross flow of traffic,” Dorans said. “Some are seeing a drop of 30 percent or more. It’s a major concern to us.”
The chamber and city officials were able to get the Port Authority to keep the bridge open the day of the Kentucky Derby, which helped Winners.
“These projects have to happen, we understand that, but at the same time, it comes down to them
understanding the needs of our businesses, and the impact this is having on them,” Dorans said. “If people see the bridge is not open – or open and they don’t know it – they’re not coming to Bayonne. That’s one of the biggest challenges.”
Dorans wants to see the chamber become more relevant. He also is considering whether the chamber can have a storefront or office.
“That’s something we haven’t had in many years,” he said. “That’s something I would like to come to fruition. That will give us more a presence in town.”
Working with the city
Dorans hopes to also build on the chamber’s already good relationship with city hall.
“I have to say that the Jimmy Davis administration has been pretty fantastic in their dealing with the chamber,” Dorans said. “Right from day one, the mayor has opened his arms to us and said he’s there for us.”
The chamber wants to be part of the many new planned developments on the horizon, including a retail center at Harbor Station South on the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor.
“In the next four years, we’re going to see new opportunities for development in the city that hadn’t been seen in the past,” Dorans said. “Right now the biggest challenge is getting the word out that Bayonne is open for business.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.To comment on this story online visit www.hudsonreporter.com.