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Foul Weather Does Not Dampen Spirits of Business Leaders On Fifth Annual Cruise of County Waterfront, Port Area UCC Cruise


Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times

While many workers and residents in Union County were dealing with flooding from last Thursday’s stormy weather, business and government leaders braved the rough surf for the opportunity to network with each other for the common goal of economic development as part of the fifth annual cruise of the New Jersey and Manhattan waterfront sponsored by the Union County Economic Development Corporation (UCEDC).

Heads of Chambers of Commerce and downtown revitalization programs, local business leaders and elected and appointed officials had the opportunity to discuss important issues such as the dredging of the New York and New Jersey ports. The cruise began under a windswept tent at the Elizabeth Marina. Among the sites were the Elizabeth and Manhattan Waterfront, Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Although the weather did not cooperate, the event provided an opportunity for networking among official and business leaders as well as an opportunity to learn more about development along the county’s waterfront.

Although a sea and air rescue demonstration by the United States Coast Guard had to be canceled due to the inclement weather, those in attendance did receive a presentation about the dredging project currently ongoing in the harbor.

Maureen Tinen, UCEDC President, said the networking event enables representatives of local Chambers of Commerce, Special Improvement Districts, grassroots groups, community leaders and people employed in workforce development, to interact with one another.

Although attendance was down from previous years due to the weather, a majority of the 150 invited guests turned out for the four-hour cruise from the Elizabeth Marina to the Brooklyn Bridge and back.

Ms. Tinen said the first cruise in 1993 focused on the development along the waterfront. Last year the guest speaker was the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who spoke about the importance of dredging the port.

As a special theme this year, the UCEDC gave out gift bag of items made in Union County to each of the guests as they disembarked the Amberjack V enclosed yacht charter.

"This (the gift bag) gives them (the guests) a sense of the kinds of things our rich manufacturing-base produces," said Ms. Tinen.

In the past few years she said development in the county has been geared towards retail, such as IKEA furniture stores and the Metromall projects, both in Elizabeth; national chains in downtowns as well as increased entrepreneurship in the less affluent communities.

The UCEDC, Ms. Tinen said, offers microloans for those starting out in business. The program includes six weeks of training for new entrepreneurs as well as start-up financing. She also noted the emphasis by the county Freeholder board over the past few years on the county’s transportation infrastructure.

During the 1989 to 1992 period, she said, Union County lost one out of every four manufacturers. She said those manufacturers that are left have had to do more with less and thus have been unable to create new jobs. Ms. Tinen noted that although job growth has not been tremendous, neither has the population growth in the county. The county unemployment rate currently is around 5.3 percent.

Union County Freeholder Donald Goncalves, who chairs the board’s new Economic Development Committee and is employed by the Elizabeth Economic Development Corporation, said the cleanup of the waterfront and the Port of Elizabeth are crucial to the county’s economic future.

"From an economic development standpoint, we always said that Union County thrives because of our ports and because of our location," he explained, noting that the water and air are the county’s natural resources and thus must be cleaned up.

Given the tremendous volume of passengers arriving daily at Newark International Airport, 40 percent of which lies in Union County, Freeholder Goncalves noted that it is important that the county start to become a destination point for new businesses.

Freeholder Frank H. Lehr said the cruise gives invited guests, which he described as the "movers and shakers" in the county, the opportunity to witness first hand the activity in the Port of Elizabeth. He noted that the Port of New York lies in New Jersey.

"And 60 percent of that is in Elizabeth," he said, while observing a ship headed out of the port. "When you look out at that (pointing at a large container ship leaving the port for overseas) you see the amount of activity and how important this port is and how important it is to dredge so we can continue the benefits that we get from it."

Thomas H. Wakeman, 3rd, Dredging Program Manager for the Port Commerce Department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said the Port Authority is currently dredging New Jersey’s marine terminals of some 159,000 cubic yards of dredge material not suitable for ocean dumping. Officials have said this is necessary to establish water depths ranging from 35 to 40 feet.

The sediment will then be processed to make it suitable for land disposal, and transported to the new MetroMall site for reuse as top fill for a new parking lot. The Newark Bay Confined Disposal Facility is a new dredge being created in the Newark Bay to contain contaminated dredge material which cannot be dumped at the ocean mud dump site. Approximately 10,000 cubic yards of material is being dredged daily.

Mr. Wakeman said Port Elizabeth is the third largest containerized shipping terminal in the nation, and the largest on the east coast, both import and export, and the largest petroleum port in the nation.

Speaking about last year’s cruise, Superintendent of Union County Vocational-Technical Schools Dr. Thomas J. Bistocchi said the networking event enabled him to explain the concept of vo-tech’s new magnet school for accelerated learning in mathematics and science to education leaders.

The school will open on the Vo-Tech campus in September with a freshman class of 70 students. Dr. Bistocchi said there were 170 applicants for the 70 openings this year and he expects up to 300 applicants for the same amount of openings for the 1998-1999 freshman class. The school will reach a capacity of 280 students by the time the magnet school marks its fourth year.

Union County’s magnet school is the fifth in the state, he said, noting that Bergen County has such a school while Monmouth County has three magnet schools. Hudson County is opening a science and technical accelerated learning school in September, as well.

Dr. Bistocchi has also used the UCEDC’s cruise to talk to potential employers of Vo-Tech students about the training the school’s 750 students receive each year.

For Westfield Board of Education President Susan Jacobson, who represented the Union County Chamber of Commerce on the cruise, her second cruise enabled her to try and recruit new members for the Chamber while also learning the concerns and problems faced by businesses in the county. The county’s chamber, which has been in existence for over 85 years, currently has 700 members.

"Last year my experience was terrific because it gave me the opportunity to meet and network with people who were able to point to the need. Our focus is really service to our members and so we were really able to translate that need into different groups and different seminar series that we are doing now," said Mrs. Jacobson.

Among the other invited guests on the cruise were new County Manager Michael LaPolla, County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, Freeholder Vice Chairman Daniel P. Sullivan and Scotch Plains Mayor Irene T. Schmidt. Due to the bad weather a pre-boarding reception on the dock, sponsored by CoreStates Bank, was canceled. The major corporate sponsor for the trip was Bell Atlantic.

The UCEDC will hold its next networking event, a golf tournament, in the fall. Officials hope the weather will cooperate this time around.

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