During a public forum on economic development at Bergen Community College in Paramus last week, local business leaders, educators, residents, and government officials met to discuss ways on how to make Bergen County a desirable tourist destination.
The goal is to attract visitors from across the country and around the globe through major events and destinations such as Wrestlemania, the Ironman U.S. Championships, the Super Bowl, and the Meadowlands American Dream, an entertainment destination, which will feature the country’s tallest Ferris wheel, year-round indoor skiing and snowboarding, restaurants, and shopping and more.
The hope is to attract more businesses and residents to the area, and in turn, allow the County and local municipalities to reap the rewards economically.
The project is dubbed Destination Bergen. Jim Kirkos, CEO, Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, who is considered the mastermind behind the project, said the issue comes down to leadership, vision, planning, and collaboration. The challenge is to determine how to generate economic impact.
“As we began to research, we realized that we needed to understand the power of destination marketing and tourism,” said Kirkos. “We applied for a grant and we had the Rutgers [University] Heldrich Center develop a study specifically for the Meadowlands.”
According to Kirkos, the study revealed the manufacturing sector was still the dominate employer in the area, but also revealed that a destination-related economy was emerging, which could potentially be a growing component of the overall economy for the Meadowlands and cause a positive ripple affect across the County and state.
- As of 2011, the tourism industry was the third largest in the state.
- $38 billion was spent in New Jersey in tourism
- Tourism created 312,000 jobs
- 63 percent of the visitors to New Jersey came from out of state
- 9 percent of visitors to New Jersey were international
“That data reveals tremendous opportunities, especially when we look at projects like the American Dream Meadowlands, which is inching closer to reality and the opportunity to bring 40 to 50 million people a year to the Meadowlands,” Kirkos said.
Furthermore, large scale events would further drive the effort. The mission for Kirkos and Destination Bergen is to determine how to prepare the business community, and the communities at large to capitalize on tourism.
“At the end of the day, if visitors do not know what we have to offer, they’re going to go where they know they can go,” Kirkos explained. “Our job is to keep more dollars in New Jersey, and in Bergen County, and in the Meadowlands as opposed to going to our big sister in New York City.”
Kirkos also pointed to the “induced” economic benefit that reaches beyond the hotels, shops and other attractions at Meadowlands.
“Over 250 professional business service workers owe their jobs to the Meadowlands visiting commerce in 2010,” Kirkos added. “These workers earned an average wage of over $95,000 per annum. Many of the local businesses that do not directly touch the tourism visitor simply benefit from tourism in that indirect way.”
In part 3, we'll look at some of the ideas presented by the Bergen LEADS class of 2012, which was tasked to develop ideas, and reactions from the public.