It’s September, so it must be time for another business trade fair, right?
Not so fast. The Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce held its 30th Annual Trade Fair and Culinary Showcase last Sept. 26 at the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village. The fair, usually one of the tentpoles of the year in any business community, attracted a decent crowd, but attendance was on the downswing.
So the chamber, in consultation with its members, made what might seem to be a daring decision this year: no trade fair. In its place, it will host one new event and one event in its second year, both of which president and CEO Peter Crowley and his staff feel can more than make up for the trade fair’s absence.
While Crowley and director of events Cheri Durst stress that it might be just a one-year break for the annual fair, they feel pretty good about the fresher, more targeted programs they’ve deployed to take its place.
“We just decided, we’ll see what happens. Take a year off,” Durst said. “Then before you knew it, the calendar got taken up with other things that are taking the place of it.”
The 2012 Healthcare Symposium, scheduled for Sept. 27 at the Mercer County Community College Conference Center, is one of the signature events the chamber is hoping will satisfy the needs of the membership. The Healthcare Symposium was held for the first time last year.
The other event that has the chamber excited is the brand new Women in Business Alliance Women’s Leadership Conference, scheduled for Oct. 11 at the Princeton Marriott. The Women in Business Alliance is a chamber-affiliated group.
There will be some elements of a trade fair at the Women’s Leadership Conference, including a business showcase, Durst said, but the vendor side will be secondary to the workshops, media panel and keynote addresses.
Crowley says the two conferences, along with the July trade fair hosted by the chamber’s Plainsboro Business Partnership, should draw hundreds of attendees and provide sponsorship and networking opportunities to the membership, and said health care and women in business programs have seen dramatic growth in recent years.
He also said a chamber can’t be complacent when looking at the programs and benefits if offers.
“You can do the same thing over and over and do it well,” he said. “But are you helping the membership make connections in business?”
He said the chamber’s marketing committee generates most of the ideas for their programs, but also said Durst plays a crucial role in making sure things don’t get stale.
“She’s responsible for figuring out what we’re supposed to be doing,” Crowley said. “She’s the one who said, ‘We need to be freshening things up.’”
Although the trade fair’s hiatus may be temporary, in a way the chamber has been preparing for its diminishing impact for a while now, adding to its signature programs over a period of years. Durst has been adding new major events to the schedule since she joined the organization, and for the time being at least, those events are filling the role the annual trade show once did.
Besides Durst, events coordinator Vicky Schubert handles monthly events such as chapter luncheons, and communications coordinator Amanda Schoonover is dedicated to public relations. The division of labor has helped the chamber provide members with more and more choices when it comes to building relationships.
“When Peter started working here, it’s all we ever heard is, ‘How are we adding value?’” Durst said. “Now we have it ingrained in our minds.”
Crowley said the chamber is fortunate to have the input from some of the smartest business people in the region in its 36-member board of directors.
“They are fully dedicated to this chamber. They are sounding boards for what we do, they are leaders for how we do it,” he said. “These are people who challenge us and push us and make us better at what do.”
The Healthcare Symposium agenda includes presentations by state health information technology coordinator Colleen Woods and banking and insurance commissioner Neil Sullivan. Breakout sessions on accountable care organizations, workers compensation and preventative care trends are also on the docket, as well as a roundtable discussion featuring the chief executives of five major local health-care institutions.
Morgan Stanley managing director of investment management Carla Harris is set to give the breakfast keynote address at the Women’s Leadership Conference, while area media members will sit for a keynote lunch panel on ways to get positive press.
Workshop topics scheduled for the conference include image management, social media marketing, confidence and the ABCs of building and protecting wealth for women.
On the Web: princetonchamber.org.