Going Beyond Pride
The Chamber of Commerce Renaissance Is Here
By Andrea M. Garcia
Chambers of Commerce have a long history in the United States. Dating back to the 1700s, they have played a vital role in generating business and helped to build the communities we have today. By the 21st century, Chambers had a bad rap for being stuffy, unwelcoming, and not modernizing quickly enough – going the way of the Rolodex. However, thanks to the efforts of several small Chambers, business associations are experiencing a renaissance and a stronger comeback post-COVID — this time with a major shift towards diversity.
The New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce (NJPCC) is a prime example of an association that has positioned itself as the business advocate for a thriving, growing demographic that has been historically overlooked – the LGBT+ community.
Formerly known as the NJ LGBT Chamber of Commerce, NJPCC underwent a complete organizational transformation with the goal of building the community from the ground up.
In 2021, Stephen Blazejewski, the President of NJPCC envisioned a modern direction. As the youngest Chamber president to ever serve in New Jersey, Blazejewski understood that the “Chamber of Commerce’’ needed a complete facelift to attract millennials and Gen-Z entrepreneurs.
“COVID was a time of reflection,” said Blazejewski. “We have completely changed the behavior of our organization in order to better serve our members’ new business needs and realities, and this was the perfect opportunity.”
The Chamber’s Board of Directors is run completely by volunteers. After appointing five new diverse director members, myself included, to head its marketing strategies. Blazejewsk had raised enough funding to hire the Chamber’s first employee and Executive Director, Augusto Penaranda. Augusto brings a wealth of knowledge from the political arena. One of his topline goals is to persuade Governor Phillip Murphy to sign the Executive Order, elevating LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE) certified businesses to similar observed minority status that grants equal access to government contracts. Penaranda’s developing roadmap consists of four new signature events, a 5k/10k Walk and Run on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, and the launch of a yearly magazine.
In addition to the six-month reorganization, Blazjewsk led the seven-month rebranding process. The Chamber adopted a new name and a fresh, modern update to the brand designed by 96andX, an LGBTBE certified agency in Los Angeles. The Chamber celebrated the rebrand in its first annual Brand Launch Brunch at New Jersey’s 10PRL film studios, a women-owned and LGBTBE certified business. The sold-out event was proof that the LGBT+ community had finally found a home. Guests traveled from New York, Philadelphia, and Connecticut and even politicians were in attendance to voice their public support for the LGBT+ community.
The rebranding infused the members with new life and energy. Carrying that momentum forward, we needed to implement the right marketing and dynamic programming strategies.
With Government incentives focused on corporations diversifying their supply chains, the Chamber appointed Stephanie Lokker, Managing Partner of Lockerbie and Co., an LGBTBE certified management consultant firm, to oversee the Diversity Supplier and Certification program to help build a stronger bridge between vendors and Fortune 1000 Corporations who call New Jersey home. By creating more ease of access, LGBT+ vendors are now being prioritized.
Marketing has proved to be a unique challenge. We needed to build up our communications strategy in order to rebuild trust within the community. This meant amplifying awareness for partnership opportunities and events, and then PR-ing our members as both business and community leaders; all while driving a narrative that the state of New Jersey is a great place to live and grow a business for the LGBT+ community.
Membership in the Chamber has increased by 40% and continues to increase month-over-month. Jacob Meola, who oversees membership, launched an ambassadorship program that ensures members will feel welcomed and valued.
NJPCC has completely redefined itself and what it means to be a proud business owner and employee working in the Garden State.
Government leaders, corporate allies, Chamber members, and sponsors backed the Chamber’s bold vision from day one, and momentum has carried us through the first 100 days by fulfilling our mission and continuing membership growth. We’re off to a great start and have more ambitious ideas ready to launch. The Chamber is shaped by everyday people, your neighbors, who put their time and energy into making success happen. Remember, the only true way to grow your community’s net worth is by ensuring everyone can take part in building a stronger network.
Andrea M. Garcia (pictured above) is the first Hispanic woman to serve on the Board of Directors for the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce, where she oversees its statewide marketing strategies and implementation. She is the owner of COMMS/NATION, a boutique Public Relations agency and is LGBTBE® certified.