New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno visited Bernards Twp. on Monday to meet with business owners and discuss the state of business in Bernards, following an invitation from the Bernards Township Regional Chamber of Commerce, the chamber's executive director said.
After receiving a call from the governor's staff, the chamber's executive director, Al LiCata said he arranged stops at several businesses in the downtown area to meet with the owners, a tour of downtown business area and a roundtable discussion with chamber members about "the state of business in Bernards."
“Working with our President, Barbara Long, we set up the walking tour to include stops at Ava's Ice Cream Parlor, Wabba Travel and Gallery of Bliss, all in walking distance in the Ridge center. This was followed by a roundtable discussion with Chamber Members to hear from the Lt. Governor and for business owners to provide feedback,” LiCata said in an announcement.
During her time in office as second in command after Gov. Chris Christie, Guadagno has placed major emphasis on encouraging business growth within New Jersey, as she discussed during an earlier visit to Avaya in Basking Ridge.
The walking tour started at Ava's Home Made Ice Cream on Henry Street, where owner Bruce Meringolo greeted Guadagno and N.J. state Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-21), LiCata said.
Demonstrating how the product is made and talking about business issues facing Meringolo's business, ended with a sampling of frozen yogurt.
From there LiCata said he guided the group to Wabba Travel, located at the corner of Henry Street and South Finley Avenue in downtown Ridge.
Keely Petitt, Wabba's marketing director, greeted the group and presented the Lt. Governor with a book about Historic Basking Ridge on behalf of the chamber.
"The Lt. Governor was very helpful and interested in how we were doing and offered support and suggestions for us moving forward. I was very pleased to meet her and provide a chance to listen, learn new things and provide her with how our industry is evolving,” said Petitt.
Guadagno and the group then headed to Gallery of Bliss, also located in the Ridge center. Owner Robyn Kopin provided a tour of her shop, discussed how e-commerce is affecting her business and how she remains open.
The chamber representatives took the Lt. Governor and assemblyman to see the 600-year-old oak tree in the center of town, where LiCata said he provided a historical snapshot of the downtown's changing businesses over the decades.
The walking tour ended with a roundtable discusion held at Ridge Family Dentistry in downtown Ridge, where Karen & Dr. Cam Witt greeted the party, LiCata said.
“I reached out to chamber members that could provide solid feedback and benefit most from the Lt. Governor's efforts to change the business climate in the state,” said LiCata. Jack Welch, owner of several restaurants and a catering company, Joe Canderozzi, owner of The Ridge Restaurant and Pizza, Krista Haley co-owner of Jersey Artisan Distillery, Michael Vaccaro, and attorney of Kearns and Duffy Law Firm and LiCata joined the Lt. Governor and Assemblyman Bramnick for the discussion.
“The Lt. Governor provided us with a host of services the state offers and ways in which they can help business, especially in these difficult times. She gave us her cell number and encouraged us to call should we have a business question or concern,” said Krista Haley of Jersey Artisan Distillery.
“Having the Lt. Governor and Assembly Minority Leader here in Basking Ridge is quite an accomplishment. I commend our chamber Executive Director Al LiCata for putting this all together and providing us locals a chance to talk one on one with our state leaders. I found it highly beneficial and educational," said Vaccaro, from Kearns & Duffy.
During the roundtable, LiCata said Guadagno provided an overview of what the state has been doing to address business issues and cut red tape regarding business development. Business owners discussed items ranging from growing concern over healthcare, taxation, minimum wage, permitting, and navigating the various state departments and agencies, he said. Local concerns such as rules and regulations, increased fees and permitting were also were brought to light, he said.
“I thought it went very well,” said Canderozzi of The Ridge. “I was able to speak my mind and also learn there is a place I can turn to on a state level for answers and assistance."
LiCata said he had been was invited to attend a special meeting of local Chambers of Commerce hosted by Gov. Christie at the governor's mansion at Drumthwacket to discuss main street issues and the climate of business in NJ.
"It was remarkable to hear so many chambers express the disconnect the business community has with local elected officials and that we are not alone,” said LiCata. “It's meetings like the one at Drumthwacket and the Lt. Governor's visit today, that Main Street is getting a chance to be heard and I thank them for that,” LiCata said.
“We thank Governor Christie and Lt. Governor Guadagno for recognizing that the Bernards Twp Regional Chamber of Commerce is a strong, vibrant Chamber of Commerce committed to assisting member businesses, serving our communities we represent and providing a unified voice for business. Knowing that we are part of the positive process to get business development moving in the right direction is tremendous,” said Long. She also thanked LiCata for arranging Guadagno's visit and coordinating chamber members, and Guadagno's staff and state police. She credited LiCata with doing a "fantastic job" for the chamber.