WEST ORANGE, NJ — A West Orange Chamber of Commerce (WOCC) Lunch & Learn event aimed at connecting local small business owners with knowledge and access to utilize county resources attracted a standing-room-only crowd on Thursday afternoon. 

The well-attended 90-minute event, held inside the new Education Center at the Turtle Back Zoo, was a collaboration between the WOCC and Essex County Office of Small Business Development and Affirmative Action (SBDAA). The event, entitled "Business Builders: Solutions and Tools to Grow Your Small Business," connected local small business owners with county officials whose focus is on helping those businesses grow.

“The event was a unique opportunity to showcase two thriving departments from Essex County, Turtle Back Zoo and the Office of Small Business Development and Affirmative Action,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., who served as one of the guest speakers. “Our office of SBDAA is always looking to collaborate with the professional community in our municipalities and are ready to guide new small and minority-owned businesses with their startup. The occasion was a great success and the more we collaborate the better it is for all our towns.”

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The group heard from various Essex County officials, including Director Sam Okparaeke, who oversees the SBDAA, and Kate Hartwyk, the Deputy Director of County Parks Department.

"It was great to connect with Sam Okparaeke and the Essex County Office of Small Business Development,” said WOCC member Roman Martens, owner of British Swim School New Jersey - The Oranges. “He and his colleagues gave very practical advice on how to secure short-term financing and opened the door for further in-depth, one-on-one discussions with them as needed.”

Hartwyk reminded the crowd that the zoo is a great place for companies to hold off-site meetings or company picnics, and the availability of the zoo’s ambassador animals that leave the zoo to visit offices, schools and other events. One of those animals, a penguin, was escorted by Animal Keepter Karis Frain to meet the group.

The event’s main speaker, Kevin Chu, delivered a 20-minute presentation about the realities of accessing capital for small businesses. Chu, a Loan Program Manager at the Greater Newark Enterprises Corporation (GNEC), gave an overview of matching appropriate sources for funds with the right use of funds; how to prepare for financing, which questions to ask and understanding what lenders expect.

“As an individual who attends meetings at other local chambers, I was very impressed with West Orange Chamber's recent Lunch & Learn at the Turtle Back Zoo, ” said Monte Ehrenkranz, Vice President Business Development at Regal Bank and a member of the Livingston Area Chamber of Commerc. "The speakers were interesting and relevant to the crowd.

“Being a local community banker, I was impressed with [Chu] and his understanding of what we banks look for in making a decision on a loan application....But my most favorite part of the day was the behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo. Kudos to [DiVincenzo] and his staff for turning the Turtle Back Zoo into a 'destination' in Essex County.”

During a behind-the-scenes tour of the "Sea Lion Sound" exhibit, attendees met a teenage sea lion named Dyson, who was rescued from California and came to live in New Jersey a few years ago. The young sea mammal knows more than 90 commands and is also learning to paint, according to his keepers. The group also paid a visit to the giraffes and the zoo’s animal hospital.

“The two hours I spent at the event was a great investment for me, particularly as a new West Orange Chamber of Commerce member,” said Tez Roro, a real estate agent with Keller Williams. “We were able to hear from county leadership, zoo administrators, even a special guest appearance from a penguin and great info about how to do business with local government as a small business and practical tips to consider. Plus a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo, where we got to see the majestic group of giraffes standing tall and proud at 16-feet tall and a few other areas. All of this happened within two hours—a well planned and executed event!"

WOCC Executive Director Jessica Marrone Parkes was pleased with the collaborative event. Parkes thanked the audience for attending and shared how the chamber has grown in 2018 with a 30-percent increase membership.

“Being able to bring the programs that the Essex County Small Business Division provides to our members is amazing,” Parkes said. “We are looking forward to continuing our relationship with Sam [Okparaeke] and providing more opportunities for our members to get the resources they need to thrive and grow.”

The West Orange chamber has been actively adding more programs, like this collaborative event, to provide more value to the members.

Visit the WOCC website to learn more about programming offered through the chamber. 

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