2016-05-11 / Voice at the Shore

Jewish Business Network debuts with discussion on driving business back to Atlantic County

By ELLEN WEISMAN STENGER
Voice shore correspondent


Leo Schoffer, chairman of the Atlantic County Economic Development Corporation, will speak on “Driving Business Back to Atlantic County” at the Jewish Business Network luncheon on May 20. Leo Schoffer, chairman of the Atlantic County Economic Development Corporation, will speak on “Driving Business Back to Atlantic County” at the Jewish Business Network luncheon on May 20. What can local Jewish business owners do to bolster Atlantic County’s flagging economy—as well as their own businesses, which are also threatened by economic uncertainty?

Plenty, says Leo Schoffer. The owner of EHT-based Schoffer Industries, who is also chairman of the board of the Atlantic County Economic Development Corporation, he will talk about how Jewish business owners can help shape the future of Atlantic County—and, by extension, Atlantic County’s Jewish community—at the inaugural meeting of the Jewish Federation’s new Jewish Business Network. The meeting, a one-hour “power lunch,” will take place on Friday, May 20, at Valentina’s Trattoria Italiana in Kensington Square (200 Tilton Road) in Northfield. The lunch is free but requires advance reservation.

The goal of the new networking group is to create connections between local Jewish business people. “It’s a great way to stimulate strategic partnerships within our community,” said Stephanie Koch, a member of the local Federation’ s Young Leadership Division, who championed the idea of starting the group.

“It’s very important, in the economic times that we live in, for people to work together so that they can thrive from a business perspective,” added Koch, who is also senior vice president of strategic and business development for Jewish Employment and Vocational Services (JEVS), which offers vocational and related services to many in greater Philadelphia and southern New Jersey.

Koch said that

Jewish business people could play a role in turning around the local economy. “The press we are receiving regionally is negative and it’s up to us to change this,” she said. “Our population is also dwindling. As a young leader in the area, I want to do what I can to help things thrive and grow.”

Bringing Jewish business people together for monthly networking lunches— where they can get to know each other and develop relationships—can help foster that growth and change, said Koch.

According to Schoffer, Jewish businesspeople and entrepreneurs have played a critical role in developing Atlantic County’s economy in the past, and need to do so in the future as well—both for their own sakes and for the sake of the Jewish and broader community. “Whether or not Atlantic County’s economy grows affects our community. It affects our businesses, it affects whether or not our kids want to come back and live in this county, and it affects the future of all Jewish-affiliated organizations.”

“We see membership in our synagogues and in our Jewish agencies decreasing because there are fewer opportunities for young people in the community. In order to make this community more attractive for young people to move here, there has to be employment opportunities.”

Schoffer is actively working to create those opportunities through his role on Atlantic County Economic Development Corporation. That Corporation was recently established with seed money from the Atlantic County Utilities Authority.

The corporation’s goal: To attract new, diverse businesses to Atlantic County. This, in turn, will create jobs and grow the economy. “This is about attracting business, retaining business and growing business,” explained Schoffer. “We don’t want to continue to be strictly reliant on one industry, casinos. We need to attract other businesses and business sectors.”

Like most other local business people, Schoffer himself has felt the pinch of the casino industry’s decline. During Atlantic City’s “casino era,” he noted, his commercial development company, Schoffer Industries, was busy providing space for casinos and for casino vendors. “The decrease in the number of casinos and in their level of business has obviously decreased the demand for the type of real estate we provide, so we have tried to widen our base as well and attract other types of businesses.”

“I’m hoping that bringing new businesses to the area [through the work of the Atlantic County Economic Development Corporation] will offer new business opportunities for everyone,” he added. “I think the future can be brighter. I believe we have hit bottom and are now climbing back up again.”

Schoffer, who is vice-chairman of Stockton University, will also speak at the May 20 Jewish Business Networking lunch about the economic implications of Stockton’s plan to create a university town within Atlantic City.

Reservations for the May 20 Jewish Business Network Lunch are required by May 16. To reserve, please call the Jewish Federation at (609) 822- 4404 or email becky@jewishbytheshore.org.

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