Why re-invent the wheel? If there are things you can’t do that someone else can, isn’t it better to partner up?
The Princeton Regional and Metropolitan Trenton African-American chambers certainly thought so back in June when they decided to formalize their affiliation. Though to be fair, the idea for the partnership has been around a long time. It just wasn’t until Herb Ames, CEO of Hamilton-based consulting firm Devin Group and chairman of the MTAACC (pronounced M-Tack), was once again named to the board of the Princeton Chamber that the idea had any concrete footing.
The basic thrust of the idea has a lot of thrust in this down-economy, Ames says. “In times like this, there is no need for the duplication of services. There’s no need to have small businesses or medium-size businesses spend more money out-of-pocket than is necessary.”
With that in mind, Ames says, the two chambers each have something the other is missing, that neither chamber needs to attempt on its own. MTAACC, says Ames, “does not have the resources to start a convention center or a visitor’s bureau.” The Princeton Chamber has long operated both.
On the flip side, Princeton has no specific diversity arm, which is MTAACC’s stock-in-trade. So rather than start one, it can tap into MTAACC’s deep reservoir of diversity knowledge.
Geographically, says Regina Wallace, Ames’ office manager at Devin and member of both chambers, the the partnership makes sense because “we’re all out for the same people.” At the same time, it expands the reach of each chamber into areas it normally has not gone. While the Princeton Chamber caters to the Route 1 corridor and its enviable cache of large businesses, MTAACC historically has targeted businesses in the Greater Trenton area, which could benefit from an expanded list of clients.
To foster mobility within the chambers, Wallace says, membership in one chamber gets you access and member discounts to both.
MTAACC itself is in the process of re-branding, says Ames. By its very name, the organization sounds as if it only caters to African-American businesses, but Ames says that is not true. More Latino and Asian-owned businesses are joining MTAACC, and he estimates that about 30 percent of MTAACC’s member businesses (it has about 180) would not even be considered minority-owned.
Ames says the rebranding will be a head-to-toe affair for MTAACC. The organization wants a new name, new logo, new everything, that will keep its core mission of diversity but sound and feel more welcoming to non-black businesses. The point, he says, is not exclusion, but rather the promotion of minority-owned businesses. Ames says Princeton has a diverse member base of its own, but that since MTAACC deals regularly with minority-owned businesses and other aspects of diversity, “why compete?”
Though Wallace says MTAACC is working to develop more events during its re-branding, Ames says the organization does plan to tap into other groups that could bring mutual benefit. Most notable is the Trenton Downtown Association, which is working to build a convention center and visitor’s bureau of its own.
In 2003 Ames, former director of the Mercer County Division of Economic Development, bought a 4,300 square foot building in Hamilton Square from Richard Plumeri, rented the first floor to a law firm, Roselli Griegel and Haumann PC, and started Devin Group. He was thrust into action by the announcement by then-county executive Bob Prunetti that he would no longer run. “I decided to go off on my own to do business development, turnaround management, and real estate property management,” Ames says.
The son of a lab technician at Princeton University, Ames is a graduate of Monmouth University and a former professional actor and model for 19 years. His star turn came on the cover of U.S. News & World Report when he posed as a reporter interviewing Ben Franklin at Independence Hall. Devin, in fact, is the name he uses in the theater and modeling world.
Given what Devin Group does, Ames is in a good position to steer the chamber partnerships through the basics. The company helps companies with workforce issues to find resources, such as customized training, to upgrade skills.