Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes (right) speaks with, from left, Peter Tantillo, Alicia Brown and Eileen Martinson from Sparta Systems in Hamilton, and John Thurber from Thomas Edison State College in Trenton.Full size photo

Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes (right) speaks with, from left, Peter Tantillo, Alicia Brown and Eileen Martinson from Sparta Systems in Hamilton, and John Thurber from Thomas Edison State College in Trenton.

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WEST WINDSOR, N.J. - Mercer County is seeing a surge of economic activity and is faring better than the state and nation from an employment standpoint, according to government and business leaders who spoke at the eighth annual Mercer County Economic Summit on Feb. 28.

Approximately 250 people registered for the summit, which was held at The Conference Center at Mercer County Community College. The event, whose theme was “The Road Ahead: Preparing Your Business for 2013 and Beyond,” was presented by Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, the Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Mercer County Office of Economic Development & Sustainability, in partnership with the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce (PRCC).

Hughes outlined the rise in economic activity taking place across the County in his Mercer Economic Development Report, concluding that although “times are still tough … the road ahead looks promising.”

Hughes touted the “tremendous value and potential” of Trenton-Mercer Airport (TTN) and the region surrounding it. He noted Frontier Airlines’ recent arrival to TTN followed by its rapid expansion of non-stop service to 10 destinations, as well as a long-term look at the airport region being taken by the County and Ewing Township that could result in Ewing’s creation of a mixed-use town center and a strategic relocation of SEPTA’s West Trenton Station, among other possibilities.

“Frontier’s initial success is very promising and their immediate expansion is an example of the strength of our regional economy,” said Peter Crowley, president of the PRCC. “We were excited to have Frontier with us at the Summit yesterday and welcome them again into Mercer County and the Princeton region, helping them meet potential partners who were in attendance.”

The County Executive cited some of the incoming private development, including Internet retail giant Amazon’s decision to construct a mega warehouse in Robbinsville;  Church and Dwight’s new expansion in Ewing, where its corporate headquarters is now located; the grand opening of the new global headquarters for Sparta Systems in Hamilton; and continued improvements being made at Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrence.

Numerous projects also have been recently completed or are in the works in the City of Trenton, Hughes said, including Mercer County’s new criminal courthouse, which opened last month; an expansion of Mercer County Community College’s downtown James Kerney Campus; and Thomas Edison State College’s plan to convert a dilapidated former housing complex into a 27,000-square-foot nursing education building.

Hughes also announced a new initiative aimed at “increasing the relevancy of the tourism industry in Mercer County.”

The Mercer County Sports & Entertainment Commission will enter into a new, structured partnership with the PRCC through the Princeton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau. The reorganized entity will work closely with County assets like the parks, Sun National Bank Center and ARM & HAMMER Park, and with local municipal economic development groups, local business organizations and County offices such as Economic Development and Transportation to boost “one of the most rapidly growing business sectors in Mercer County,” Hughes said.

“The synergy between the Sports and Entertainment Commission and the CVB will proactively attract sports and entertainment events to Mercer County,” said Adam Perle, vice president of the PRCC. “These efforts will ultimately increase the impact of travel and tourism in Mercer County.”

Tourism expenditures in Mercer County were $1.08 billion in 2011, an all-time high. This record for Mercer County marks a 10 percent increase compared to 2010’s expenditures, according to the most recent figures available in the 2011 Economic Impact Study of Tourism in New Jersey, conducted by the State’s Division of Travel & Tourism.

“We look to grow these numbers as the partnership flourishes and develops in the coming years,” said Mr. Perle.

“There is enormous potential to attract visitors to our beautiful and historic County, and to do so in ways that will create economic opportunity and jobs for the entire region,” added Mr. Hughes.

Bernie Flynn, president and CEO of New Jersey Manufacturers and chairman of Choose New Jersey, discussed the history of NJM, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and said that New Jersey’s business slogan of “Highly educated, perfectly located” also “fits Mercer County to a T” and makes it an ideal place to live and work.

“From a transportation and logistics standpoint, we are a hub,” said Mr. Flynn. “And there’s no better evidence of that than Amazon’s decision to locate right here.”

Amazon will bring new jobs to the area, and those employees will further support the local economies as they shop, eat and live in the community surrounding the new development, added Mr. Crowley.

In his national and local economic update, Herb Taylor, vice president and corporate secretary of Philadelphia Reserve Bank, said that during the recent recession unemployment in Mercer County capped at about 8 percent as opposed to 10 percent nationally.

“Relative to the nation and state, Mercer County has done extremely well on the unemployment side, and there’s a job growth side to that as well,” he said. “While the U.S. and New Jersey have lost jobs on net, Trenton-Ewing (Metropolitan Statistical Area) is up 15 percent relative to where we were a decade ago.

“The region is continuing to do well relative to the nation.”

Hughes said he is proud of the fact that Mercer County’s unemployment rate of 7.4 percent -- more than 2 percentage points lower than the state’s -- ranks 4th lowest in New Jersey.

Taylor’s remarks were followed by two featured discussions: “Major Sporting Events 2014,”with representatives from the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee, the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games and Formula One Racing; and “Doing Business With Big Business,” with representatives from Princeton University, Johnson & Johnson, Otsuka and Educational Testing Service.

Among the notable officials at the event were: State Sen. Linda Greenstein, State Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo; Mercer County Freeholders Ann Cannon, John Cimino, Pasquale “Pat” Colavita and Samuel Frisby; Mercer County Community College President Patricia Donohue, East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov, former State Sen. Peter Inverso and former Lawrence Councilwoman Pamela Mount.

The title sponsor of the event was PSE&G and supporting sponsors were Verizon and NAI Fennelly. Hughes’ remarks were sponsored by Roma Bank; “Major Sporting Events 2014 was sponsored by PNC Bank and Dana Communications; “Doing Business With Big Business” was sponsored by TD Bank and Comcast Business Class; and networking was sponsored by Hopewell Valley Community Bank.

Enterprise sponsors were Educational Testing Service, Merrill Lynch, Quaker Bridge Mall, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, Spiezle Architectural Group Inc., Klatzkin & Company LLP and VJ Scozzari & Sons Inc. Vendor Table sponsors were Comcast Business Class, Compass Advisors Group, Fox Rothschild LLP, Frontier Airlines, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group, Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, TD Bank and Thomas Edison State College.