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Nikki Ouellette

Nikki Ouellette

By JOANNE L. PAPAIANNI

Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce President, Nikki Ouellette took time out of her busy schedule to tell the community who she is and what goals she has for the city’s chamber.
Ouellette works for Choose New Jersey, an organization which works to encourage and nurture economic growth throughout the state with a focus on urban centers.
Ouellette has a background in journalism and graduated with dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in broadcast journalism and police science from Syracuse University.
Her previous work experience includes communications specialist in the New Jersey State Senate and at the Asbury Park Press and Ocean County Observer during her college years.
She worked for 14 years with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) as Director of Public Affairs overseeing legislation/government affairs, public relations and served as Director of Marketing and Policy. During this time she was involved with the creation and launch of the Grow New Jersey and Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant programs.
The following are her responses to the The Coaster’s questions:
1) Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in Toms River. I’ve spent most of my post-college life in Monmouth County, either in Belmar or Asbury Park. I moved to Asbury Park in 2009.
2) How did you come to be involved in the Asbury Park chamber?
When I worked at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), I became familiar with Carrie Turner, who then was working on redevelopment efforts in Camden. When Carrie came to Asbury Park to work for Madison Marquette, we reconnected and she suggested that I join the Board as a Trustee given my background and my clear adoration for the city. She had already been serving as a Trustee herself.
3) How long have you been a member and the president?
I joined the Board in 2012. I have been president since January 2017.
4) Why did you want the position?
The chamber went through a challenging period last summer. Our long-time Executive Director Jackie Pappas moved out of state. Our new Executive Director was getting up to speed in August and September, and doing great, but just a few weeks into our transition, our President Roy Werts passed away. Carrie Turner stepped in as interim president until the end of the year, and the Executive Committee asked that I please serve as President given my background in business development, marketing, public relations, tourism promotion and managing a not-for-profit.
So, I would not say that I aspired to the position, but given the timing of how things transpired last year, I was happy to take on the task. Asbury Park is an incredible success story and as President, I am thrilled that I get to be a part of that narrative.
5) What changes have you made or seen since being on the chamber?
We’ve made strides in enhancing our social media presence, and have seen an uptick in our social media engagement as such. We’ve also seen an increase in our membership over the last year, with a focus on bringing more Asbury Park businesses to the table. We are a regional chamber, so we have a lot of businesses that are not actually located in the city.
6) What areas would you like to focus on for the business community in Asbury Park?
I would like to ensure that all areas of our town continue to be a focus. I would like to see more growth on Main Street and west of Main Street. We are one town, not sections of one town.
7) What are your major duties as Chamber President?
I am lucky in that Sylvia Sylvia is an excellent executive director, and she makes my life as president very easy. As president, I play a large role in the nominating process in terms of new Trustees and appointment of those trustees to executive committee. Along with the executive committee, we also make decisions regarding budget priorities. And I get to do lots of the fun stuff, like handing out ceremonial checks for our philanthropic endeavors and cutting ribbons for new businesses! But again, Sylvia and her Assistant Executive Director Matthew Whelan are tireless workers in their roles, and make my volunteer job easy.
8) How has your position in Choose NJ influenced your work at the chamber?
I’ve spent the majority of my 20-year career working in economic development whether for the state or on behalf of the state. I have background in governmental affairs, policy development, marketing, advertising, public relations, tourism campaigns, and digital and social media, and it’s experience I was happy to bring to the table at the chamber at the local level.
9) Do you cover the entire state in your job, or a specific region?
Yes, Choose New Jersey is a privately funded 501(c)3 that undertakes business development and marketing on behalf of the entire State of New Jersey.
10) How have the changes in Asbury Park changed how you view the business opportunities here?
The changes are sometimes overwhelming. When I first started visiting Asbury Park in the late 90’s when I lived in Belmar, all I knew about it was the Stone Pony and the boardwalk, which really needed some help. Now, we have an incredible inventory of entertainment options, retail, music, art, cultural experiences and residential opportunities that simply didn’t exist 15 years ago. Something that we say in Asbury Park is that we BELIEVE in Asbury Park. Lots of people say they enjoy their town, or they love their town, but Asburians who invest in their business and live their lives here really BELIEVE in it. That belief in ourselves as a community and red-blooded entrepreneurial spirit has resulted in the renaissance we’ve seen today, and the business growth we’ve realized recently. Just try and get a parking spot on a Friday night!
11) What is your vision for the future of the greater Asbury Park area.
If you had asked me this question five or 10 years ago, I would have said my vision is very close to what we have realized today. My greatest hope for our city is that we continue to grow and thrive, without losing our identity, culture and authenticity. I would also like to see more growth on Main Street and west of Main Street.
12) Name three businesses or companies that have benefited from Choose NJ in our area.
CoWerks, on Lake Avenue, and now expanded on Main Street in Asbury Park, benefitted from programs of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority several years back when I was working for the agency.
Frog Bikes, of Ocean Township, was a company from the UK assisted by Choose NJ in 2016.
Mirascon, a German insurance company, and Vutele, an Italian telecomm company, both recently announced leases at Bell Works in Holmdel.