By Sharron Sparks Boyle
Nearly 120 members of the Salem County Chamber of Commerce gathered at Ranch Hope Wednesday for its 12th annual Congressional Breakfast with U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo.
The event has become a yearly tradition for LoBiondo who represents New Jersey's Second Congressional District, which includes all of Salem County, in Congress.
"What you are doing is important," he said, thanking chamber members. "You provide the backbone of our nation from a business standpoint. What chambers do across the nation helps me sort through the complicated issues as to what matters in the real world."
One of the main topics at the morning meeting was the national economy.
"Our country continues with a weak recovery. Unemployment in the nation and in this distinct is terrible," he said. "In some parts of our district unemployment is as high as 14 percent. Foreclosures continue and a debt crisis still looms."
LoBiondo said that he has toured the district and the answer is the same wherever he goes.
"There is uncertainty that throws cold water on local business. I see businesses struggling to find a way to hang on and those who do have cash reserves, fail to invest because of the uncertainty," he said.
LoBiondo added that there is some good news.
"The Department of Transportation TIGER grant to rebuild the rail lines in the district is one of those," he said. "Progress has been slow, but with the help of the (Salem County) freeholders the motion moves forward."
He said that U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, D-1st Dist., and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd Dist., "have been outstanding partners in this effort."
"The rehabilitated railways is essential for large manufacturing plants like Mannington (Mills) and Anchor as well as for small business," LoBiondo said. "It is an economical way for resources to reach the plants. Here in Salem County the freeholder board has worked tireless for a long time on this project."
LoBiondo serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure, Armed Services and Permanent Select Intelligence committees.
On energy, LoBiondo feels that the nation needs a national energy policy to control the wide fluctuation of rates.
"Our country continues to struggle with rising gas and oil prices," he said. "The good news is that we have found new ways to utilize and extract natural gas and there is a tremendous abundance."
According to LoBiondo there are resources for natural gas in this country. There are tens of millions of federal acres that could be opened up with environmentally responsible production, he added.
LoBiondo told chamber members that each year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce watches Congress, counts the votes and decides which members get endorsements and receive the Spirit of Enterprise Award.
"I am proud to once again receive this award. I want to understand the real world problems that businesses face," he said.
Salem County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Jones said the breakfast is always one of her favorite events.
"Turnout is good and our members get to interact with their elected congressman one-on-one," she said.
Atlantic City Electric, a chamber member, sponsored Wednesday's event.
ACE Region Vice President Susan Coan said recent weather events have put the company to the test.
She said that the "wild weather, summer and the violent derecho on June 30 have made 2012 one of the most challenging years ever for the utility company."
She added that the collaborative effort between the local office of emergency management, government and community was important in meeting the crisis.
More than 100 miles of wire, 258 utility poles and 285 transformers were replaced following the storm.
The storm left more than 200,000 customers without power in ACE's South Jersey service area.
Crews from all over the state and New York joined the cleanup efforts, she said.
Additionally, 388 tree trimmers, 597 line contractors and 39 assessment crews assisted in getting service back to customers.
PSEG Nuclear's Joe Delmar, the chamber's Government Relations Committee chair, said the chamber also holds other events where chamber members meet with government officials in addition to the Congressional Breakfast.
They include the State of the County address and a State of the District meeting with representatives from the Third Legislative District.
Later this year, the chamber will be sponsoring a trip to the Statehouse in Trenton where members of the chamber will be able to meet with state elected leaders. Contact Today's Sunbeam at 856-935-1500 or firstname.lastname@example.org