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Making connections

Jim Kirkos, head of the Meadowlands chamber, has created master plan to bring region together

Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce.-(PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

You don’t need to sell Jim Kirkos on the power of networking.

He became a believer 25 years ago, when he was a caterer looking to expand into managing corporate cafeterias. He found his first contract with Ernst & Young as the accounting firm was moving into a Lyndhurst office building, a job that soon vaulted his business to another level.

And Kirkos says he owes it to a connection through the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“A couple of years later, I had nine contracts, and I was managing nine different corporate cafeterias,” he said. “And that started because one of the partners at Ernst & Young was on the board of the chamber, and I sat next to him at meetings.”

So it should have been no surprise when, more than a decade later, Kirkos stepped into his current role as CEO and president of the Meadowlands chamber. Today it’s one of the state’s largest business organizations, having grown from 275 members to more than 1,100 since he took the helm in 2002.

Kirkos also has become one of the most vocal, energetic and visible business advocates in northern New Jersey, all while raising the chamber’s profile in the public policy arena. And his voice only seems to be growing louder these days, as stakeholders weigh the future of the region and the Meadowlands Sports Complex as a hospitality and entertainment destination.

After all, it was less than six months ago when Kirkos helped rekindle the issue of bringing casino gaming to North Jersey, standing with business leaders at Redd’s Restaurant in Carlstadt. That was where the chamber unveiled its new “vision plan” for the sports complex, with designs of adding gaming halls, a convention center and hotels to the site’s existing venues.

The proposal has helped revive casino discussions among lawmakers and state officials as Atlantic City’s gaming industry continues to languish — opening the door for a potential ballot question this November on whether to allow gaming outside the resort town.

“I think people understand what his core mission is,” said Wayne Hasenbalg, CEO and president of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. “He’s got to be an advocate for his membership and his region.

“Even now, he’s out there with the new plan, and he’s doing it at a time when maybe government really wasn’t ready for that yet. And I think Jim decided he wanted to be out there to get out in front, so that the region wouldn’t be overlooked at the end of the day.”

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Joshua Burd

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