That was the message last week during the annual Mercer County economic summit at Mercer County Community College, which got a preview of the business opportunities on tap, including Formula One, the Super Bowl and Special Olympics USA Games next year. Event organizers estimated the Super Bowl will have a $500 million economic impact; Formula One, in excess of $100 million; and the Special Olympics, more than $50 million.
As lucrative as these events are expected to be for the New Jersey economy, it's just the beginning, said Wayne Hasenbalg, CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. He said the challenge is to bring events to the state "because we all understand how important they are to our economic well being. For the first time, the state will have an entity whose primary mission is to help bring these kinds of events, not only to the Meadowlands, but throughout all of New Jersey."
He said the agency is working on a plan to execute this.
"One of the first things we're going to do is go through the entire state and try to identify the assets New Jersey has — what venues, what locations, what facilities — so we have an overall statewide inventory so that when we go out and try to bring things to New Jersey, we know what New Jersey offers," Hasenbalg said. "You will be hearing a lot more from us over the next year."
Kevin Cuskley, vice president of the Super Bowl host committee, said game day "is just one part of this: We see this as a week-long festival for the state." He said New Jersey expects the Super Bowl to attract 400,000 visitors to the metropolitan area — and only 80,000 of them will have a ticket to watch the game in the stadium.
"People come to see their team, whether they have a ticket or not," he said. "We expect it to be a very big event, for the hotels to be filled."
He said the committee is encouraging towns to create their own Super Bowl activities, which will generate economic activity locally. He said his town of Ridgewood "has their own committee, and they are going to put up banners, and they are going to have a celebration for themselves. This is not just about visitors."
Dennis Robinson, chief operating officer of Formula One Racing, said about 100,000 people will come to the race, about a third of them from other countries.
Thomas Varga, senior vice president of sponsorship sales for the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games, said New Jersey won the games because "we presented over 100 letters from businesses in New Jersey who said 'we want this, and we will support this in ways it has not been supported before.' " Among the major founding partners, he said, are Toys R Us, Shop-Rite, Public Service Enterprise Group, Barnabas Health and Hess Corp.