This article originally appeared in the New Jersey Business Magazine online on February 13, 2023. Read the full piece here.
BY JIM PYTELL, MANAGING EDITOR
FEB 13, 2023
The International Franchise Association’s (IFA) Open for Opportunity Roadshow made a stop in the Meadowlands on Friday to host a roundtable discussion on economic opportunity and supporting New Jersey’s hospitality and tourism needs ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will feature matches at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
“New Jersey is home to some of the most well-known franchised brands in the world, including essential hospitality companies that serve communities across the country,” said Matt Haller, IFA President and CEO. “What many don’t realize is that these household names do more than provide critical hotel and lodging services – they are part of a larger business model that helps manifest opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs to become business owners. Open for Opportunity is in New Jersey to showcase how franchises are leading the way in supporting individuals and communities around the nation.”
The sheer size of the Word Cup is massive, and will test the limits of the transportation, lodging and greater tourism infrastructure of all its host cities and surrounding areas.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar saw 2.45 million spectators across all venues for the first 48 matches of the group stage of the tournament, which marked the second highest figure after only the 1994 tournament, which, perhaps not surprisingly, was held in the United States.
“With the World Cup, there is potentially $500 million in economic value coming into the region. It is a great opportunity, but with great opportunity, there are also risks and rewards,” said Mark Bonamo, editor at TAPinto Newark. “The question is, to get that reward, what are we as New Jersey going to need to do to maximize the benefit of the World Cup coming here?”
One of the biggest keys is physically transporting people to and from the venue, a challenge that was felt during the aforementioned World Cup in 1994, the Super Bowl in 2014, and many other large-scale events.
“We have learned a lot of lessons from past big events that have taken place here at MetLife Stadium,” said Jim Kirkos, president & CEO, Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce. “The biggest thing is adding capacity. I’m happy to tell you that the New Jersey Department of Transportation is working on a bus rapid transit system in addition to the rail line that comes from Secaucus Junction into the sports complex.”
Kirkos added that the bus rapid transit system, which will be designed to have more capacity, reliability and other quality features than a conventional bus system, should be ready by the World Cup in 2026.
While additional road improvements will also take place, Kirkos said that an extension of the train line from Secaucus Junction to the Meadowlands sports complex – which would have a major impact on efficiency – will likely not be done in time for 2026.
“However, I do think the additional pieces for moving the extra capacity, such as the bus rapid transit system, will work just fine for the games at MetLife,” Kirkos said.
“Historically, infrastructure has been one of our major assets here in New Jersey,” said Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA). “Unfortunately, over decades, we haven’t mined that asset very well. What is exciting right now is there is a lot of opportunity for investment and reinvestment in New Jersey.”
She added that getting ahead via comprehensive planning, holistic solutions and coalition building is paramount.
“We have some federal dollars here that can be put to use, and it is important that we have a collective voice. This is a great opportunity for us, ahead of the World Cup, to look at where some of these assets can help this specific region,” Siekerka said.
Another point of emphasis was the impact that the current labor crisis is having, specifically on the hotel and restaurant industry.
Marilou Halvorsen, vice president of government affairs and state relations at the American Hotel and Lodging Association, cited the importance of laying out career pathways to attract workers.
“We want to get people from housekeeper to general manager, or dishwasher to chef,” Halvorsen said, emphasizing the need to educate the workforce about the opportunities available to them to build a prosperous career in a given field. “We need to make sure the state and federal government are investing in apprenticeship programs like the trade associations do around the country.”
One such example of a pathways program in this sphere is the New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities program, a collaboration between New Jersey’s community colleges and NJBIA, which aims to provide students and workers with structured pathways to find career opportunities and to ensure that employers can meet their employment needs.
Additionally, the opportunity to show off New Jersey to the world should not be understated, specifically when hosting alongside New York City.
To this end, Siekerka suggested investing in a visibility initiative to boast about the state’s assets ahead of and during the tournament.
“We need to do a better job at telling our own story and highlighting our assets. We should be showing pictures of American Dream, the stadium, the Meadowlands and beyond. We all need to buy in and do it to keep the energy on this side of the river,” she said.