Princeton’s new chamber director talks goals for 2021

PRINCETON — Princeton’s new chamber director, Jenica Cole, has been on the job a little over two months now, and while 2021 poses to still offer challenges for businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cole is full of optimism while moving ideas and plans forward this year to make the best of it.

After jumping into the job at the whirlwind of the holiday season, Cole immediately hit the ground running on becoming familiar with businesses, business owners and meeting one-on-one with each of her board members and chamber ambassadors.

The LaMoille native grew up spending a lot of her time in Princeton. It was the place her family did business and where they came to shop and eat out. So Cole had a pretty good grasp on what the area offered. After college, Cole and her husband moved to the Peoria area where he worked for Caterpillar and she built a career in the health care industry through medical sales. After starting a family, they knew they wanted to someday move home to a community more fit for raising children that was also closer to their own families. That opportunity arose in 2017 when they bought a home in Princeton.

Having been back in the area, Cole is excited to start her new journey. Her vision for the chamber is to stay “community-minded, keep it going forward, see what’s new and what can we offer.”

One goal she and everyone else in the chamber organization has for 2021 is to get back to offering the events it did before COVID-19. They’re staying mindful of the spring and early summer months and looking at what can still be done safely. For example, the Salute to Ag breakfast won’t be held this year, but the committee is looking at ways it can still offer scholarships to graduating seniors.

The chamber’s annual meeting, typically held in April, will be pushed back. But events on the calendar after that are still in the works.

“We will adjust with COVID if we have to, but our hope is to just remain optimistic and positive and we’re going forward with Main Street concert planning,” Cole said, adding all the bands have been secured, expect one, so far.

New events are also be looked at and considered as well.

Taking a look at what the chamber offers to members, Cole has a few ideas to make the benefits package more appealing to businesses.

“I took a hard look at what we were giving back. Sometimes it’s really hard to give back to businesses like MTM (Recognition) or Allegion, because they are in a different realm,” she said. “It’s easy for us to have an event on Main Street and promote the boutiques and things of that native. I want to do more of those things, but I also want to give back to our members as a whole in some way.”

Cole said this can be done by utilizing the chamber’s website and social media platforms in a way that better supports these businesses and provides more exposure. She also plans to create shopping pamphlets for Main Street businesses, boutiques, restaurants, etc. for people visiting in town to get a better idea of what they have on Main Street.

Cole is also working on office supply discounts and a shipping program for members.

“It will show that we value their relationship with us and that we want their membership and want to support them,” she said.

There is also ongoing talks about an annual job fair that would be another venue to promote businesses and educate the community about the sort of jobs available in the area and the products that come out of the manufacturers.

As her role as Princeton’s tourism director, Cole is in favor of the ongoing advertising commercials showcased out of the Quad Cities, but her plan is to expand further out and reach people as far as Iowa, Rockford, the Beloit area and suburbs of Chicago. The whole idea would be to continue promoting Princeton as a weekend getaway spot.

Promoting this idea on social media and using “word of mouth” will go a long way to get people in those areas to recognize Princeton as a destination place, Cole said.

Speaking of social media, Princeton Chamber and Princeton Tourism both now have a Facebook page and an Instagram account that will be active in promoting the happenings of Princeton. Cole has already been active on the Chamber’s Facebook page where she’s been doing live videos to talk about new businesses and what’s going on around town. She said it’s just another way to reach people.

Cole’s office is located inside the Princeton Prouty Building, where she has an open door policy. She said she’s always open to hearing new ideas and feedback from the community.

Goldie Rapp

Goldie Rapp is the Associate Editor of the Bureau County Republican and Putnam County Record. She has worked for Shaw Media since 2013.