Chamber readies for annual 'walk' to DC, chance for business owners, politicians to network

Political honchos and business hotshots from across the state will board an Amtrak train bound for Washington, D.C., as the state Chamber of Commerce commences its annual "Walk to Washington."

Billed as the state's "premiere networking event," Thursday's "walk" gets its name because many of the nearly 600 attendees spend most of their time walking along train cars, shaking hands and meeting peers. The chamber chartered 14 cars and members pay nearly $600 to attend while non-members dole out nearly $700 for the event.

Gov. Chris Christie won't be stalking the train's corridors like others, but he will headline the 78th annual event at Washington's Marriott Wardman Park hotel. Reps. Frank Pallone, Donald Norcross and Tom MacArthur also will speak, and legislative leaders will attend.

Riding the train will be Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and Republican leader Jon Bramnick as well as Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Republican leader Tom Kean Jr. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Senate President Steve Sweeney will be at the event in Washington but won't ride the train.

Chamber Senior Vice President Michael Egenton says he expects business operators to discuss regulations and government mandates that might prevent them from hiring more. He also said he expects there to be a lot of buzz about the transportation trust fund, which faces insolvency this year.

The event has its critics, though.

"The average person can't get invited, can't afford it and can't get that kind of access," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who says he has attended in the past.

Egenton acknowledged that the event once had a reputation as a "schmooze cruise" but said, in essence, it allows business owners to get to know one another and "that's how businesses network; that's how business gets done."