How does Kevin Friedlander encourage networking at his most prestigious event? "It just happens," shrugs the vice president of communications for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
Then again, when you cram 1,400 people with obvious mutual interests (i.e., politicians and businesspeople) into 18 tiny train cars, it's not surprising that networking is a natural.
The so-called Schmooze Train (which has also been referred to as a "traveling carnival" and "the Super Bowl of New Jersey") is a state tradition that started in 1937. Friedlander has been organizing it for 10 of its 70 years. Local politicos, business execs, heads of cultural organizations, philanthropists, journalists, and anyone else who can pony up the registration fee board the dedicated Amtrak train at various points on its journey through New Jersey en route to Washington D.C. On arriving in our nation's capital, attendees disembark and head to the Marriott Wardman Park for a dinner honoring New Jersey's congressional delegation.
The ride, including the dinner, costs $560, plus another $270 if attendees want to spend the night at either the Marriott or, if that fills up, in spillover rooms Friedlander reserves at the Omni Shoreham next door. The event always sells out, he adds. "We have people who've been on the trip 30, 40 times, and look forward to it every year."
And here's why: "Before people even get to the hotel, they've gathered so many business cards and met so many people they normally wouldn't," Friedlander notes, adding that he often gets frantic calls from attendees who left their briefcase on the train with all the cards in it: "They just go into panic mode, because that was the whole reason they went!"