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On Main Street – Collaboration from Main Street to University

FDU Partners with MSBA – Everyone talks about the importance of networking and collaboration.  We tell our peers, students, colleagues, children, and ourselves that networking is at the heart of achieving goals.  It’s well-known that relationships established through effective networking create opportunities—and for some, true magic happens, especially when new relationships lead to collaboration, which in turn produces great results.

Main Street Business Alliance partners with FDU
FDU Partners with MSBA – A Zoom Call

John Peters of the Hackensack Main Street Business Alliance (MSBA) and Paige Soltano and Nancy Matthews of Fairleigh Dickinson University have met monthly for nearly 18 months. What started as a casual conversation to learn about a new initiative centered on promoting the Hackensack Main Street business district became an ongoing exploration of how two organizations can work together.  As a result of these conversations, the group has been successful in creating mutually beneficial opportunities that have included sponsorships, internships, mentorships, classroom applications, and more.

Implementation is Key

These days, it’s not enough to have a meeting, talk about good ideas, and then go our separate ways. Execution is the key to success and the group has delivered on what they set out to do. Collaboration between FDU and Hackensack Main Street Business Alliance has been strategic, purposeful, methodical, highly productive, and fun! 

John Peters, Executive Director of the MSBA, starts every conversation at the University with “Full disclosure; I’m a proud FDU alum.” His career path has been a mix of entrepreneurship and senior executive positions at large public companies, which has served him well in his inaugural role leading the MSBA—a public/private partnership with the City of Hackensack. The organization is responsible for managing the Special Improvement District (SID) Downtown Hackensack—basically all of Main Street. With 375 businesses and 160 properties (commercial and residential) in the district, managing the SID is no small task. It encompasses landscaping, sanitation, business recruitment and retention, marketing, PR, events, and more. As essentially a “start-up”, John recognized early on that to achieve success, strategic partnerships would be critical, and he shared, “Everything I’ve ever built has been done with the help of strategic partners.” When asked what he hoped to accomplish with the University, John said, “A long-term, successful, mutually beneficial strategic partnership that helps the businesses and residents of Hackensack, the students of FDU, and FDU as a whole.” 

A Successful Collaboration

Collaboration between MSBA and FDU has proven to be very successful on every level. For example, John has always emphasized the importance of bringing FDU interns on board at the MSBA: “Internships at the MSBA aren’t about grunt work; they’re about real work on real projects, with real stakeholders. Interns will all get to attend board meetings, meetings with City Department Heads, meetings with the media, and many others. I help them with their LinkedIn profiles, articles, etc., so that by the time their internships are done, they’ll have real skills they’ve acquired and real accomplishments to add to their CVs. I coach them at every step of the way so that when they get out into the real world; they can put their well-earned FDU degree to immediate use.”

A frequent speaker at entrepreneurship and business classes, John even joined forces with Professor Ian Mercer for a capstone project where the students became consultants for the MSBA. John gave them three challenges the MSBA was facing, and the students, as a group, researched the challenges and devised solutions. John worked closely with Prof. Mercer and the students weekly, even doing a half-day walk on Main Street with the student leaders. The semester-long project resulted in a very detailed ‘consulting proposal’ and was a huge success.

When Strategic Partnerships Work

Nancy Matthews, FDU Branding and Marketing, shares, “At Fairleigh Dickinson University, we’re always seeking opportunities to collaborate—especially when the opportunity is right in our own backyard and aligns to our mission. We can create more meaningful collaborations when we go beyond the limits of “we’ll run an ad and here’s our logo” to truly realize a greater benefit—for all involved. The communities we’re based in are vital to our students—when students come to campus, they’re also coming to the surrounding community. Likewise, our programs provide a wide range of opportunities for community members interested in pursuing a degree or adding credentials to upskill. Beyond that, FDU hosts various events—including our D1 Knights Athletics—which attract fans from all over. Working with John and Paige is a true collaborative effort that continues to grow and allow us to create mutually beneficial opportunities.”

Important Internships

As of today, FDU has placed a number of students at the MSBA office. The interns have supported John in various roles and they have experienced firsthand working in an office, participating in meetings, proposing ideas, and delivering on projects—all resume-building opportunities. An example is an introduction Paige Soltano, Director of Placement and Outreach for FDU’s Silberman College of Business, facilitated between John and Haley Baker, a 2024 FDU graduate now with an MBA underway. That introduction resulted in an opportunity for mentorship as well as serving as the impetus for a thought-provoking article Haley wrote on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on university campuses. Paige is really the connector, identifying the right student interns for the right roles with the right businesses—for MSBA and beyond. Paige credits the breadth of her experience—from leadership roles in HR and Recruitment across various industries in the private sector to her role at the University, for her ability to generate “win-win” solutions for both students and businesses.

John has had additional conversations and meetings with several senior leaders at the University, and as this academic year comes to a close, the group is excited to look ahead toward initiating more programs, additional collaborations, and opportunities to bring aspects of the MSBA into the academic curriculum.

Interested in learning more or how you can work together with the MSBA? Please reach out and reference FDU Partners with MSBA.

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