Mimi O: No Place Like Princeton

Faithful readers: I apologize for this format. I am flummoxed by Blogspot’s new version. Anybody who wants to help me out, tell me how to keep the paragraphs in!

I knew Mimi O (Mimi Omiecinski) would be a good speaker at the chamber, but she was way better than even I thought. Everybody loved her trademark enthusiasm and informality but she also exhibited the smarts of the “smarty pants” whose IQ she likes to tweak. Her topic was, loosely, what’s good about Princeton as a tourist destination and as a place to relocate your business. “I have been all over the planet, and there is no place like Princeton,” she says. Her premise was that, before the Revolutionary War, Princeton was the number one “layover town” in the country, the town where you stopped to rest your horses between New York and Philadelphia. So her “call to action” was “Let’s make Princeton the number one day trip destination in the country.”

 She’s doing it. Princeton Tour is the top tour in the country, according to one of the travel social media networks, and she sure had the sold-out chamber crowd in the palm of her ever-so-Nashville hand. You can read about her elsewhere, but here are the amazing statistics she trotted out. The NJ tourism GDP is larger than the entire GDP of 97 countries.  In 2010, NJ hosted 68 million visitors spending over $13 billion dollars, and 1 out of every 10 workers owes their livelihood to tourism — and for every 180 visitors a new job is created. Over 300 million people live within a 4 hour drive of the Princeton area. Meanwhile, she said, Princeton University has more Pritzker prize buildings than any other two square miles. “Tiger Moms – they cart their children to look at Princeton AND they spend their money.”

Mimi O knows her celebrities so well she could have been an editor at People magazine. She knows them and she ogles them – Charlie Gibson, Paul Muldoon, Joyce Carol Oates, Andrew Shue, Bebe Neuwirth, Ethan Hawke, Paul Krugman, George Schulz – she ticks them off, telling where she spotted them. “I landed in the Hollywood of academe, yet I was the only paparazzi.” She knew she had to start a business that would tap this “strangely possessed” spirit or “I was going to get arrested for stalking.”

 Three merchants – Kopp’s, Hamilton Jewelers, and Landau’s – gave up their borough right to have a sign on the street so that Princeton Tour could station photo cutouts (put your face through it and have your photo taken as Einstein, the President’s wife, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, all drawn btw by Joy Chen) of Joy Cards. That was just one of the examples of inter-business cooperation that she cited.

She cited the famous Robert F. Kennedy quote, from 1968 in Kansas, about exactly why we are proud to be Americans. It reads, frankly, like the Beatitudes – nice to think about yet impossible to achieve – but she says Princeton has it all. And that’s how she made her second “call to action.” We need to convey to business owners how great a community greater Princeton is.

 “People won’t uproot unless the new community is perceived to have smart, successful, and happy people,” she said. Happy, said Mimi O, is everywhere here because Princeton folks have such a passion for what they do that they might even work for free. They work all the time, yet she called them, not workaholics, but a great new word “work a frolics” who value experience over acquisition and believe that their products and services will improve lives.

 Her examples: Greg Olsen, an entrepreneur into space who aims to inspire minorities and women to study science. He paid to have his space capsule carted into MarketFair to this end. And Jessica Dhurrie of Small World Coffee, Ruth Chris of the national steak house chain, and Seward Johnson. Happy people want to feel connected and they want to feel they can collaborate.

 Among the biggest and best, incidentally, New Jersey has the number one golf course, the largest Buddha, among the most green space, and the largest rowing facility – inhabited by the Olympic rowing champions who helped found and later sued Facebook.

“Happy people want to stay curious,” said Mimi O., “and if you can’t stay curious in this town it is probably your own fault. Happy people want to give, and we have vibrant nonprofits with great ideas, backed up by the government and business community.” I’m happy I went. If you missed it — well, sign up for a tour with Princeton Tour! Second best, get on the list for Mimi’s blog called Princeton Wannabe. That and the Black Squirrel will give you the flavor.

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