Angelo Sansano wouldn't call himself an avid golfer, but on a recent Monday he took off from work, skipped dinner with the family and spent $485 -- all to play a round with a group of strangers.
Golf wasn't the attraction.
Sansano, a partner at a Dover insurance firm, was out to score some new clients the old-fashioned way: Face to face.
"I have to get out and meet new people," said Sansano, 40, between putts at the Morris County Chamber of Commerce's annual golf outing. "I've been out of the loop for awhile."
Whether it's golf, cocktails or lunch, the recession is heralding a return to hob-knobbing, that pre-internet art of courting potential customers in person. In recent months, dwindling leads from staples like advertising and referrals have forced many small-business owners out of reclusion, sending them to networking events in droves.
"We're seeing more people coming out than ever before," said Lynn Lagomarsino, the chamber's chairwoman. "People are looking for work, they're looking to renew relationships."
A record 128 small-business owners and executives showed up at the chamber's annual golf outing earlier this month. The turnout, a mix of members and non-members, surprised event organizers, who said last year's outing was so poorly attended it barely broke even.
Chambers across the state are noticing the same phenomenon.
Attendance at the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce's networking events has increased more than 50 percent since last year, said Chris Phelan, president and chief executive. The number of new members in recent months has also doubled to about 20 a month, he said, many of them smaller businesses that would not have considered joining before the recession because they didn't see networking as crucial.
"People are just putting a lot more face time out there," Phelan said.
As layoffs continue, there is also a shift in the type of members that are joining, said Marlene Waldock, president of the North Essex Chamber of Commerce, which serves nine municipalities. Despite the economy, the chamber's membership has stayed constant at about 375 as applications stream in from entrepreneurs and individuals planning career changes.
"They realize they absolutely need to be connected," Waldock said. "If you don't do that, you're in a vacuum."
Waldock said despite a drop in funding from corporate sponsors - to a projected $35,000 this year from $60,000 last year - the chamber has been holding more networking events to accommodate the growing demand.
Read full story [New Jersey On-Line]