The New Jersey Restaurant Association (NJRA) announced the hiring of Marilou Halvorsen as the new President of the Trenton-based organization. The announcement follows on the heels of severe hurricane damage to the state’s largest private sector employer and a period of mourning for the loss of its previous President, Deborah Roy Dowdell, who held the position for over two decades but passed away last March.Halvorsen joins the NJRA with deep appreciation and understanding of the industry. As the previous Director of Marketing of Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach & Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, NJ, (up to two weeks ago) Halvorsen is personally saddened by the devastation that has occurred to her former place of business. She was chosen from numerous candidates to lead the NJRA which represents the Garden State’s 25,000 eating and drinking establishments, employing over 311,000 residents and generates annual sales of $14 billion.“This has been baptism by fire for me with many our members incurring great loss just two days into my tenure,” said Halvorsen, “Include this with the fact I’m filling the position of someone who was a friend for 10 years makes it a challenge to say the least.” “My respect ran deep for what Deborah was able to accomplish at the NJRA, and more importantly how she touched so many lives, including mine” she added.Halvorsen will oversee and support many of the important programs created by her predecessor and focus on increasing membership value. She plans to expand benefits and build the NJRA membership base through new and creative ideas.With 20+ years in the tourism and entertainment industry, Halvorsen is currently a board member (and former president) of the New Jersey Travel Industry Association and Jersey Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. She has also been the former Chair of the Governor’s Tourism Conference and Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission.Halvorsen currently lives in Eatontown NJ with her husband and two teenage children, ages 18 and 16.