We started a series of Virtual Round Tables this week for our friends and clients leading chambers and economic development organizations across the country. The purpose is to provide a venue for sharing frustrations, fears, questions, and most important, solutions. As COVID-19 changes the way we all operate on a daily basis, our communities are stepping up in so many ways.
We know there are questions. We know you may feel overwhelmed with information from federal, state, and local governments. But look to your friends and colleagues for help. Here are a few good ideas from today’s Round Table that may help your community in communicating and operating effectively in these unprecedented times:
- Consider creating a Web page (or a few of them) to directly address crucial information and questions. Jennings Gray from ElectriCities of NC suggested creating pages that each address different industries and audiences. “Your local businesses are inundated so keep pushing out info [to the website], and they will have it when they need it,” Gray said. “Balance this with individual outreach to those companies who you believe will be most impacted.” You can create a restaurant web page with your members’ new or modified service hours/offerings. You could also create a job board on your site and link it to Indeed or the local classifieds online.
- Keep on communicating! This is a message we have repeated so often recently because it really is critical. Your staff, members, local businesses, and community-at-large need to hear from you. From daily check-ins to weekly teleconference calls or even Zoom town halls and virtual happy hours, do what works for your organization but be sure to recognize the importance of this step. We are a people business!
- One community let us know that they are trying to focus on the “good news“ and getting it out to everyone. The bad news is easy to find. Instead, share what businesses in your town are doing to help right now. (Examples we heard include a YMCA offering childcare for essential workers, a business with a 3D printer creating masks for hospitals, churches ordering food from local restaurants for healthcare workers, and hotels and arenas being repurposed for people who need to be quarantined but have nowhere to go.) Let people know and be proud of how their town is supporting each other!
- On this note, it was shared that some communities have created a hotline number in an attempt to connect people with questions with a live voice. Marty Weider and Michelle Warren from the City of Grand Prairie Chamber and EDO shared that their community created a Small Business Strike Force hotline, as did some of their colleagues in the City of Lewisville, Texas. (Here’s an example of how it’s being promoted.)
- Some are finding their local banks to be very helpful while others are seeing them as overwhelmed right now. Lawrence McKinney with Convergent suggested getting the bank managers together, perhaps via a virtual round table, to consolidate important information on economic assistance for the community and ask them important questions you’re hearing from members. Teresa Brydon from the City of Largo is specifically focusing on bank outreach in the next few weeks to see what programs they are offering that can be promoted to her community businesses.
- While 501(c)(6) and 501(c)(4) organizations are eligible for the SBA disaster loans, they are not eligible for the Payroll Protection Act. Another round of federal assistance is expected, so you should make your voice heard with your federal delegation to be included. The US Chamber has a section of its website dedicated to the CARES Act and PPP specifically. Thank you to Jim Perricone from the Clayton Chamber of Commerce for sharing that great resource.
- Get creative with membership. Most chambers and EDOs are making sure to communicate in some way with the entire community, not just members or investors. Some are even offering three months of free membership. As Bethany Williams from the Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber put it: “Look at it as prospective members. Join now, get support now, and pay later!”
- Time to work on the business. Chamber and EDO leaders are often so busy working in their business, they struggle to find the time to work on the business. In the next few weeks as the responsibilities of information sharing subsides, take this time to review programs and offerings to make sure they are aligned with your mission and value proposition. Event cancelations during this health crisis will give your organization a chance to revamp in the future or maybe even “kill a sacred cow” or two.
- Other ideas to help your Chamber/EDO provide value right now:
- Facilitate between hospitals and manufacturers for PPE information
- Host a training session on managing remote workers
- Provide bilingual information for your community on COVID-19 resources
- Shop local campaigns
Working in the confines of social distancing makes connecting with your peers even more important. Phone calls and facetime with colleagues is good for the soul. Take advantage of Zoom social hours and luncheons to stay connected and share. And be sure to join us for our ongoing Round Tables. We’re all going to get through this, we just need a little help from our friends.