By Chris Clark, President & CEO, Georgia Chamber of Commerce
For over 400 years, chambers of commerce around the world have been champions of free enterprise, job creation and community response. In unsteady economic times throughout history, chambers have organized the troops, raised funds for war efforts, coordinated disaster response, been the voice of progress during civil unrest, lobbied for economic relief measures and have served so many other local and regional business purposes. COVID-19 is no different and, during this national healthcare crisis, the collective chamber community across the world is leading the charge in driving plans for business preparedness during the pandemic and the economic recovery and growth that must follow. We acknowledge that our travel, hospitality, healthcare, insurance, retail and service industries have been hit hard by this economic downturn and we are working around the clock to support them and others. So, how do we, as business networking organizations, do this in a time when “networking” is scarcely possible? Here are some ways in which Chambers should lead the business community in planning and preparing for economic recovery:
- Be a resource for fact-based data, information and education on COVID-19 and business sustainability through this pandemic. From utilizing information on the Georgia Chamber and U.S. Chamber websites – gachamber.com/covid19 and www.uschamber.com/coronavirus, to providing companies with Small Business Administration disaster relief information, www.sba.gov/disaster, and encouraging them to connect with their local banking institutions for financial sustainability programs, we must continually educate and inform our members and partners.
- Encourage corporate generosity. Chambers around the world are being asked to facilitate corporate response and support to hospitals, senior care facilities, food and supplies, logistics and thousands of other needs. GoBeyondProfit is a strategic partner of the Georgia Chamber, taking pledges every day from businesses giving back to their local communities. Sometimes that comes in the form of cash donations, but in today’s environment, it also comes in the form of amazing acts like utility companies waiving disconnect fees for customers. We applaud Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light who are delivering bottom line impact through this profound gesture. Businesses can all evaluate their operations and look for ways in which “giving back” can help the economy during this time.
- Advocate at the federal, state and local levels for policies and strategies that will help our members, partners, public safety and government leaders to navigate, structure and lead during this time. This means working closely with the U.S. Chamber on federal policy, with your state chambers on state impact and actively engaging your local governments with recommendations and feedback from local businesses.
- Lead by example. Follow government guidelines and implement them in your own chamber organizations. The Georgia Chamber has implemented a teleworking strategy for its employees and is still fully operational during the process. Get creative with digital technology when implementing your “social distancing” plans for networking and thought leadership functions, day-to-day operations and meetings. We should also follow the CDC recommendations and postpone events and programs to later dates. Do not cancel networking opportunities; reschedule them and find ways to incorporate additional opportunities for more regular business interaction in the summer and fall. More opportunities will lead to faster recovery. The Georgia Chamber is postponing events through mid-April and will closely monitor the situation to assess further action that may need to be taken, but we are planning now in anticipation of getting back on schedule in the predicted summer and fall months.
- Above all, remind all our members that our local communities, and our state, are still open for business. As we work to inform and educate, as we support “flattening the curve” when it comes to the rate of spread and management needs of our healthcare system, the Georgia Chamber is reminding everyone that we are still operational as a business community. We are still creating, building, making, caring and serving.
As we emerge from this pandemic, it goes without saying that there will be lasting impact to our economy. So, we must plan today for a robust economic recovery. It is during this time where chambers can make the biggest difference and live up to our historical reputation for being nucleic to business sustainability and resiliency. Connecting our members, hosting networking events, convening local response, promoting products, people and our communities – these are all ways in which we can help support a strong economic recovery. Lobbying our local and state governments for innovative relief efforts to waive fees, delay penalties, removing barriers and regulations will all help business get back in the game. It is critical that we begin strategic plans for economic recovery today to cultivate new partnerships with economic developers, downtown promotion groups and tourism councils. Chambers of Commerce are here to serve and lead, to support our investors, members, partners and communities in rebounding quickly. Ultimately, this is how we will save jobs and keep our economies growing.