A Message from Chamber Executive Director, Meghan McGrogan…

Your partners for the new normal.
Things may be different, but our focus remains the same…

In mid-March, we were just going about our usual business at the Chamber.  We were working on Business After Hours, Leads & Lattes, and other networking events to help everyone stay connected and meet new people.  We were keeping you informed through our Week In Action and Member Mentions weekly newsletters, Council Meetings and Small Business Seminars.  We were busy preparing for our upcoming Annual Meeting, the 20th anniversary Choo Choo Open, and looking ahead to honoring our 34th Business Person of the Year.  We were full speed ahead rolling out our new membership dues structure.  Members were utilizing our education room and conference rooms for training and meetings.  Our Government Affairs & Economic Development Council released another public policy position on behalf of our Members.  We were helping several members utilize Chamber marketing tools to advertise their businesses and helping the everyday consumer with referrals, phone numbers and directions.  We had six upcoming Ribbon Cuttings on the books.  We were securing guests for upcoming podcasts, and the Catalyst Group was hard at work pulling together young professionals to volunteer at various organizations throughout the community.  We were in the beginning stages of developing a regional resource unlike any other, collaborating with area agencies and community partners to fulfill a dire need.  It wasn’t just everyday life at the Chamber-we were experiencing some major momentum that would have made for a great year for our organization and our members…until the worldwide coronavirus pandemic turned everything completely upside down for all of us.

We know we’re not alone in this, so we wanted to take a minute to give you confidence that we are here as a strong community partner, and we aren’t going anywhere.  We are still here to help!  We hope this communication shows you how we’re adapting, and more importantly, we hope it helps our members to understand why keeping your membership and investing in our organization is more important than ever.  So, here’s what we’re up to!

In the best interest of health and safety, we had set the wheels in motion to start working from home before we learned that despite all we do, we’d be considered ‘non-essential’ and would have been forced to do so anyway.  Being prepared in advance put us in a good position to start helping our members as soon as possible, and we got to work right away.  Here’s how:

COVID-19 Resources-With the information about the novel coronavirus changing on a constant basis, we decided to create a centralized location full of resources for businesses.  Links to information regarding state mandates, federal loan programs, help for employers, and everything in between and beyond is accessible in one place on our website.

Social Distancing Guide & #shopgreatertutica-With our restaurants and bars among the first to be restricted, we personally contacted our Member restaurants and put up a ‘Social Distancing Guide’ on our website, letting people know who was offering what, and how they could order.  The effort soon grew into something much bigger, as we collaborated with the City of Utica, to help not only restaurants, but any local business with an offering to get them put on in the guide.  We even opened up the opportunity to list businesses that aren’t Chamber members, banding together to encourage anyone who can to “#ShopGreaterUtica”  to help everyone survive.

Leveling Up Podcast-Social Distancing Series-We changed up the Leveling Up Podcast, and created the Leveling Up Social Distancing Series; shorter, more frequent episodes that give our members an opportunity talk about the challenges they’re facing and tell you directly how you can best support them.  Episodes are posted on Facebook, our website and Instagram, and a recap of the prior week’s episodes go out in a weekly e-mail.

Take Out the Virus-We were approached by seven area businesses to create ‘Take Out the Virus’, an effort where businesses pledge to reimburse their employees for supporting local restaurants. The idea was generated to help restaurants and the many people they employ while helping employees and their families put food on their table.  The effort has now grown to 22 employers participating, with $119,550 being spent at local restaurants and 2,300 employees impacted.  “Take Out the Virus” is also going ‘global’. We’ve created takeoutthevirus.com to share our model, allowing any community who wishes to execute this program access to the tools needed to duplicate the campaign, and stimulate their local economies.

Feed Our Frontline Families-We’ve partnered with F.X. Matt Brewery and the Community Foundation to found “Feed Our Frontline Families.”  This initiative will deliver gift cards to frontline workers in our community so they can put food on their tables.  We are supporting those who keep us fed (restaurants) and feeding those who keep us healthy (frontline workers.) In one short week we have already raised over $50,000 which equates to 1,000 gift cards to be distributed.

Virtual Meetings with Elected Officials-We were able to give our members the opportunity to join us on a call with Congressman Anthony Brindisi for updates at the Federal level, address concerns about the pandemic.  Members submitted their own questions, and our Executive Director moderated.  We will also be offering this on May 7th with County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr.

Oneida County Business Impact Survey-We collaborated with the County, Mohawk Valley Edge, Rome Chamber and Oneida County Tourism, to conduct a survey to identify and assess the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on Oneida County Businesses.

So almost two months later, we’re adapting to a new “business as usual” at the Chamber.  We’re staying consistent wherever we can on the benefits we can still deliver and we’re working on ways to offer benefits virtually.  One of our biggest challenges is our inability to host physical events and gatherings.  However, we believe now is the time to get creative!

We’re capitalizing on this opportunity to examine how our organization impacts local commerce, and we’re really excited about bringing our new ideas to life in the near future.  Of course, we will also stay up to date on the federal and state efforts to reopen the economy and share resources as they become available.

While we remain hopeful that we will be able to navigate this “new normal”, our organization is still facing significant challenges. It’s a common misconception that Chambers of Commerce are funded by government entities, tax dollars, or other sources.  However, aside from membership dues and event revenues including ticket sales and sponsorships, the Chamber does not receive any other funding of any kind.  Additionally, because of our specific non-profit designation of 501©6, Chambers of Commerce do not currently qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program.  This combined with our inability to host events already has, and will continue to, leave the Chamber with a significant loss.  As a non-profit organization, that loss prevents us from being able to invest back into our organization’s mission of developing a prosperous economic climate in the Greater Utica Area.

We hope you will see the value in continuing your partnership with the Chamber, so we can continue to provide resources to our community to help connect businesses, help businesses grow and develop, and promote commerce.  Our organization makes sure that no business is alone.  This is the time when strength in numbers really matters.  You can go at it alone, but it’s much more tolerable with support.  We are here to provide that support whether it be connecting you to someone who can help, lending you a platform to communicate your news, or offering up some friendly advice.

If you are able to renew your membership at this time, it will go a long way in supporting our efforts and keeping us going.  If you’re not able to renew right now due to financial constraints, but believe in our organization and wish to remain a member, please let us know – we’ll figure out a way to help.  We may be considered ‘non-essential’ to some, but all of you are essential to us, and we need each other.

Thank you and be safe!