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Guest column/Chamber moving ahead

“Weird” seems to be the agreed-upon word of the year for 2020, regardless of where you live or work. It definitely has been used a lot in the chamber of commerce world. There are roughly 4,000 chambers of commerce in the United States that have at least one full-time staff person and thousands more established as strictly volunteer entities. These nonprofit organizations continue to try and support local businesses by providing information, educational opportunities, promotional programs and other resources pertaining to pandemic-related struggles.

Although many are solely dependent on membership dues and event income to operate, they remain ineligible for most federal COVID-related financial assistance which has resulted in many staff cuts and closed offices. The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce continues to navigate through these uncertain times, adapting as much as possible to remain open and helpful.

Our Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce is heading into the fourth quarter of 2020 with a renewed energy and passion, ignited by the amazing resilience and hard work of its nearly 500 members. Plans and initiatives that had been on the back burner for months or years quickly became top priority as the Chamber scrambled to meet the needs of members. Longtime members who had seldom utilized the Chamber as an informational or advertising resource began using it and using it frequently to keep customers informed of ever-changing hours, products and services. Committees, the ambassadors and the board of directors all stepped up to rally behind the local business community and fellow Chamber member businesses and organizations.

These are just some of the new programs, changes and adaptations that are in place:

¯ The annual dinner meeting has been totally revamped and transformed from a formal evening of speakers and awards into a casual, indoor-outdoor barbecue where all members are “honorees.” The Member Appreciation Mask-erade Barbecue will feature a disc jockey, cornhole contest, a hot chocolate and hot toddy station, a bonfire, s’mores, local wine and beer vendors and a contest for the scariest and most creative masks. The date is Oct. 21, and the location is St. Florian Event Center . Guests will be able to enjoy dining on-site with socially distanced seating or order their dinner for take-out.

¯ The new Project Workforce launched this past spring with the support and input of the workforce training and education committee. It addressed the immediate hiring needs that many local businesses faced and put in place an online form that would post job openings on the Chamber’s online job bank and the Ohio Means Jobs website. It also sends the postings to Franciscan University of Steubenvile and Eastern Gateway Community College so that they can share them with students and faculty, posts the openings on the Chamber’s social media platforms and even has them announced on WCDK-FM.

¯ “In Good Company,” the Chamber’s first podcast series, kicked off with the Rev. David Pivonka, TOR, president of Franciscan University as the inaugural guest. Mike Chadsey, public relations director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, stopped by for the September podcast and Chuck Kokiko with the Jefferson County Education Service Center will be the guest this month.

¯ Let’s Eat and Takeout Tuesday, food-related promotional tools that reach thousands of people each month, were expanded and improved to encourage local eating, drinking and shopping. These are free of charge for Chamber member businesses.

I’ve never seen such camaraderie and selflessness among our members and our business community as I have in the past eight months. It has truly been incredible to witness. As the holiday season looms, the goal of the Chamber will be to encourage residents to not let the renewed focus on local spending fade.

COVID forced our residents to rely on local businesses and restaurants more than ever, as safety protocols and travel restrictions were put in place. I’d like to see that continue long term, certainly through the holidays, as our businesses try to recover. I’m hoping that many people visited a business or restaurant that they hadn’t before and that they had a good experience and more fully understand the importance of keeping dollars at home.

The Chamber will kick off the holiday season on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28, with stations set up throughout the county promoting local spending. The Buy Local receipt contest will once again be back, and the Chamber will be focused on assisting its members in promoting their businesses and on encouraging local spending throughout the holidays.

(Maple-Damewood is president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.)

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