The Greene County Chamber of Commerce was recognized by the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals for excellence in service to their business community during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the formal announcement issued by PACP, association representatives listed the Greene County Chamber as one of more than 6 dozen chambers across the state that were recognized for their efforts.
“From the moment businesses began to be impacted by COVID-19, chambers of commerce have proactively responded on behalf of their members and their communities,” the announcement states. “While each chamber has its own identity, programs and events, PACP members share the common thread of providing vital resources and assistance to Pennsylvania businesses, including serving in essential roles.”
These roles, PACP noted, include being “a catalyst for business growth, a conveyor of leaders and influencers and a champion for their communities.”
PACP representatives said that with in-person events postponed and many businesses closed, the responsibilities of chambers became more important than ever.
“Local chambers of commerce have worked tirelessly to provide a steady stream of information and resources to the business community,” the announcement states. “From shepherding business owners through the state’s waiver process and unemployment system, to offering opportunities for local companies to connect with legislative leaders, to sparking conversations about the road to reopening, chambers have been a vital partner to business, government and community services during this trying time.
“In many areas, this has included regular newsletter publications outlining federal assistance programs, online meetings and conference calls with legislators, webinars, buy-local campaigns, and so much more.”
PACP Board Chair Kellie Goodman Shaffer said the association is honored to recognize the chambers.
“As the professional association of local chambers of commerce executives and staff, the PACP mission is to enhance the quality and relevance of chamber management in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” she said.
“Our organization has been proud to work and serve in partnership with local chambers during this extraordinary crisis, and equally honored to have this opportunity to recognize our members for their exceptional service to their communities.”
Greene County Chamber Executive Director Melody Longstreth said COVID-19 created a significant deal of uncertainty for her office and for local businesses.
“From the very beginning, our local businesses were confronted with a deluge of information, restrictions, guidelines, et cetera,” she said. “It was a very confusing and frightening time for everyone, personally and professionally. And for the business owner, that was compounded by having employees who were facing challenges such as layoffs, caring for children and elderly parents and teaching their school aged children.
Longstreth said while community members were all dealing with the fallout, each person and business was charting their own path through unknown territory.
“In speaking with business owners, each had their own unique situation and it was not a ‘one size fits all’ answer to many of their concerns and issues,” she explained. “The most difficult thing facing many, was navigating the application process for federal funding. Things changed very quickly in the first few weeks, sometimes things changed hourly. And for a small business owner to stay on top of that information while trying to determine what was best for the business and employees was overwhelming.”
Longstreth said her office’s email was filled to overflowing everyday with information from a wide variety of sources aimed at helping businesses navigate the pandemic.
“For the first few weeks, we sat in on as many as five webinars a day to learn the details of the state and federal relief initiatives and then began to distribute vetted content that fit the demographics of our businesses,” she said. “Many times we were able to pair up a need to a source for help that addressed that specific need. We increased the frequency of our eBlasts and Facebook page posts to share pertinent information.
“As a result of many of our phone calls, we created and promoted a new Facebook page for the community that outlined how businesses who were permitted to operate were doing so during the red and yellow phases,” she continued. “Many businesses were very creative in coming up with ways to still serve their customers needs without violating closure orders, while others were completely shut out from any type of operations under the closure mandate.”
Longstreth said the office chose “Re-Inventing Greene” as the chamber’s reopening package that was prepared and released as the county moved from one phase to the next.
“The program provides reopening insight and guidance from trusted sources in addition to local, state and federal resources to help businesses reopen safely; in addition, the packet contains printable signs for customers and employees as they enter or work in the business.,” she said.
The second phase of the package started last week.
“Member businesses are encourage to take photos of their business holding the ‘Yes We are Open’ sign from the package and the chamber is promoting those businesses through social media and our eBlasts and eNewsletters.”
Longstreth said that moving forward, businesses will still need support in many areas and the chamber is available to help.
“Our focus right now is promoting the members as much as possible through various methods. We are still monitoring information and releasing it as it comes to us,” she said. “We have re-worked our monthly ‘Lunch and Learn’ series and renamed it ‘Watch and Learn,’ as it is being presented through Zoom.”
She added that the frequency and sources of speakers has been expanded to provide access to specific topics and content that may be relevant to many
“We encourage the businesses to utilize these offerings to help them move forward,” she said. “While we are always here to research questions and provide information, we are encouraging members to try to remain positive and find peace in that nearly all of business members have been impacted to some degree or another.
“We are also asking that they share with us what they are doing, specials they are offering, curb-side options, et cetera, so that we can adequately promote them,” she added. “With 350 businesses to promote, we need their help in sharing their pertinent information with us so we can help them.
She also encourages county residents and businesses to support other local businesses.
“Through a billboard near I-79 and in partnership with Direct Results, the chamber is promoting to the residents to consider purchasing locally as we move forward,” she said. “It is more important, now more than ever, to shop at a Greene County business for the future of our economic outlook.”
As for the chamber office, Longstreth said the doors are open with modified hours.
“As we moved into the green phase, we opened our office on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting on June 16,” she said. “The office has been open by appointment since we moved into the yellow phase. Most business has been handled by phone and email and our office has continually been providing services since this began.
“In the green phase, operations that are able to telework are still encouraged and we will gradually return to full hours and staffing slowly,” she continued. “However, we are currently and have been operating at 100% to serve our members and the community.”
Longstreth stressed that when it came to the negative impact created by COVID-19, local businesses were not alone in the struggle.
“The chamber has been affected much in the same way as many of our member businesses, our physical location was closed, nearly all the employees were laid off and operations were forced into the home,” she said. “During these challenging times, the chamber has opened its services up to all businesses of the county and not just member businesses, because it was the right thing to do.
“As a county, we are all in this together.”