GUEST VIEW: Rhode Island’s Chambers step up in a time of crisis
Reposted from The Newport Daily News. The original article can be found here.
Often, we hear questions about the role and significance of Chambers of Commerce. “What does the Chamber do?” is a question that you might hear asked in a given community.
Although all chambers are not the same, they do offer many of the same important things. They act as advocates for the small business community; sponsor and run business education meetings; host business networking events and much, much more. Chambers of commerce are the voice of small business at the state and local levels. Chambers play a significant role in making our local economies work.
Depending on the community, chambers promote a variety of public events including festivals, art shows, and restaurant weeks, etc. all of which promote local business and generate sales and taxes to support our economy. These businesses are owned by residents, our neighbors and/or family members. They provide the services and products you use, they feed you when you go out to eat, they wash your car, do your taxes and many other things that make your life a great deal easier. Chambers work closely with local government to enhance the communication between business and government officials. We work with the Department of Labor and Training, secondary education, and higher education on workforce development.
Chambers also have mutually supportive relationships with nonprofits that serve our communities well. These 501(c3) organizations are often chamber members and their personnel often attend chamber functions; which helps them make connections and generate awareness of their work.
Rhode Island chambers have been the voice and backbone of small businesses for decades, and some for over one hundred years. The following chambers are partners in the Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Coalition and represent 7,500 business and 70,000 employees throughout the state: Central R.I., East Bay, East Greenwich, East Providence Area, Greater Newport, Narragansett, Northern R.I., North Kingstown, and Southern R.I. Together, we have a louder voice on statewide issues affecting businesses.
Like most businesses, the Covid-19 crisis and the resulting economic meltdown have made it necessary for members of the R.I. Chamber of Commerce Coalition to adjust, step up and rise to the occasion. Within short order, we provided critical information and updates on Payroll Protection Plan (PPP), Disaster Loans, and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). We became a resource of pertinent information from Commerce Rhode Island, the U.S. SBA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, R.I. Department of Labor and Training, R.I. Department of Health, our local municipalities and much more. We stepped up to gather and post on our websites the necessary resources and information for our member businesses, non-members and the general public.
While it has been impossible to go forward with plans for many of our scheduled meetings and public gatherings, we have quickly adopted Zoom and virtual meetings to keep people connected and informed. We use our websites, electronic communication and social media to inform the public about businesses that are still open and which ones are able to do business via the Internet, email or provide take out, curbside pickup and delivery. We are aggressively promoting the purchase of gift cards from our businesses while they are closed for normal, everyday commerce.
A recent Providence Journal editorial stated it is Time to Save R.I. Businesses. We have always believed that a chamber’s role is to jump in to help support and save our businesses. It is most gratifying to know so many people have recognized our efforts and the value of local small businesses.
We are very proud to be working with Commerce RI in distributing much needed PPE to Rhode Island’s small businesses. Although this is a departure from much of our traditional work, it is none- the-less work that we feel is absolutely necessary.
As 501(c6) organizations, chambers have not been eligible of PPP. Still, we carry on knowing that we have a significant role to play in supporting, preserving and growing small business and Main Street U.S.A.
So, the next time someone asks “What does the Chamber of Commerce do?” we hope you have an answer. We invite businesses that are not a member of their local chamber, to reach out to one of us and find out how we can assist their business now and in the future. We are all #InItTogether.
The C.E.O’s of the members of the R.I. Chamber of Commerce Coalition:
Liz Catucci, Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce
Erin Donovan-Boyle, Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce
Peg Fradette, Narragansett Chamber of Commerce
Stephen M. Lombardi, East Greenwich Chamber of Commerce
Laura McNamara, East Providence Area Chamber of Commerce
Mark G. DeVine, East Bay Chamber of Commerce
Lauren Slocum, Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce
Kristin Urbach, North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce
Joe Viele, Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce