By Jennifer Pauly
Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce President
As I closed out 2020 on New Year’s Eve with my family (yes, I actually stayed awake past midnight!), I couldn’t help but reflect on the year we just put behind us. I thought of how the events of 2020 affected my family and friends, as well as on a larger scope with the Chamber of Commerce and community.
So many hurdles were thrown at us, seemingly on a daily basis. Things we knew as “normal” were taken away so suddenly and new normals had to be established, sometimes within less than 24 hours notice. Now we are in a new year and are all trying to figure out how we move forward. Do we plan for “normalcy” to resume in April? June? The last quarter of the year? How do we plan for some of the major events and programs that we had to take off the calendar last year?
We are going into the year with some uncertainty; however, one thing for certain is our communities have all helped each other out. There has been a show of love, support and humanity for our local businesses, organizations and residents that the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce is proud to represent. We are all digging in to make a difference and it shows. Some of the initiatives launched by the Chamber of Commerce include:
√ Give or take food table
√ Gift certificate program – The certificates are redeemed by member businesses for reimbursement
√ COVID-19 resource page for businesses and community
√ “Roam The Region” – A weekly online program featuring our members
√ “Chamber Champion” – Some of our businesses were able to pay it forward and pay membership dues for another member.
√ Online meeting functions (Zoom) – We provided online meeting hosting for local government, networking, business groups and organizations.
√ Small business video series
√ Leaders meeting during the pandemic – Local elected leaders and first responders met online weekly for months during the COVID-19 pandemic, as organized by the chamber
Many aspects of community and commerce were affected in 2020. Day-to-day operations for most of our businesses were halted or given strict regulations. Major events that are generally a staple in our communities did not happen. Some of these events have been happening for 20, 40, 60 years … the thought of them not happening was unheard of for many. The decline in tourism in general had an impact on our attractions, accommodations, businesses and the general “feel” of our business districts. Our first responders were put to the test.
The list goes on.
How do we move forward for 2021?
Our first board of directors meeting took place Wednesday. Our chairwoman, Christine O’Hara, is energized and ready to plan.
“As we begin the new year facing many of the same challenges that plagued us in 2020, we are committed to continuing to provide the ‘core services’ to our members,” she said. “We transitioned quickly when COVID-19 hit, setting a path through the pandemic assisting our members through the layers of information that changed daily. We will continue to abide by the restrictions set forth by New York state, and don’t know when we will be able to once again conduct ‘business as usual.’ However, we will stay true to our mission of unifying the Niagara River Region, promoting it as a premier place to live, work and play.”
We will continue to provide guidance from NYS, CDC, Small Business Administration, county/local governments and industry experts to lead us through the next part of 2021 to keep businesses and the communities we represent safe. Additionally, the chamber staff has been restructured, and our strategies for membership, programming, events and promotions are being updated and reimagined to fit the needs of our members, while the safety of all continues to be our first priority. Using the many talents of our board of directors, we will expand our digital footprint, community and business leadership, chamber foundation and mission in the year ahead.
One of the questions we receive on a daily basis is on the major events in our region and if they will take place this year. We will continue to work with our partner organizations on the fluid guidelines and planning for large events. We are not planning to hold the popular Lewiston Smelt Festival or the Taste of Lewiston that traditionally happen in the first six months of the year. We are concentrating on the possibility of June through December events, including our annual awards dinner happening in a possible outdoor venue in the summer.
There are many aspects to be considered when planning our large-scale events and festivals, with COVID-19 adding more layers. We will keep everyone updated regarding the future of major events and festivals in 2021.
The chamber will continue to connect members to valuable resources, uphold our mission and be the voice of business and a champion for our communities. We will recover, rebuild and grow stronger in 2021!