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Scrub Can owner Corey Jackson (center, holding scissors) cuts the ribbon honoring his award as small business of the year alongside Assemblyman Jim Patterson and his staff and representatives of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Ashley Webster.

published on September 30, 2020 - 1:13 PM
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Since the first Covid-19 shutdowns in March, area chambers of commerce have had to shift their operations to stay safe while continuing to serve members — some of whose industries are faring better than others.

Along with hosting ribbon-cutting ceremonies for businesses, chambers also serve as advocates for the business community, providing vital information and education as well as networking opportunities.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have slowed down business, but local chambers are busy as ever.

Fresno Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nathan Ahle said that it is working to remain a valuable resource for the business community.

During the beginning of the shutdown, the Fresno Chamber was focused on getting members access to capital through Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and giving advice to employers.

Once it was announced that certain industries would be allowed to reopen, Ahle said the chamber was active in trying to get as many businesses as possible to open safely and quickly.

“Our work on creating pro-business policies is something that we spend a lot of time on,” Ahle said.

He added a major issue members have is inconsistent state guidelines — an example being that he can go get a haircut but his wife cannot go to the hair salon.

Even in the midst of the economic stagnation brought about by Covid-19, Ahle said the Fresno Chamber is still in discussion with companies wanting to relocate to the area and with new businesses opening in the city.

“Our members continue to support us and our mission. We want to thank folks for that. We want to encourage member companies that believe in what we do, and those that are working to build a strong local economy, we hope they consider joining,” Ahle said.

Even though we are missing Big Hat Days, ClovisFest and the Clovis Rodeo — all organized by Clovis Chamber of Commerce — their folks are keeping busy.

Greg Newman, president and CEO of the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, said there was a lot of optimism for 2020 before the Covid-19 outbreak. There was a lot of business activity and members joining.

“We had to shift our focus,” Newman said. “We needed to continue and support our members through this crisis, but knew right at the beginning that we had to be a hub of information gathering and dissemination.”

With so much information flowing, the Clovis Chamber acted as a filter to get the most crucial information to members in a concise and easy-to-use format.

Newman said that many members reinvested money after the first reopening, but the second time certain businesses were forced to temporarily close has been devastating.

“It’s been a lesson in what happens to a community during a pandemic, what the needs are and what type of businesses flourish and which ones won’t survive,” Newman said.

Debi Bray, president and CEO of the Madera Chamber of Commerce, said that beginning this year business activity was strong with lots of events, programs and workshops scheduled, but as Covid-19 spread, it was all canceled.

Because chambers aren’t eligible to receive PPP loans, there were a few layoffs at the Madera Chamber.

Though the cancellation of events, fundraisers and workshops at the Madera Chamber does weaken the revenue stream, it had to focus on helping businesses stay in compliance to operate.

“We had to help educate businesses on what was needed in order for them to protect themselves, their employees and their customer base,” Bray said. “From that time to the present day, we continue to inform and educate the business community and the community at large of what stage we are in.”

There have been some members that left the Madera Chamber, but membership rates stay steady as new members continue to join.

The Madera Chamber is also preparing to provide a Small Business Relief grant later this month, and is working with the Downtown Association to coordinate a Small Business Emergency Relief program for the downtown Madera businesses.

The chamber is also ordering PPE for small businesses.

“While we have always had those partnerships, the common thread between us right now is to help our community and our businesses so that they can be stable and prepared for things opening up, and pushing them forward to success,” Bray said.

Business activity in Tulare was thriving beginning in 2020, as a variety of new and long-term projects were paving the way for a vibrant year until the onset of Covid-19.

Restaurants, eateries, tax and insurance services and retail businesses will be opening up in the area. There are also a number of different pockets of hot development — especially in health care.

“Even with the impact of Covid, which has put us in a saving businesses mode, we still do see development continuing and projects happening. We are excited about the future prospects when these things actually start happening — having the buildings up and going,” said Donette Silva Carter, CEO at the Tulare Chamber of Commerce.

With the shelter in place orders, retail stores and restaurants being temporarily closed, there was a far reaching impact on the community — people losing jobs, having to work from home and businesses seeing less revenue as they cannot perform at full operation.

Limitations on travel did hit the Tulare County hotels, as there were less people travelling through the area to visit Sequoia National Park and other nearby natural landscapes.

Travel in Tulare did pick up once summer came around, but it is still not at the levels it would have been during a normal year.

“The chamber has been busier than ever,” Carter said. “We have already always been a resource for business, but we definitely feel like we got into emergency response mode since April to the present. We don’t know how soon this is going away, so it has been scary for our business not knowing what the future holds.”

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