2 min read October 2021 — In an interview with Invest: Nina Tucker, president of the North Essex Chamber of Commerce, talked about how the chamber and its members have had to adjust during the pandemic. She also discussed the national labor shortage, the region’s higher education system and the benefits of doing business in the region.
How has the chamber had to reinvent itself through all the disruption of the pandemic?
The pandemic has been a huge challenge for the chamber. After going 100% remote, we adapted with Zoom calls and adopted a platform called Remo, which put attendees at virtual tables when they join an event. We did that for about twelve months.
We’ve had to rethink our situation as things have opened up and we’re doing more things in person. Businesses are looking to network and build relationships. There’s no substitution for personal interactions. To help our members, we’re reminding them of opportunities that the Chamber offers to promote them via social media and email.
We’ve lost members but we’re also seeing that turnaround. Businesses have been waiting to see what happens with COVID before they invest in another year or become a member of the chamber.
In the upcoming months, we’re going to focus on personal outreach via phone and email. We’ve brought someone specifically to grow our membership. Reaching out to small businesses is our priority.
Is there a consensus in your region as to what is happening with the labor shortage and how it might be alleviated?
The situation is particularly acute in the hospitality industry. We have a lot of restaurants in the region and finding help is very challenging. We’ve heard of a couple of factors causing this. One is if kids aren’t back in school then parents don’t have a way of going back to work without childcare. Second, with all the uncertainty, people are adopting a wait-and-see-attitude relying on stimulus packages provided by the government. Also, we’re still in the summer season so we expect to see more people joining the labor force again in September.
How would you describe your local higher education system and what are the benefits of doing business in the region?
We’re very fortunate to be in an area that has several high-caliber higher education institutions. This provides the community choice in terms of the type of study and level of education they wish to receive. The institutions themselves are great partners for businesses including expert resources for us to tap into.
Our region is made up of small towns with town centers providing solid commercial districts. These communities offer above-average household incomes, with a wide range of working professionals. Economically, our region is a great place to do business because of the spending power available.
What is among the greatest lessons learned by your members during the pandemic?
The key lesson from the pandemic for our members has been to really understand their finances, keep expenses under control and know what you can and can’t cut back on. Other lessons are keeping relationships and connections strong. For instance, bank and CPA professionals helped a lot of people out with regard to loans and grants. Also, we saw businesses adjust to the situation with a stronger online presence which will provide value long after the pandemic.
What are the main initiatives the chamber is focused on for the near term?
We want to maintain open communication with our members, whether over the phone or in person. We are reinvigorating our ambassador roles to stay connected with our members’ needs and ways we can help them.
What is the outlook for the next 16-24 months?
The outlook is good as long as we can get past the pandemic. We foresee that people will be ready to invest down the line, having a very positive effect on the economy.
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