By Tara Bitzan, Executive Director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce
It’s been 11 weeks since Governor Tim Walz declared a peacetime emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic (March 13), and more than 9 weeks since he issued the original stay-at-home order (March 27). Within that time he closed schools, bars, restaurants, health clubs, theaters, museums, food courts, coffeehouses and other places of “public accommodation and amusement” throughout the state.
All local businesses have been impacted differently - some report “business as usual,” some report layoffs, some have reinvented ways to provide services, most have implemented new policies and procedures, MANY are hurting and fearful of their futures. When this first started, the Chamber did a series of “positive messaging” on our website and social media platforms. We’ve also continuously promoted our 2020 theme “Be Positive, Do Positive” - knowing it is extremely challenging to remain positive when the future of your business is in question.
So yes, we’ve been cheering our members on and encouraging them. But we’ve been doing a lot more than that - some of it visible, some of it not. I’ve always been a believer in the “show, don’t tell” philosophy, however recent conversations made me realize sometimes it is important to also tell. So here is a quick summary of what the Chamber has been doing over recent weeks:
Advocacy: We’ve been part of many meetings, conference calls, letter campaigns, and other efforts in collaboration with the MN and US Chambers, MN DEED, Explore MN Tourism, and directly with the Governor’s Office to advocate on behalf of our members and community to reopen businesses as quickly as possible, as safely as possible.
Resources/Referrals: We spent countless hours learning the ins and outs of the Cares Act, PPP, EIDL, FFCRA and others so we could guide and direct our members to the resources they need, working closely with such entities as the AAEDC, EAT, health care agencies, financial institutions, accountants and others. We have maintained a continuously updated resource list on our website, while also sharing resources on our social media platforms and through our eblast system.
PPE: Upon learning some members struggled to access Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), we partnered with local Henry’s Foods, Inc. to make those supplies readily available at a manageable cost.
Regular Services: Throughout this time we continued to offer our other regular services, including issuing certificates of origin, providing notary services, filling Visitor Guide and Relocation Packet requests, sending member eblast communications and answering the many “usual” questions that come into our office via phone or email - people asking for directions, phone numbers, referrals on a multitude of business services, tourism related questions, etc. We’ve also continued efforts to promote doing business local, which is ALWAYS of highest importance, by promoting Pride of the Lakes efforts, Chamber Bucks, local gift certificate purchases, etc.
New Requests: Along with the usual requests we’ve fielded many new requests, such as... where can I donate my stimulus check, what kind of grants/loans is my organization eligible for, how can our business help struggling businesses, where do I file for unemployment, my business isn’t clearly identified on the Governor’s Executive Order - how do I proceed, where do I get PPE supplies, are there cleaning protocol templates available, what do I do if someone staying at my facility is diagnosed with COVID-19... and many, many others. We don’t always know the answers, but we vow to find them.
And... we are your cheerleaders. While all of the above has kept our staff extremely busy, we continue to share messages of positivity and unity, because they are important for a healthy community. Sharing stories of how people are rallying together, how they are being creative in overcoming obstacles, etc. bring hope and hold us together.
Our goal is to help EVERY member get through this with the least amount of negative impact possible. We are having conversations with EVERY member to find out what you need because we work for you.
Any business that closes will be a loss we will not take lightly.