Nancy Keefer, president and CEO of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, shared her thoughts on the impact of Covid-19, the response thus far and the way forward.
#1 – How would you describe the impact of COVID-19 on the business community? The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major disruption to businesses of all sizes but especially to small businesses that typically run on smaller profit margins. As an area heavily reliant on tourism, this has been especially hard for those in the hospitality business sector. While the direct impacts are easy to see, it’s the ancillary impact of the unknown and uncertainty that has further reaching affects.
#2 – How has the Chamber supported the business community during this pandemic? We have consistently provided updated information and relevant resources on all aspects of the pandemic through our COVID-19 resource page, which was up and running on March 16. We pivoted immediately to virtual training and meetings and have increased our outreach to all businesses. We have advocated for funding and reduced regulations to help businesses survive in a rapidly changing environment. Providing access to elected and appointed officials and agency experts through virtual meetings has been very well received and are on our website for viewing at any time.
#3 – What advice do you have for small businesses struggling to survive? Continue to rely on your professional advisors; your bankers, accountants and consultants to talk you through the obstacles you are facing. You are not alone and are surrounded with people who care about your success. Think about partnering with other businesses that compliment your product or service. Look at different ways to promote your business using social media, display safety signage indicating your commitment to the health of the community and utilize customer testimonials. Keep an open mind that business as you knew it, will be different for months, if not years to come. All businesses regardless of size need to be very intentional about making their employees and customers see that they are taking the necessary steps to provide a safe environment for all.
#4 – In your view, how pervasive and inclusive has the impact of CARES, PPP and other Disaster Relief been on our businesses? To compete globally for funding was daunting to say the least. The process of applying for stimulus relief was difficult and those that didn’t receive the funding had to deal with the emotion of not getting a lifeline to continue business. There is no doubt this has been an additional strain on businesses. Many businesses were successful in working with local lending institutions and their accountants, who worked-nonstop to help businesses navigate the systems.
#5 – What additional steps do you like to feel Florida and local governments need to take to support the business community? It’s going to take more localized public-private partnerships to assist businesses through this disruption of business. The City of Daytona Beach has led the way with offering discounts on city water bills and waivers of permit fees. Volusia County is considering a grant program for PPE. We have suggested relaxing some of the standard rules for signage and outdoor seating for a few months. The cities and the county have been very accessible and have participated in regular discussions with the chamber on how to help businesses navigate through continued social distancing and health related requirements.
#6 – Do Chambers have a role in supporting the “Re-Opening of the Florida Economy?” If so, what is that role? We absolutely have a role. We have the ability to lead and convene varying industries and public and private enterprises to discuss and implement new norms for business moving forward. We need to provide guidance on opening safely to ensure a strategic path towards a return to business. We need to express the importance of following guidelines set forth that focus first on health and next on the return to commerce.
#7 – How would you suggest local residents and consumers help? We can’t express enough the importance of buying local. Purchase gift certificates to be used at a later date if you are not yet comfortable visiting a business. Vacation “at home” when safe to do so; stay at a local hotel for a weekend or a week. Shop online locally for products and gifts. Support non-profits to the best of your ability. Be respectful to social distancing. Be kind to those we come across in conducting business and provide words of encouragement to those who continue to serve.
#8 – Finally, what is your message to the business community? Simply this, your hard work and resilience will lead you to a path forward. Follow the reopening guidelines that have been established to help provide a safe environment for employees and customers. The Chamber will work tirelessly to lead the community to return to some sense of normalcy, but it will take time and patience. We are challenged as a small business ourselves and have made concessions in our business model to ensure we are here for the long haul to restart and reimagine what lies ahead. We would be remiss if we didn’t thank our healthcare professionals and first responders for their service and the front-line employees of essential businesses that had no choice but to keep working through this unprecedented event.
Nancy Keefer is President and CEO at Daytona Regional Chamber