Leading in a Time of Crisis: A Q&A with Lisa White

Lisa White, Executive Director of the West Volusia Regional Chamber of Commerce 

#1 – How would you describe the impact of COVID-19 on the business community?

There has been an interesting dichotomy, we have seen some sections of our membership/community with increased revenue due to COVID while others are struggling to stay afloat or closing their doors. As the Executive Director of the West Volusia Regional Chamber, it is heartbreaking to see our members and community grapple with this influx of devastation due to COVID. Fortunately, with the availability of government grant and loan programs, it should alleviate some financial concerns depending on the longevity of the disease.  The impact may be worse than we assumed.

#2 – How has the Chamber supported the business community during this pandemic?

The Chamber has done quite a few things to aid our members and community. We began using our social media platform to relay valuable information regarding the CARES ACT, PPP and other business relief programs. Our membership in the Chamber Alliance allowed us to collaborate with them in conjunction with Volusia County to pack and distribute PPE equipment for our local businesses.  We also created a Member to Member Fund to assist those who could not continue to pay their yearly dues.

#3 – What advice do you have for small businesses struggling to survive?

We have helped many businesses receive the information they need; however, it is the fear of the unknown that is so difficult and unfathomable. We also began to use our social media to promote members that are struggling enabling them to drive more business to their website or brick and mortar. If you are a small business and are part of a Chamber, contact them or your local city representative.  There is not just one good answer here.

#4 – In your view, how pervasive and inclusive has the impact of CARES, PPP and other Disaster Relief been on our businesses?

The government had the best intentions when creating these types of relief. They tried to create something that was as inclusive as possible but did not think about certain types of businesses such as non-profit, self-employed, or even Chambers. I know that there is now a county small business grant to help those businesses that fall under the cottage law or work from their home, that is a great start.

#5 – What additional steps do you feel like Florida and local governments need to take to support the business community?

Offering relief programs was a great first step in the right direction. What needs to come next would be continued financial support not knowing when this pandemic will end.  Certain businesses are still shutdown and unable to work or pay their employees. The government needs less restrictions on the different forms of aid they offer. For example, with education they forced the schools to open without proper financial support to help them maintain the CDC guidelines. They did not aid in the virtual platforms to help prepare the teachers and students for at home learning which is causing a lot of grief for parents, students, and teachers alike.  On the other hand, I have seen great changes in some of our cities.  Orange City Commissioner Kelli Marks started the Backpack Buddies nonprofit organization to help feed local families in need. This program has exponentially increased over the last few months. They have received numerous donations and are collaborating with other nonprofits to get this work done. They are now able to start feeding families outside the Orange City location and have been able to feed over 3000 families in Volusia county.  There is still a lot of work to be done but I am hopeful we will all persevere.

#6 – Do Chambers have a role in supporting the “Re-Opening of the Florida Economy?”  If so, what is that role?

Yes, we work alongside our city mayors, economic development specialists, local businesses, and Volusia County to discuss and aid in the safest way to reopen our cities. There is even a task force through Florida Chambers to collaborate with both the business community and government at the federal and state level.

#7 – How would you suggest residents and consumers help?

Shop Local, Shop Now: be active in your community, supporting local businesses is the best way to help! When you put your money back into your economy it creates a stronger and healthier economic growth that is more sustainable.

#8 – Finally, what is your message to the business community?

We will not know the real impact of COVID-19 for months to come or maybe even years regarding our local communities and businesses. I wish I had a great quote or wise saying to help but the truth is, all we can do is try, try to continue to work, try to drive clients to your businesses and adapt your business to become more relevant.  Now is the time to market your business to let them know you are still open. Please know that your local Chambers are there to help, your government is doing what it can and if our community continues to support locally, we should all come out ok!