Chambers of Commerce

Written by the Symplicity team

Maritime Resilience is a series of stories on how local organizations are adapting to COVID-19.

Maritime Chambers of Commerce lead with communication, connection to help businesses pull through pandemic
If you ask the CEOs of some of the key Chambers of Commerce in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick what their key role was during the pandemic, all of them say their biggest priority was to help members feel connected and consolidate information to help businesses navigate through the chaos.

“We knew early on we needed to be a leader, to collect and interpret information about government programs and resources that would help the business community make some tough decisions, explained Krista Ross, CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. “They were scared. The pandemic threatened to destroy their life’s work. Our updates became their primary source of information.”

Once they realized businesses were closing, the Fredericton Chamber team got to work to curate key information business owners would need to survive. They created multiple communications tools and channels, including:
  • A daily eblast with updates on the constantly changing health and economic landscape, as well as an overview of relevant government programs.
  • An online directory of businesses that were open, operating or offering services. Hundreds of businesses registered for the directory almost immediately.
  • A site featuring companies that could provide Business Preparedness Products and PPE so those who needed these products could find companies nearby with supplies.

The Fredericton Chamber collaborated with the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton and The Chamber -Saint John Region to develop a guide for reopening – including all the rules and regulations businesses would need to meet COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The bilingual reopening guide was out before the provincial government’s guidelines and soon became a standard across Atlantic Canada and even nationally.

The team worked with other chambers in New Brunswick to organize weekly meetings with business and industry leaders and representatives from all levels of government. These discussions prompted the creation of the Turning Point virtual conference and podcast series – 32 hours of webinars and podcasts focusing on New Brunswick’s post-pandemic future.

“It was a real challenge to synthesize such large volumes of information into understandable bites for our members. Our team learned a lot about how the government support programs work, and we were able to help member businesses with interpreting and applying them to their benefit,” said Ross.
The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton (CCGM) played a similar role in keeping its members informed and helping them make the most of business subsidies and benefits. CEO John Wishart said one of his biggest challenges was having to cancel the 40+ networking and professional development events the Chamber hosts each year.
“Events typically represent about a quarter of our revenue, so we’re looking for ways to replace that revenue and keep members connected, even though we can’t physically be together. For us, becoming a centralized source of information for the business community happened organically from the start of the pandemic.”

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton expanded its communication and advocacy role to offer a regional COVID-19 resource page that became a hub for all economic development stakeholders of southeast New Brunswick. The CCGM also sent daily updates to the business community.

The team held regular Zoom calls with federal and provincial government representatives to learn about benefits and programs and identify gaps that would benefit members. They also worked with BrainWorks, an active Chamber member, to launch a support local campaign called LoveforLocal to showcase businesses that were operating during the pandemic.

“There are some members who are quite involved in Chamber events and committees, and another group of business owners who are not as vocal. During the first months of the pandemic, we heard from the less vocal businesses to say they appreciated our efforts. That really validated our efforts and reinforced our purpose,” said Wishart.

Building a coalition between business and all levels of government was a key priority for the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, according to director of marketing Becky Davison. The team hosted regular Zoom meetings to talk about what businesses needed to survive chaotic health and economic conditions. Attendance at the regular Zoom calls grew quickly to 150 businesses.

“We gave business owners a chance to ask direct questions of the political decision makers. It was real time policy making,” Davison laughed.

Within a week of Nova Scotia shutting down, the Chamber was running daily webinars to keep members connected and up to speed on government programs and subsidies, as well as issues related to running a business during a pandemic. Topics included mental health, speed networking, legal and financial issues and more.

Like other Chambers in the region, Halifax Chamber CEO Patrick Sullivan sent regular emails to explain government programs and their impact on businesses. The Halifax Chamber established a COVID-19 information page on its website with all the resources and tools businesses needed. The page includes a list of local companies offering PPE and other safety equipment, as well as a toolkit for businesses looking to reopen.

“We got great feedback from a group of member businesses that didn’t engage much before. It was a stronger engagement than we expected. We also maintained our usual rate of new memberships, which is likely connected to the value of the in-depth, relevant information we were communicating.”

Davison added her team is spending more time planning COVID-19 safe events for members, since nearly half expressed interest in attending networking events with the right precautions. The Halifax Chamber hosted a patio networking event, a golf tournament and plans to go ahead with the Halifax Business Awards in January.

“We want members to feel safe, but getting people back to normal is challenging. That’s why we have a Plan A, B and C. We’re now doing contingency planning to the nth degree.”

All three Chambers of Commerce are providing daily updates and info on the pandemic, webinars and more.

Check out their sites for more info!

Halifax Chamber of Commerce

Fredericton Chamber of Commerce

Chamber of Commerce Greater Moncton

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