Our world has dramatically changed since mid-March. We have all been working to address the impact of the Coronavirus crisis and are now striving to adjust to the “new normal.”
In staying true to our mission, we responded to ensure our members and communities have the guidance, resources, and support to effectively react and persevere through these very challenging and difficult times. As more and more of our economy continues to reopen, I wanted to provide you with another update on how the Chamber is assisting our local businesses:
Gift Local Fees Waived: To assist members who participate in the Gift Local program, the Chamber will be waiving all processing fees associated with this popular gift card program through at least December 31,2020. As we want to encourage consumers to shop and eat at local businesses as much as possible, we will also be eliminating the purchase fee charged to consumers when they buy a Gift Local Gift Card. Additionally, we are also implementing a new public relations and marketing campaign to encourage consumers to redeem gift cards and shop local, whenever possible. For more information on the program, visit our Gift Local website or contact David Ginisi, our Marketing Manager at the Chamber directly at 978.353.7600 ext. 240.
Billboard Campaign: In a related effort, our destination marketing arm—Visit North Central Massachusetts—is partnering with a group of regional tourism councils in the state to launch a new billboard campaign this month using the former “Spirit of Massachusetts” slogan. The goal of this campaign is to encourage more residents in the state to spend their dollars locally at our restaurants, shops, hotels, and attractions as they begin to reopen. The campaign will include the purchase of multiple billboard ads strategically located in high-traffic areas throughout the state and will also feature an online component with a dedicated website and social media posts. As our Chamber is dedicated to supporting the recovery of our members, we are looking forward to launching this campaign soon.
Inclusion, Diversity and Economic Opportunity: Given recent events regarding racial inequality occurring throughout the country, I wanted to share the Chamber’s position and how we are supporting the diverse community in North Central Massachusetts. First, the Chamber condemns racism and violence, and we believe in the right to free speech and supporting the right of those who raise their voices peacefully through protests. At the core of the Chamber’s values are inclusion and economic opportunity for all, which we have built into our entire organization through our programs, governance, marketing, operations, and economic development efforts. As we believe a diverse organization is a strong organization, our staff include a talented team of diverse professionals reflective of the communities we serve, and we have also made strong gains in the diversity of our Board, committees, and taskforces. When scheduling programs and events, as well as strategizing our marketing efforts, we are thoughtful to represent the diverse community of our members. Additionally, our efforts to improve education and career opportunities are closely tied to economic equity. By working in concert with various community groups, we have built strong partnerships on initiatives and participate in programs representing minority groups within North Central Massachusetts, such as our Elect North Central Coalition. We recognize we are not perfect, but everyone will always be welcomed and included at the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, regardless of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, industry they represent, or the size of their business.
Visitor Center: After being closed since mid-March, our Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center on Route 2 in Lancaster officially reopened on June 9, with new health and sanitization protocols in place to assure the safety of all guests, volunteers, and staff. The reopening of the center is an important milestone toward reopening our economy in North Central Massachusetts. Without places like the Visitor Center, the traveling public has limited places to stop and utilize the restrooms, take advantage of amenities, and learn more about the twenty-seven communities in North Central Massachusetts and what they have to offer for visitors and families.
Chamber Office: We have also begun the phased in process to fully reopen the Chamber office in Fitchburg. New health and cleaning protocols are in place to protect our staff and visitors. Members are welcome to come into the office for general services, such as manufacturing certifications, insurance-related matters, gift card sales, business counseling, loan closings and other matters; however, we encourage members to call ahead first to schedule an appointment. In accordance with the state’s guidelines, half of the staff will be in the office, while others are continuing to work remotely.
Lending and Technical Assistance: As throughout the pandemic, our team is only a phone call away and ready to help you and your business with any questions related to reopening or accessing some of the grant and loan programs available through the federal, state and local governments. There is still $120 billion available through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, but the deadline of June 30 is quickly approaching. If you have not done so yet, we encourage you to contact your bank or credit union to inquire about applying. New rules have been passed by Congress that also impact the forgiveness aspect of the loan program. The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is also now available and accepting new applications. Please contact Sandie Cataldo, Economic Development Manager at the Chamber at 978.353.7600 ext. 232 with any questions or for any guidance.
Regional Economic and Recovery Plan: The Chamber has formed a special taskforce of members to oversee the development of a regional economic development and recovery plan. The taskforce is working with our consultant, RKG Associates, to develop the plan and we have been making steady progress. This plan will serve as an actionable blueprint to support the growth of our dynamic, regional economy. The last time we went through this process, the resulting plan had a significant impact in helping drive economic growth across the region. If you haven’t done so yet, please take a moment to complete this survey to provide your input, or feel free to email me your feedback. Thank you to those members who have already completed the survey, participated in a focus group session, or emailed their input/feedback to us. Also, thank you to the members of the taskforce for volunteering their time to help with this important initiative.
Jobs Board: As the economy continues to reopen and your needs change, members are encouraged to use our WorkNorthCentral.com online jobs board for recruitment efforts. More than 400 available jobs are currently posted, and the job board is regularly updated to help our members fill positions as quickly as possible. As a reminder, jobs posts are free for our members.
Online Programs: Since mid-March, we have held more than thirty online programs, ranging from webinars on the CARES Act, PPP and EIDL stimulus programs; to Congressional Updates with our delegation; to our 36th Annual Meeting and much more. We have also revamped our library of online programs on our website. We plan to continue providing the most up-to-date information for our business community through our popular online platforms.
Throughout this crisis, my confidence in our Chamber has never wavered because I know we can overcome any challenge when we work together. Over the past few months, the true spirit of the North Central Massachusetts business community was on full display, and we demonstrated that by working collectively, we can make a difference in the lives of our members, their families and employees, and the many residents who call North Central Massachusetts home.
Looking ahead, many challenges remain with the road to economic recovery now in front of us. As we transition from crisis response to recovery, the Chamber will be here for our members, and we will continue our commitment in having a leading role in rebuilding our local economy. We know these are likely the most difficult and challenging times our members have experienced, but as we have for more than 35 years, we are here to help you navigate these troubled waters.
Roy Nascimento, IOM, CCE
President & CEO