Commentary: COVID-19 changes ways chambers do business

By Jo Schmeiser

One of the main functions of a chamber of commerce is to provide opportunities for our members to network and make connections to help their businesses and organizations grow. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic started and all but essential businesses were instructed to close, and all events were put on hold, not only did this affect me personally (as an extrovert and very social person), it definitely changed things for chambers of commerce throughout the state. 

Chambers fall under the NAICS code of essential businesses, so we were able to continue working and begin to take action by postponing, cancelling and rescheduling upcoming events and meetings, both small and large.

We were also able to reach out to our members immediately, and provide them with our chamber information and updates, as well as information about everything COVID-19 related.   We were also able to contact them and ask how they’re coping, what’s happening with their business or organization, and how we can help. 

We are fortunate in Delaware to be so close in proximity that all our chambers of commerce work together throughout the year making sure our members’ concerns and needs are addressed with legislators.  Together, 14 chambers work hard to represent the business community, and when the pandemic started affecting businesses we stepped into action right away.  Each Monday afternoon we meet via conference call, and are currently working on a statewide business survey.  We’re asking our members (thousands of businesses and organizations from Wilmington to Fenwick Island) four important questions to accumulate and share with our legislators as part of the recovery planning process. 

We’re asking our members how they’re currently operating, what their most important immediate needs are, once they reopen or resume their regular operations what they’ll expect their most critical need(s) will be, and what they feel their top 3 needs will be six months from now.

Out of the surveys the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford received to date, we have businesses and organizations that are cover all areas of operation. The most important current needs are mostly capital and supplies (masks, hand sanitizer, Lysol, etc.).  The overwhelming response for their need once they open is customers, clients and patients, and in six months business owners and operators are saying they’ll most need loan forgiveness.

In the greater Milford area it has been amazing to see how many of our businesses, organizations and residents have been supporting one another during the pandemic.  We’ve had everything from Easy Speak (a local distillery) making hand sanitizer, to an Italian restaurant (Mama Maria’s) being able to continue giving out free meal kits from support they’ve received from other businesses and individuals.  The Carlisle Fire Department went to the Bayhealth Sussex Campus with the truck lights flashing, sirens going, and signs showing their support to the staff who have been working tirelessly since March, and several businesses and individuals have donated various items to the Milford Police Department.    

This pandemic has definitely caused us to live, work and think differently.  Thankfully due to technology, we have been able to have virtual meetings & telephone conference calls as well as continuing to communicate through email, so we’ve had some normality by being able to continue communicating effectively.   

It’ll be interesting to see what the next six months bring.  

Jo Schmeiser is executive director of Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford.