Written by Tony Howard, President & CEO of the Loudoun Chamber
As President of the largest Chamber of Commerce in Northern Virginia, I am used to being asked: “what does a Chamber do?”
For 21 years as a Chamber Executive, the last 14 as President of the Loudoun Chamber, my answer was always the same. “We help businesses grow their revenues, we advocate for smart economic policies and we support our community, mainly by supporting local nonprofits and our own Foundation.”
Now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am going to have to update my script.
As a member-based association dedicated to business growth, most Chambers are focused on the needs of our dues-paying members. Though the Loudoun Chamber is more community-minded than most– fostering a healthy community has long been our strategic priority – we, too, mostly focus on our member businesses and nonprofits.
While our members will always remain our top priority, those members are telling us their top priority is the health of our Loudoun community, and everyone who lives, works, plays and learns here.
From the start of this crisis, that attitude has guided our response to this crisis. Here are a few of the areas the Loudoun Chamber has stepped up to support our whole community:
Free, virtual networking and educational events
Back in mid-March, with almost no warning, all our live events and workshops were shut down in response to Governor Northam’s “stay at home” order. Rather than panic, we immediately brought all our networking and education programs online, and made that content entirely free and available to everyone, regardless of their Chamber membership.
The local business and community leaders on the Chamber’s Board of Directors understood this was a time to focus on Loudoun’s economic and physical health, and less on our organization’s financial needs.
Trusted business recovery and health information
Next, the Chamber staff, with support from our members, quickly created a COVID-19 resources strategy. We sifted through tons of data on federal, state and local business recovery and loans programs, preventing the spread of the coronavirus, unemployment assistance programs for laid-off workers and so much more and worked to distribute that information to our members, in an easy to use and understand manner.
Tourism & Hospitality Relief Fund
We then decided to focus our efforts, and our money, on assisting three groups of Loudouners most impacted by this pandemic: unemployed hospitality and tourism industry workers, struggling restaurants and our over-worked healthcare workers.
For those hospitality and tourism industry employees who lost their jobs because COVID-19 closed down their restaurants, hotels and wineries, the Loudoun Chamber donated $5,000 and helped raise $5,000 more for Visit Loudoun’s “Tourism & Hospitality Relief Fund,” to help these workers pay their rent. That Fund has raised nearly $35,000 for those front line hospitality employees.
Feed Loudoun’s Healthcare Heroes
Then we launched another fundraiser, the “Feed Loudoun’s Healthcare Heroes” campaign. Since late April, we have raised more than $20,000 in cash and donated meals to feed the doctors, nurses and other employees at Inova Loudoun Hospital and StoneSprings Hospital Center.
These meals came from 13 Loudoun restaurants and Chamber members, providing much needed revenue, as most eateries have seen sales decline by 80%-90% during this pandemic.
Loudoun: Open For Business Tool Kit
Using the best available resources – including those from the CDC, OSHA, the US Chamber and legal experts – the Loudoun Chamber unveiled our “Loudoun: Open For Business” tool kit on May 5th.
This robust set of resources can help every Loudoun business protect their workplace, their employees and their customers, as they reopen and expand operations as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. The Chamber’s own reopening strategy, which describes our phased approach to welcoming staff, members and other visitors back to our office space, was crafted using this tool kit.
We also created a four-part webinar series, archived on the Loudoun Chamber Facebook page, featuring local legal, financial, recovery and communications experts offering advice on how to reopen safely.
Take Loudoun Home
In partnership with Loudoun Economic Development and Visit Loudoun, we launched a renewed “Take Loudoun Home” campaign to connect local businesses and farmers with area consumers and visitors. There is even a marketplace function that allows customers to buy directly from local wineries, breweries, shops and farms. #TakeLoudounHome!
Loudoun Is Ready
Finally, we launched the “Loudoun Is Ready” campaign, another partnership with Loudoun Economic Development and Visit Loudoun, designed to boosts consumer confidence as they return to the restaurants, shops, wineries, breweries and other Loudoun businesses.
The key to this campaign is the “Loudoun Is Ready” pledge, a promise made by more than 750 local businesses to safely welcome back their customers, employees and guests. Businesses that took the Pledge received “Loudoun Is Ready” logos for their web site, social media and print materials, and window signs, banners, campaign buttons and social distance floor markers.
In the nearly 14 years I have been privileged to serve as President of the Loudoun Chamber, I have never been prouder of the businesses, community leaders and staff that I serve.
Back in early March, every one of those individuals told me that this community would make it through this public health crisis, as long as we worked together and supported those who were most hurt by this pandemic.
They were, and remain, absolutely correct. #StongerTogether #LoudounPossible.