When the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, along with the Somers Point Business Association, came together for a joint mixer back in March, no one attending the event would have guessed that would have been the last face-to-face in person business mixer many would attend over the next several months. However, that is exactly what has occurred.
As I have made clear countless times in Business Currents, I enjoy networking and seeing fellow business people on a regular basis. I especially enjoy both the Cape May County and Greater Atlantic City Chamber events. I am also an active participant in the Somers Point Business Association. The Business to Business (B2B) connections and opportunities are so important to the work that many of us do whether we are discussing commerce or the community.
When COVID-19 and the event cancellations started, the larger group events, mixers and gatherings were one of the first types of events affected. Those types of events stopped just about a week after the joint mixer was held in Somers Point.
It did not take long for Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber and Michael Chait, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, to realize the way the chambers would operate would change quickly as the coronavirus pandemic grew. Both leaders knew that there first order of business was to provide much needed and ever-changing information to their members and the greater business communities they both serve.
Clark immediately asked the Cape May Chamber staff to pivot quickly and the team went form a full slate of scheduled face to face events to digital programming and changed the topics of the programs offered to reflect the needs of business.
Chait said the Atlantic City Chamber was fortunate to have a member that was equipped and prepared to step up and provide assistance as their chamber moved to digital platforms to get the word out similar to the activities that Cape May County Chamber undertook.
While the availability and quick roll out of government sponsored lending programs started to fill both chambers’ digital offerings with experts lined up to help explain the processes to access loans, forgivable loans and grants, another key element was also being addressed. Along with trying to keep the business community healthy, Clark pointed out they also played a role in trying to keep the community healthy.
Part of the holistic approach that both chambers have engaged in for years includes supporting and working with the community and nonprofits that serve the community and it also includes marketing the region to visitors and residents alike. That means beyond the member services and opportunities provided to their membership the chamber have been serving our communities with very little recognition for decades.
Keeping this in mind, both chambers immediately opened up their programming to all businesses with no cost to attend the online events or without even asking businesses that were not current members to consider joining. When asked about the inspiration do so, Clark said, “Success of our region and tourism that supports our communities is based on the success of every business in our region.”
At one point as the events per week were adding up, Cape May’s Task Force was meeting multiple times a week and multiple loan and grant programs were in the pipeline, at the end of a busy day Clark remarked to a chamber team member “What a day!” At that moment a daily email from the Cape May County Chamber sent out once a day to all interested businesses was born. It is an end of day recap of the current COVID-19 related news that affects business, a list of upcoming online sessions and it also includes links and offerings provided by other chambers and business groups. Clark explains the idea of trying to send out multiple e-mails was not an option sine the information was coming out to quickly and the idea of overfilling business owner’s mailboxes made no sense. Clark and the team created an efficient and effective way to communicate what businesses needed most; timely information, highlights and access to resources. Businesses that would like to be added to the “What a Day!” email list just have to ask.
Michael Chait and the Atlantic City Chamber offer a similar newsletter style communication each day. The Chamber is staying true to the three-word mantra it unveiled last year: Connect, Inform, Advocate. Speaking of being advocates for business, both chamber presidents have been extremely vocal as certain issues that affected their business community need to be discussed with those making COVID-19 related business program, lending and protocol decisions.
To help both the businesses and the community connect, Chait started a Facebook page that listed area eateries that were open for takeout early in the pandemic called “Atlantic County Take Out and Delivery Options”. He said it was an idea that was discussed at an early national chamber group meeting. So Chait took the initiative to create it. The page allows for area restaurants to post and people that like the page to comment and share. The page currently has over 18,000 followers. Chait said there are over 500,000 “points of engagement” that include posts, shares, and comments. “Cape May County Take Out and Delivery Options” has over 10,000 followers. Both are great resources for both business operators and the community.
Leveraging existing relationship along with creating new partnerships have been key to the ability to collect and share important information with area businesses. Chait meets weekly with all Atlantic County business groups and municipal chambers through an online platform to gather information and share best practices. The groups share documents to share through their chamber outreach along with protocols and best practices. Clark is an active member of the Cape May County Task Force and also was invited to be part of the Governor’s Reopening Committee for Tourism and Entertainment. Both Chamber presidents are working day and night to serve their communities.
“It is the right thing to do and a great opportunity not just to share but a great partnership among many organizations that is a benefit to all,” Clark said.
Chait also points out, “The current situation we find ourselves in has made us be more innovative and find new ways to conduct business and life.”
While the vision of these two Chambers of Commerce has been clear to me and many other business people in our region, their true value is now being demonstrated each and every day. As we begin to return to the networking and supporting these organizations that serve our businesses and our community, I hope I will see you at the next mixer. Stay safe, stay healthy and stay connected!