By Crystal Harrell

Small businesses and industries have taken a significant hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many establishments were forced to limit their operations or have remained closed under government orders. Even with social distancing limitations in place, the local chambers across the Coachella Valley have continued to support members during quarantine through the financial hardships.

The Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce (RMCC) has been working diligently since the start of business closures in March, providing communities with tools, resources, and connections to make significant change.

Zoom conferences have been offered on various topics such as Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), CARES Act Explained, to Adaptive Leadership in Times of Crisis to legal counsel discussing furloughs and employment laws. The RMCC is now crafting the next series of topical presenters and networking, which will keep the membership both informed and connected to one another.

Advertising is another way that the RMCC is assisting local businesses, and organizing a Go Fund Me called “Operation Feed the Front Line.” The community was rallied to donate funds and connected the local restaurants with the hospitals to provide meals and treats throughout March and April to front line workers.

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“Even if it helped morale for one front line worker, we succeeded. While I don’t have connections for PPE, I do have connections to Rancho Mirage restaurants who are ready and able to serve large groups. It was a fun way to help my business members and our hospital heroes. To date, we have provided over 1,000 meals,” stated President and CEO of the RMCC, Katie Stice.

While all events and both RMCC expos are on hold for now, the RMCC’s 15th annual Desert Nurses Appreciation Luncheon was originally to take place in May, just after National Nurses Week. Once able, this event will again incorporate all Coachella Valley hospitals to recognize the nurses that have been working so hard for the health of the community.

“The 15th Annual Desert Nurses Appreciation Luncheon will be grand, there is no doubt about it. It is an honor to host this flagship event for them!” expressed Stice.

Social media has played a pivotal role for the RMCC’s outreach as well, launching the Business Recovery Alliance: Coachella Valley group on Facebook that includes eleven area chambers and business groups, representing over 6,000 people and jobs, in addition to live video series highlighting local nonprofits and businesses.

The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce is also assisting in the community, partnering with the SBDC and holding Town Hall zoom meetings with over 400 businesses participating each time. These meetings help businesses with funding questions, what recovery may look like, and assistance on creating a recovery plan for their business.

“We are very fortunate that we are able to keep our staff working and our focus is on our members’ needs. The Chamber is an organization that is designed to fill in the gaps that businesses face. As businesses prepare to reopen, we are here to identify what is needed, and to do everything we can to make sure we are prepared to assist,” said Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce CEO, Nona Watson.

Weekly leads lunches are held via zoom so members feel connected, and each week, a member restaurant is featured to encourage everyone on the zoom call to first stop in and get lunch from the restaurant, and then join in the Leads Lunch meeting. Members have voiced concern over having access to supplies to help open their businesses when the time comes.  The Palm Springs Chamber put out a list to major suppliers to buy needed items in bulk, resulting in huge savings for its members.

“We are experts in receiving and sending information. We realize that at this time, information changes continuously. We make sure we are on top of all current information and that the most current information is sent to our members,” stated Watson.

In the wake of the pandemic, the Palm Desert Area Chamber of Commerce has established programs to help its members through this uncertain time. The Chamber has concentrated efforts of collecting valid information, free training programs and sharing it to its Facebook page, increasing its reach by 97%, engagements by 169%, and Page Likes by 109%.

“We have to move into the virtual world and find interesting new ways to help members connect, network, but providing resources, education, and advocacy remain in effect as normal. Sponsorships involve exposure other than events,” explained CEO of the Palm Desert Area Chamber of Commerce, Pam Scannell.

The Palm Desert Area Chamber of Commerce also added email blasts on “The Latest As We Get It,” keeping members informed and updated with the latest information on available loans, programs, and directives related to COVID-19. The Chamber is currently adding a section to its website to identify local businesses with online shopping options to assist in its Shop Local Campaign, and is working with an organization on the possibility of zero interest loans targeting Palm Desert Businesses.

“We have plans, and are updating them constantly. We will reopen, we just need to accept a new reality of face masks, sanitizing, and distancing for everyone’s safety,” assured Scannell.

The Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce (GCVCC) has worked with the City of La Quinta to establish an “Open for Business” sign program that gives essential businesses like restaurants a free way to get the word out that they are still open. The Chamber has made over 2,000 calls to local business, collecting data and offering guidance on applying for financial aid programs. 

The GCVCC hosted numerous free town halls with elected officials, agencies and professionals to offer instructions and advice on how to navigate through the pandemic. The Chamber has also staffed a community hotline for the last six weeks, taking over 800 calls so far that has fielded questions from the community on unemployment, business assistance, and issues impacting the community. 

“The Chamber will continue to work hard on behalf of our members because what we do is more important than ever: advocacy. We are working to get this economy back open in as safe and efficient manner as possible.  We have been working with elected officials at all levels, even participating in calls with the Whitehouse and Governor’s office, to accomplish it. Our members know that they have a voice in the hall of government and power, and that voice is as vital as ever navigating this health and economic emergency,” stated GCVCC President and CEO, Joshua Bonner.

Bonner serves as the Vice Chair for the Riverside County Economic Development Task Force. The task force is made up of 17 business and labor professionals from across Riverside County and reports directly to the Board of Supervisors trying to help navigate the economic road to recovery ahead by advising the Supervisors on local policy.

Visit uschamber.com to learn more about information specific to operating a business and rivcoccsd.org to find out about local health and economy efforts, test sites, and loans from Riverside County.