Springfield Regional Chamber connects, gives voice to business (Guest viewpoint)

Early last March, business leaders convened for the Springfield Regional Chamber’s 2020 Outlook luncheon, what would become the chamber’s final in-person event before the COVID-19 pandemic. As I listened to excellent speeches from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and state Rep. Joseph Wagner, assistant majority leader, I envisioned a much different future than would ultimately play out in the coming months.

When I reflect on this scene of normalcy, I am awed and humbled, not only by the stark difference between then and now, but also at the great lengths our business community has gone.

Businesses small and large have adapted to a new world, demonstrating resiliency, ingenuity, and compassion. The chamber is proud to have served the business community during the challenges of the pandemic, and we will be there each step of the way toward recovery.

Pandemic or not, the chamber always works to connect businesses with the resources they need. Our function as a hub of information and expertise was never more important than during 2020. When COVID hit, we initiated an ongoing campaign to proactively communicate for the region’s safe reopening and economic recovery.

Just in the first quarter of 2020, we sent more than 100 emails, distributed a Reopening Guide and held four virtual, industry-specific roundtables. We also made over 1,500 check-in calls to members, offering technical assistance, one-on-one counseling, help in securing grants or simple reminders that the chamber was there.

Striving to be the voice for the business community in the Massachusetts Legislature, we were the only area chamber to present to the Reopening Advisory Board. It was an honor to communicate our needs for a safe reopening.

Furthermore, through our active role on Beacon Hill, we were able to successfully advocate for legislative COVID-19 support and provide polling data – the voices of our own community – for use by the Senate Revenue Working Group and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

The chamber has virtually convened business leaders with legislators and influencers such as now former House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Rep. Wagner, nearly all of our state senators and representatives, as well as political consultant Anthony Cignoli.

Today, I think the business community can see the edge of the trees, but we’re not out of the woods yet. The chamber continues to offer information, support, and a voice in the legislature – even as we plan for a post-COVID world.

What will the region’s economic landscape look like in a year? It’s difficult to tell, but the Springfield Regional Chamber is still looking ahead. Whenever economic recovery begins in earnest, we want the tools, people, and strategies in place to help the region grow.

In terms of tools and resources, we have rolled out a comprehensive suite of online tools that encourage business growth and expansion in the region. I’m still amazed at the depth of knowledge that the platform offers. Seven tools provide data about the business climate in the region, trends for industry, customer demographics, competition, growth areas, workforce demographics, and even available properties.

Returning to the idea of the chamber as a champion of business growth in the region, I’m pleased that we’re able to offer this resource free to members and nonmembers. Current business owners looking to expand or new entrepreneurs who want to start a business in our region can all benefit.

To keep the region’s leadership and talent pipelines primed and ready, the chamber is continuing our Leadership Institute program and introducing a new Women’s Leadership initiative. To begin building skills even earlier, we were an early adopter on the statewide Coalition on Early Childhood Education.

Furthermore, we’ve joined employer organizations across the commonwealth to form the Massachusetts Businesses Coalition on Skills to develop policy solutions for filling skills gaps. Even though there is much uncertainty, we still need to bolster our people and skills so that once we come back, we come back strong.

Our current strategic plan envisions Greater Springfield as a leader for innovation and prosperity. Today that vision still guides all of our efforts.

The pandemic has set back overall growth, but it has also presented an opportunity for resilience and embracing change. I know the business community will emerge from this experience with new resolve, driving toward innovation and prosperity. The chamber is committed to convening people and offering the resources that the region needs to get there.

Nancy Creed is president of the Springfield Regional Chamber. To learn more about the chamber and its work, go online to springfieldregionalchamber.com.