West of the River Chamber of Commerce adapts to new forms of networking (Guest viewpoint)

What a year! As the wild and turbulent 2020 has drawn to a close, we look back on how COVID-19 sent the global economy into the worst slump in a century and focus on what to expect beyond lockdowns, the virus and the vaccine in 2021. A new year, a new way of life. 2020 was a challenging year for business, family, education, and government. The beginning of 2020 was a time of unknown. Not sure how to navigate this new obstacle, we shut down, secluded and held tight.

Spring and summer came, and we all began to struggle with how we will make the best of the situation that we were in. Fall and winter arrived, and a new resurgence arose and realization set in that this is a long-term struggle.

Families reinvented how to live as productively as they can, schools learned how to effectively handle remote learning, but small business was the hardest hit. As we approach the one-year mark for the pandemic, small businesses have come and gone, and many are now desperately trying to reinvent how they do business while bringing in little to no revenue and paying their necessary bills.

The West of the River Chamber of Commerce’s main focus in the first half of 2020 was to keep its members informed with COVID restrictions and regulations and to assist in aid to the businesses that were able to apply. As summer and fall came around, the chamber felt it was imperative to regain some sort of normalcy for its members by hosting small, monthly virtual networking events and providing up-to-date newsletters and collaborative networking opportunities to allow its members to connect and build again with other business people.

Resilience and adaptability will be the key to business success for this coming year.

For the West of the River Chamber of Commerce, perfecting a productive virtual networking platform for its members is an important aspect the chamber has worked on implementing for 2021. Collaborating with other local networking organizations and providing that platform for them to be productive in the small-business world was a priority.

As networking is taking on a new form, the West of the River Chamber is adapting and changing its role as a gateway for networking for its members. Providing them with this valuable format, our members can once again feel connected to the business world and the many people in their business community. Lost friendships found and new ones being built is what will be necessary for business growth in our community.

Another important aspect the West of the River Chamber has been focused on is its member benefits program. Local businesses can offer special discounts for our chamber members on any number of products and services throughout Western Massachusetts. Promoting these savings through newsletters, emails, social media and website, they are able to offer special savings and discounts while continuing to marketing their business.

Hybrid events will also take place in the coming year. Those who feel ready to be together safely again will have the opportunity to do so at our popular mayoral luncheons or legislative breakfasts, while those who are not quite ready for in-person events will have the opportunity to still be a part of the West of the River Chamber’s events by doing so virtually.

The West of the River Chamber of Commerce is focused on navigating this new way of doing business with its members. Listening to their needs and following up on important ways to assist members in continuing to market, network and succeed in Western Massachusetts is the West of the River Chamber’s mission.

Robin Wozniak is executive director of the West of the River Chamber of Commerce. To learn more about the chamber and its work, go online to westoftheriverchamber.com.