Despite Tough Times, Michigan’s Chambers of Commerce Dig Deep to Help Members Navigate Pandemic

When CEOs and companies need help – whether it’s through mentorship, fresh ideas or community support – many turn to their local Chambers of Commerce. These business-friendly organizations are working double-time during the pandemic to keep up with changes, offer support and create new programming over the past year of near-constant change.

To help their membership continue to grow, Michigan chambers told Corp! Magazine they are thinking through what they, too, have experienced during the coronavirus. That means thinking through all of the impact the pandemic has had on their organizations and trying to support their members in that same way.

The goal, chamber organizers said, is to keep everyone moving forward during one of the most unusual and challenging times in business or American history. They stress that 2021 will be a recovery year, but they collectively have high hopes for how both chambers and their members will fare going forward.

For example, Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber President Joe Bauman said its leadership decided to pause collecting membership dues for much of 2020 “to support our businesses and make sure they continued to receive the full support of the chamber during these difficult times.”

“As a member-based organization, the pandemic has caused major disruption to many of our members’ business models and left them financially vulnerable,” Bauman said. “As we move into 2021 our focus will be on assisting our members in rebuilding their businesses which, in turn, will allow them to resume investing in the chamber.”

Many chambers took on the challenge of coping with coronavirus with new ideas. The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce created a “Coronavirus Toolkit” on its website, offering links to local grants and relief programs, workplace-safety guidelines, Centers for Disease Control resources and connection to Michigan officials and policies for quick reference.

In Midland, its Chamber of Commerce has been updating its Facebook page with the latest on local micro-grand assistance projects, highlighting webinars on the stimulus packages and Paycheck Protection Plan updates as well as keeping members informed on the latest news – including discounts, special events and more.

Another example of this resilience is the programming the Livonia Chamber of Commerce made to help its members prepare for the worst and manage this stressful moment for everyone, said Chamber President/CEO Dan West. One of the first things Livonia’s chamber had to think about was how to conduct meetings or events for members seeking information, suggestions and comradery.

“We adjusted by starting a local informational vodcast series, called CityScape, where we interview people in our community on a newsworthy subject that impacts our businesses and general community,” West said. “We featured a lot of businesses, but we also discussed issues such as anxiety, best practices in the COVID environment, real estate market, reports on our schools and hospitals, diversity and inclusion and need for blood donations.”

How they did it
In fact, Bauman said the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber had to change its entire business model because of the myriad restrictions and shutdowns enforced to battle the spread of Covid-19. These included quarantines, restrictions on meeting size and an array of other shifts made to mitigate the virus and its affect on hospitals and the like.

“Unable to host in-person events, the chamber lost its two major fundraisers and was forced to adapt to 100 percent virtual programming. We conducted more than 30 online webinars and held one-on-one sessions with all of our elected officials so they could hear firsthand the challenges our member businesses were facing,” Bauman said.

“We also became strong advocates for the small business community, working closely with our Federation partners and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Chamber of Commerce to provide up-to-date information on the many relief programs available to our members,” Bauman added. “We also worked closely with our partners at Oakland County government to assist with the development and distribution of emergency relief small business grants and to distribute PPE to hundreds of local businesses.”

In Livonia, there have been good moments and not-so-good moments, West noted. But that is to be expected and the chamber is always ready to look for rays of hope and promise.

“Our membership declined from 1,030 to about 950 in December. It was an 8 percent loss in membership, which was a pleasant surprise because we were prepared for more,” West said.

The Chamber also started a Christmas light display at the Greenmead Historic Village, which features several historic structures, in partnership with the Livonia Parks and Recreation. This provided a COVID-safe outdoor experience for our families to see Santa Claus.

“Both programs enabled us to produce new revenue which stemmed the losses of event and dues revenue (as chambers of commerce were ineligible for payment protection payment loans),” West said.