The local chamber is in survival mode – helping businesses survive the COVID-19 challenge.
"On March 6, the COVID hurricane took over the typical daily whirlwinds of the chamber world," said Joe Krenowicz, executive director for the Madras –Jefferson County Chamber. "The chamber has had to make a big pivot in regards to what we generally do. Normally, it would be visitor and tourist driven along with event management or assistance."
They are now navigating the Oregon Health Authority regulations, helping locals understand how those rules apply to them, clarifying questions, and helping businesses pull through the pandemic.
"Zoom meetings annihilated face-to-face meetings, and up to recent, our phone calls and correspondence has been predominantly in economic survival assistance mode," Krenowicz said, noting that Jefferson County remains in Phase 2 and is on the Watch List.
The chamber has created two new programs to help businesses during the pandemic.
Chamber Administrative Assistant Davida Plaisted initiated Chamber Cheer in early April.
"The purpose was to re-establish engagements of our chamber business members with our community and their customers," Krenowicz said.
The chamber arranges with businesses to broadcast on Facebook Live three segments that are five to eight minutes during the slow times of the day. They try to broadcast three or four times a week.
Chamber Cheer promotes and brings attention to the community of the local businesses that are open through the various phases. The broadcasts highlight the products and services that are available, shares how they have pivoted their business operations within the OHA guidelines, and brings top of mind that businesses are open.
Chamber board member Brian Crow suggested starting the second new program, Chamber-Jefferson County Talks, which began in early May. The talks are broadcast live on Zoom each Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Krenowicz said the purpose of the online talks is to focus on COVID-related discussions with Jefferson County Public Health Director Michael Baker. The talks also help clarify OHA and the governor's mandates, dispel incorrect information, and get ahead of misinformation.
"We have invited additional parties to join the segment to widen up information and assist our communities with information and the intricacies of the COVID challenges," Krenowicz said.
Participants have included David Golda with St. Charles Madras, Heather Crow-Martinez with BestCare, Ken Parshall with the Jefferson County 509-J School District, and Madras Police Chief Tanner Stanfield.
Krenowicz pointed out that as COVID-19 diminishes, the chamber plans to continue with the Chamber-Jefferson County Talks program for other pertinent information such as water issues, community programs, election information and ballot discussions.
In addition to the two new programs, Krenowicz talks to local business representatives who inquire about their challenges and points them to other organizations and resources that may be able to assist them.
"As a chamber, we are really glad to help direct people to get additional information or assistance where we don't have that capacity," he said.
The chamber typically hires a third person for seasonal help, but that was curtailed due to the COVID situation. They have, however, kept the same 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday hours, and the outside foyer remains open after hours and on weekends for visitors and tourists. And they still get inquiries from those interested in relocating to the area – many wanting to avoid the congestion of the Bend-Redmond area.
"We've been busy, and we certainly want to encourage people to get ahold of us, particularly businesses in Madras and Jefferson County as a whole," Krenowicz said, noting that they're also available to help non-chamber members.
"We're here for all businesses," he said. "This boat is floating – we've just got to get it moving."
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