We know we’re going into the very belly of the beast of winter when we all start rummaging though closets to find our heaviest of sweaters. In the chamber world, it is also the time when we chart our course for the coming year, after months of deliberation.
To be honest, any plans we had for last year went right out the window when the threat of a virus was predicted to hit our shores. Up until that time, the Northeast Kingdom Chamber was on an upward swing we hadn’t experienced in years, due to the Great Recession, but our fate quickly changed, as it did for so many. The pandemic turned out to be an invisible and cruel force that not only inflicted and killed family and friends, but it destroyed our economy as well.
In my little circle of family and friends, alone, we lost two relatives to the pandemic, with a dozen more getting the virus. As our organization plans for 2021, we must, unfortunately, consider that Covid will be around for some time to come.
Because I have a journalism background, I have tried to chronicle the last year as best I can, so that decades from now, people can look back and see what we did to weather this storm. Like so many chambers, to be honest, we are not even sure we can survive this crisis, but we are sure going to try. Chambers are so needed in catastrophes such as this, as we work to rebuild our battered economy.
While many may rightly think that hospitality and tourism work is a big part of what we do, it is, by no means, all that a chamber does. You can take a look at our two-page benefit sheet as proof of that, but when it became apparent this pandemic had staying power, we contacted businesses at a unprecedented level, checking in with them to see how they were doing during the pandemic. We also greatly beefed up our advocacy work, seeking state and federal assistance and support for the region during this difficult time.
In addition, and this might surprise you, one of the most important endeavors our chamber has undertaken in the past 10 years, including this past year, has been to increase our workforce development efforts. Believe it or not, this is one of the most important issues identified by businesses and economic development agencies, alike, and an initiative that will only grow in our chamber in the months and years to come.
So what does workforce development even mean? It is hard to answer that question in a mere paragraph or two, but, in short, it is identifying the obstacles businesses face in the workplace and solving them. That may involve increased employee training, lessening regulatory requirements, assisting with human resource issues, closing skill gaps, finding needed employees and so much more. We promise to keep you apprised of our efforts to improve the Kingdom’s business climate as a whole.
We would like to remind our businesses and residents that our chamber web site, www.nekchamber.com, is the most extensive resource on the Kingdom. In particular, it offers a handy Business Resource Guide that provides companies necessary information needed to start, expand, relocate or sell their operations. It also includes an Employer Resource Guide that provides the tools and resources to help operate their business. Although 2020 was, regrettably, a year to forget, don’t think for a second that the challenges we face in 2021 will hinder our efforts to turn this economy around… not by a long shot.
Darcie McCann is the executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce.