With the COVID-19 pandemic, South Florida entered a time of uncertainty as events were canceled, schools were closed and Americans were told by officials to stay home as much as possible.
One of the most troubling changes took place in the commercial sector as businesses were forced to close or modify their hours, causing economic instability. Throughout the crisis, the Coral Springs Coconut Creek Regional Chamber of Commerce has done its part to support its more than 500 members, which represent a variety of businesses from restaurants to home businesses. As it has continued to operate online, the chamber has moved forward with its mission to grow business in northern Broward County through networking, advocacy, access and education.
For Director of Operations Gulie Carrington and President/CEO Cindy Brief, this has meant quickly adapting to the situation by keeping connected with members online and through social media, sharing resources, hosting a virtual office hour and virtual referral group meetings, and encouraging followers to support local restaurants by ordering takeout.
“After this crisis is over, the chamber is committed to bringing businesses back and being a community resource for recovery,” Brief says.
Over email in late March, Brief and Carrington went into detail with Lifestyle about how businesses have been affected and what may lie ahead in the future.
How has the chamber kept operations going during the pandemic?
Carrington: The Coral Springs Coconut Creek Regional Chamber is working diligently to serve our community in a positive and encouraging way. The chamber is working remotely to provide resources for up-to-date business information. We are continuing to reach out to all of our members to try to assist them during these challenging, unprecedented times. We are getting in touch with our local and county officials to provide the latest information to the membership as well as businesses that are taking a hit after having to revise their operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In what ways has the chamber supported local businesses?
Carrington: The chamber has created webpages focused on health information from various sources such as the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention], and the Florida Department of Health to provide a one-stop place for members to inform themselves. We have also put a highlight on our restaurants, which were greatly affected by the pandemic, to let the community know their new hours and delivery models as a way to show them that the chamber is more than just events—we work to support the business community however we can.
Additionally, we created an “open for business” landing page that displays countless businesses of varying types, ranging from attorneys and CPAs to florists, so that businesses still operating under the suggested guidelines provided by the county can get recognition and support from fellow community members.
Brief: I have been in contact with most of the elected officials in Coral Springs and Coconut Creek: [Coral Springs] City Manager Frank Babinec and Coconut Creek City Manager Karen Brooks. In addition, I have been on conference calls with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County Council of Chambers and Florida Association of Chamber Professionals, as well as Rep. Ted Deutch and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
How have you seen businesses supporting the community during this time of closures and social distancing?
Carrington: Businesses have been donating food, supplies and services to first responders, health care professionals, teachers and the like who are working for the community right now out of necessity, as well as to our hospitals who are running exceedingly low on materials. The generosity of the community is extremely encouraging and gives us tremendous hope.
Brief: One of the chamber’s trustee members was able to connect our local hospital, Broward Health Coral Springs, with two of his tenants to provide much-needed face masks and gloves. It was so incredible to be able to bring our members together to help our community!
How has this time highlighted the importance of a chamber in the local economy?
Carrington: The chamber has proved that we are not just here to bring people together for networking events. We truly advocate for the membership and do our best to be the voice of the business community in north Broward.
Brief: Now more than ever, the chamber is the voice of business, and through collaboration, education and access to resources, we will be leading the recovery efforts in our community.
Are there plans in place to help position chamber members for success when the crisis winds down? What about the chamber itself?
Carrington: We are currently discovering new and innovative ways to be of service to the membership and deciding the best course of action. Every day we learn a bit more about how to provide more value and ensure members that the chamber has them in mind.
Brief: The chamber has formed a resiliency committee that includes city leaders, elected officials as well as business leaders so that we can get back to “normal” and get businesses moving forward. We have an extensive list of resources to ensure that we get back to business.
Do you have suggestions for how residents can support local businesses—besides purchasing their products/goods/services?
Carrington: Continue to not only patronize them, but check in on them and see what their needs are.
Will this experience change chamber operations moving forward?
Carrington: Definitely. We have found that going virtual is not only the way of the future but it is imperative for connecting with others who simply do not have the same allowances and abilities. Virtual meetings are a great tool for connecting with more people, and I believe we can definitely utilize it more to supplement our usual in-person networking meetings.
Is there good news waiting for businesses and business owners at the end of this crisis?
Carrington: The good news is that we can remain connected with our members; we feel extremely grateful to have such a tight-knit chamber family.
Brief: I have seen so many businesses that have been able to pivot with some innovative ideas. As a result of this crisis, business owners have relied much more on technology and creativeness. I think this will have a huge influence in the future.
To learn more about the chamber, visit csccrchamber.com.