The past month has been an exercise in adaptability and resilience.


In the first three weeks of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, our chamber team spent hours each day reaching out to our members, calling each business one by one to check in and assess their needs.


These 1,200-plus conversations spotlighted the questions that swirl around the state and federal programs and policies that have been issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ve responded quickly and decisively. The chamber’s essential role in advocating for business is apparent now more than ever.


Essential advocacy response


The issue that rises to the forefront is the need to reopen our economy and get people back to work, as soon as is safely possible. We hear firsthand of questions and concerns regarding application and interpretation of policies within the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, and have responded by sending two letters to the governor, asking for swift action to stabilize our economy.


Ongoing advocacy for businesses


Understanding the need for timely delivery of relevant information, we pivoted our programming in a major way — and in a virtual way — around our Advocacy in Action platform. The newly introduced Virtual Meetings Series called Capitol Connections brings state and federal legislators together with our members multiple times per week.


Local


We’ve had updates from local officials such as Holland Mayor Nathan Bocks and Ottawa Area Intermediate School District Superintendent Pete Haines. One recent week’s virtual meetings included discussions with officials from the City of Zeeland and a healthcare update from Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital President Ron Lewis.


State


On a state level, advocating for the needs of our businesses and our economy is of primary importance to the chamber, so we’ve been on the phones setting up conversations with policymakers. We’ve hosted our state legislators, who’ve delivered progress reports on how decisions are being made in Lansing, and this week we’re looking forward to a virtual meeting with Gov. Whitmer, where Chamber President Jane Clark will be able to pose questions directly to the governor. This event is a collaboration with other regional chambers, and each president will be able to address issues of importance to West Michigan.


Federal


On a federal level, members have been able to hear directly from U.S. Congressmen Bill Huizenga and Fred Upton and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and ask questions of them as well. These officials have given us insight on the status of programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and explained when and how more funding will be added to the quickly depleted coffers. They were also able to add insights on what will need to be in place for our economy to reopen safely, and how we will access the resources needed to protect workers and the public at large, especially those most vulnerable. Upton spoke of the personal connections he’s been able to make with our member businesses, and how important it is that our legislators have that first-hand information when fighting for the needs of our communities.


Essential chamber connections


Jane Clark is actively involved with the U.S. Chamber as a member of the Committee of 100 and has been involved in regular conversations with chamber executives from around the country, pulling together resources and information to help our communities weather and recover. The same is true with our collaboration with the Michigan Chamber and regional chambers across the state. A universal truth is that the efforts to support, to educate and to advocate for businesses and communities are tireless, and that chambers are showing their value now more than ever.


There has never been a more critical time for our community to come together, and the chamber team will continue to operate in high gear to make the important connections that help businesses adapt and recover. We’re looking forward to the new future of business and will continue to be a trusted resource and partner in the months and years ahead. We are committed to this amazing community, and we are here for you.


— Caroline Monahan is director of marketing and communications for the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce.