By Jim Giammarinaro
President & CEO of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce
FRAMINGHAM – These are challenging times for some of our business segments and many of our non-profits.
Restaurants, hotels, and retail businesses (without an online presence) rely on foot traffic to generate revenue. State and CDC guidelines have limited their capacity. More importantly, the public is reluctant to be indoors among people they do not know even when an establishment is complying with guidelines and requirements.
Our non-profits rely on the philanthropy of our business community. When there is uncertainty of future cash flow, businesses can tend to pull back on their philanthropy. In addition, COVID was in play during the spring fundraising season so many of our non-profits who put on in-person fundraisers at local hotels were not able to hold these functions. They remain unable to have in-person fundraisers due to gathering limitations. The transition to an online mode of fundraising is not always easy for a non-profit with limited resources.
Some of our business segments, such as pharmaceuticals, have not experienced a decline during COVID and in many cases their business has increased.
Overall, we are still experiencing record unemployment in Massachusetts. At our worst point during COVID, Massachusetts was at a 17% unemployment rate and we lost nearly 1 million jobs. Recently we have dropped to 500,000 people who are unemployed. The projection is for the jobless rate to decrease even more but state officials believe we are likely to remain at approximately 200,000 additional people unemployed (compared to February 2020) until consumer confidence returns to pre-COVID levels and people are comfortable being inside amongst the general public.
Our goal at the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce is to assist these industries who will continue to struggle for a while so they can stay afloat and possibly develop new methods of generating cashflow.
The following is what we have put in place:
Reopening Support Team – A group created to answer questions about reopening.
The team consists of:1) Sam Wong – Public Health Director for the City of Framingham, 2) Kevin Shea – Economic Development Director for the City of Framingham, 3) Brian Casacelli – Employment Attorney at Mirick O’Connell, 4) Bruce Miccile – VP at Middlesex Savings Bank, 5) Stephanie Hirshon – the chamber’s Deputy Director and myself. We meet virtually on Wednesday’s and anyone can participate and ask questions. The link for our meetings is publicized in our Tuesday’s at Two newsletter. People are also able to submit questions to me at email@example.com anytime which can be answered at the meeting. We also offer free reopening compliance signage.
Recovery Corner Newsletter – The newsletter runs multiple times per week and provides a different individual profile in each issue highlighting what that business has to offer as well as their COVID compliance procedures. In addition, both business and financial resources are listed with their corresponding contact information. We also have a section highlighting events in these industries most affected by COVID. An example of a business resource is a connection to a business (Mondeforo) which helps in creating an online presence for retailors at no cost to the retailor (a small transaction fee is charge to the consumer for each transaction). We are connected to city/town officials in Framingham, Natick, and Ashland for input into the newsletters. Another source of input comes from business organizations and cultural districts within these communities. Our chamber organizations can provide direct input to Stephanie and myself. We are in the process of securing interns from Framingham State University to assist in creating profiles for local businesses looking for publicity in the newsletter.
Business Growth in Framingham Team – The group consists of representatives from chamber businesses (Lisa McClintock Site Manager at Sanofi, Kimberly Sigler Legal Counsel at Bose, Kathy Garrahan Partner at Bowditch Attorneys and Erick Lacy Senior Project Engineer at Consigli), representatives from the city (Mayor Spicer, COO Thatcher Kezer & Economic Development Director Kevin Shea), City Councilors (Adam Steiner, Janet Leombruno, Christine Long & Mike Cannon) and leaders of local business organizations (Courtney Thraen Executive Director of Downtown Framingham Inc, Stephanie and myself). The purpose of getting together is for the business community and elected officials to connect regarding opportunities for business growth within the city. We realize that businesses have a choice as to where they grow, and we want them to choose Framingham. The group
meets every 2 months.
Other Chamber Initiatives to Support our Members
- Public Policy Team – Leaders of public and private organizations meet monthly to discuss and address public policy issues effecting MetroWest.
- Inclusion Team – Chamber members meet monthly to provide advocacy for underrepresented populations and individuals with disabilities.
- Scholarships – The chamber’s Educational Foundation provides scholarships annually to area students in the areas of STEM and individuals with disabilities.
- Advertising – Eblasts & Social Media Posts (have been at no cost due to COVID), Weekly Newsletter (the lead is typically a profile on an individual member).
- Webinars and Educational Programming – Webinars have focused on the major issues related to recovery and chamber members from legal firms provide ongoing training.
- Networking – We have a business referral group that meets every 2 weeks virtually as well as ongoing networking with the various groups with whom we collaborate (ABA, Marlborough Chamber, Worcester Chamber etc.)
All our services surround providing value to our members. Many of the highlighted services are unique to our chamber and based solely on what our members want to see.
In summary, the organizations and citizens in our community are directly connected. Large organizations employ a significant number of employees and utilize our smaller organizations as vendors. Large organizations are also significant donors to our non-profits. They contribute a large amount of tax
revenue to our communities.
Small businesses and non-profits make up a greater number of organizations and employ a significant number of individuals as well.
Our communities will remain attractive for business growth if our most affected businesses due to COVID (restaurants, hotels, and retailers) and non-profits survive.
Our goal at the chamber is to provide for the health of all our members so that MetroWest will continue to be a region which is desirable for people to “live, work & play.”
Editor’s Note: SOURCE and the MetroWest Chamber have formed a partnership. The Chamber’s column will run on Tuesday on the digital news media outlet.