Talk about hitting the ground running. Darren Noble is sprinting.
It’s been a busy first week for Noble. He took on his new job as executive director of the SouthWest Metro Chamber of Commerce during a tumultuous time, in which the COVID-19 pandemic has practically shut down life as we know it.
Instead on spending a few weeks onboarding and acquainting himself with the business community, like most newcomers, Noble’s first week was spent participating in regional and state conference calls, webinars, and virtual meetings, being updated on COVID-19, its impact on local business communities across the country and learning what can be done to help them weather the pandemic.
We reached out to Noble to learn about his first week on the job.
Q: What issues have these regional/statewide conference calls, webinars and meetings concerned, and who has been participating?
A: They’ve been with: the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce: COVID-19 Preparation & Mitigation, "COVID-related business resources for your company;" the state of Minnesota (DEED) Department of Employment & Economic Development: Daily Call for Businesses: COVID19; Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, press conferences; and the Minnesota Department of Health press conferences.
The other participants have been local/regional/statewide chambers of commerce, city/county/state employees and agencies, community partners, and nonprofits.
Q: What have been the key takeaways from each?
A: They have provided up-to-date reliable information and available resources regarding the COVID-19 situation.
Q: Are there tips or stopgap measures that can be applied immediately to our local community of businesses?
A: Recently, Minnesota was granted an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration (this is good news) which enables small businesses access to the SBA loan program. Now, online applications for these loans are open to Minnesota businesses at: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.
Also, the U.S. Treasury Department, IRS and U.S. Department of Labor announced that small and midsize employers can begin taking advantage of two new refundable payroll tax credits designed to immediately and fully reimburse them for the cost of providing COVID-19 related leave to their employees. We’ve been told that additional guidance, including how to claim the credits in advance, is forthcoming and will be posted to the Coronavirus Tax Relief page on www.irs.gov.
And there are other measures — via the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED): https://mn.gov/deed/newscenter/covid/employers/ (e.g. sales tax grace and unemployment insurance).
Q: How are you communicating with the members of the SouthWest Metro Chamber of Commerce as it applies to COVID-19?
A: We’re communicating with members via email, phone calls, our website, and social media. Also, we’ll be incorporating more video meeting technology to accommodate members and our communities going forward.
Q: Have members of the chamber been reaching out to you and your office this week? What questions and concerns do they have?
A: We’ve had some members contact us with questions or updates regarding their hours, adjusted services, etc. Their concerns primarily were regarding the status of our events. Recently, some of our restaurants have called to update us on their hours and services. We’ve also received a lot of responses from members taking advantage of our “free marketing offer” in our email newsletter.
Q: Do you know of any specific businesses or types of businesses most impacted by the crisis?
A: Most people are aware of those businesses such as restaurants, bars, retailers, hotels, venues/attractions, churches, and schools that have been affected; however, the COVID-19 situation has also now changed the way various health providers are able to schedule people and what services can still be done or will have to be postponed.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted the internal workings of the chamber?
A: Our chamber staff is working hard to help support our members and communities. We are tracking the impact of the Coronavirus on our businesses and communities: the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce (MCC) and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) daily provide us with updated information and relevant resources. We’re sharing that information with our businesses, answering their questions, and working hard to assist them during this situation. We’re encouraging people to shop locally now more than ever ... we're all in this together — we want to help our businesses and communities succeed.
Q: In what ways does a crisis like this change the role of the chamber?
A: The chamber’s role is to help our members and the business community as a whole, navigate this crisis. Their businesses impact the lives of every citizen in our communities.
Q: What can residents do to support local businesses at a time like this?
A: We’re all in this together. Our community residents can show their support by shopping locally, now more than ever. Ways this can be done include buying gift cards or services in advance, doing pick up or taking advantage of delivery, shopping locally online, and making sure to follow local businesses via social media and their websites — to share within their own spheres of influence and their networks.
Q: What experiences have you had that have helped you in taking on this challenge of COVID-19?
A: My leadership experience includes higher education administration/employer — community relations, as well as time spent in government/nonprofits and corporate retail/sales. In each role and industry, I’ve always strived to make a difference in people’s lives. Serving our Chamber of Commerce members and communities is an honor, and when things get tough it’s even more critical to do whatever we can to assist our businesses, residents, and community partners.