I can hardly believe it is already December. I’ve spent a lot of time this week reflecting on what we have accomplished in 2020 and planning for 2021. Comparing our plan from last December to what we achieved this year is almost comical. Many of our priorities, obviously, shifted but the sheer amount of work we completed was impressive given reduced staffing and funding, remote work and plenty of outside-of-work stressors staring us down.
I will share more of what we were all able to accomplish together, as a business community, in the coming weeks. For now, here is a quick note on a few things we are focused on (see below for more on these topics):
A bit more on a couple of these things…
We have heard rumors of a potential special session being called at the state to discuss additional support and relief in light of COVID-19. We are currently working with local restaurant owners and the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association on a few priority policies we hope they will consider: legislation that would allow restaurants to serve “to go” cocktails, and legislation that would temporarily cap fees that can be charged by third party food delivery companies. We have heard from our restaurant industry that these two items would substantially assist in reducing the burden caused by shut down orders.
Additionally, we are tracking closely the budget conversation that will play out in the 2021 legislative session. This past week, Governor Brown released her budget proposal which included $300 million in new tax revenue and a roughly 8% increase in spending. While we have a trusted process for reviewing policies and taking positions on behalf of the chamber, I can say that we have heard loud and clear from our members that now is not the time for new taxes on our struggling businesses. We will be working closely with statewide business advocates to push for cost containment and cutting of expenses as our baseline for any shortfall. Any specific tax policies will be vetted carefully before we take an official position.
We have enjoyed meeting with several of our chamber “Legacy Investors” and interested parties about the work of the Eugene Chamber and getting to know their priorities for 2021. Legacy Investors are those companies who have generously gone above and beyond their membership investment to provide an additional investment in the strategic work of the chamber. Those investors are recognized year-round for their commitment and are given unique opportunities to get their business message out to our broader membership. We are incredibly grateful for the continued financial support and involvement of these incredible members.
At the same time, Matt Sayre, our managing director for our newly launched economic development 501c3 and I have been meeting with key business leaders about the work of Onward Eugene. Onward is focused on work in four areas: regional marketing & business recruitment, business retention and expansion, supporting startup businesses, and talent & leadership development. If you are interested in meeting with us about this strategic work and getting to know more about Onward Eugene or our Legacy Investor opportunities, please let me know and we are happy to schedule a brief zoom chat!
Today the Governor announced in a press conference that she anticipates the first round of vaccines being delivered to Oregon by December 15th. Of course, we know it will be a limited supply accessible to our healthcare workers first, but I couldn’t help but sigh a little bit in relief that there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.
I hope you all are staying healthy.
In the past year, our chamber members and staff have experienced more challenges than some of us have seen in a decade—or for others—a lifetime. Those challenges came in the shape of temporary closures, strict health regulations, battling obstacles on the home-front of virtual learning, sick family members and financial burden. Now here is where you think I insert some line about how enduring these challenges will make us all stronger. While I do think that is true, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it has also made us all more tired and concerned, and anxious as well.
As I contemplate how I am going to find the energy to take on the work of 2021, I find myself reminiscing about the past twelve months and doing my best to look for a silver lining. How far have we come? What have I learned that I want to bring with me in this pursuit for a better normal? Spoiler alert: the lessons are aplenty. Here are a few that will stick with me.
Admit that we have room to grow.
Managing an organization during a pandemic is harder than anything I could have imagined. Add the layers of social unrest and political tension and it feels downright impossible at times. As a relatively new CEO, I didn’t have a ton of prior experience to lean on when it came to dealing with the stress and complicated logistics we have navigated this year, but I am not sure even the most seasoned leaders would claim they were adequately prepared. What I have learned in the past six months would have taken me years in a normal environment, and yet I still have room to grow.
Strive to be proactive.
In a world that feels stuck in “reactive mode,” we have had to push ourselves to find where we can be proactive. For us, that meant taking our role as community leaders seriously when it came to shifting to a virtual, work-from-home world; encouraging businesses and community members to wear masks and follow safety protocols, speaking out about racial injustice and criminal behavior, and proactively reaching out to our business community to provide advice and guidance on navigating the challenges of this year. We stood up for businesses when they needed help and we pulled together business leaders when the community needed them.
Focus on what we can control.
More than one time during the wild ride that has been my first three years as a CEO, I have felt engulfed in chaos. Everywhere I turned was another challenge that felt beyond my experience and out of my control. Thanks to great mentors in my corner, I was encouraged early to “focus on what I could control.” How am I treating my people? How am I taking care of myself? How are we showing up for our members? Focusing on those things helped us grow closer as a staff and helped us connect and provide support for our members on a level we have never been able to in the past. Those questions helped bring purpose and clarity to our role in this pandemic.
We know things will not be going back to the “way they always were.” That reality is worth both mourning and celebrating. There are things that we will miss desperately and others that have desperately needed to change. The work ahead feels daunting, but after this year, I think we have many reasons to be hopeful for what we are capable of accomplishing together.