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.
It has been a long work weekend prepping for our annual Economic Summit event that will be taking place virtually this Tuesday, October 27th but I wanted to take a minute to send you a note on what we have been working on for the past few weeks at the chamber.
Quickly…the sprint to the holidays and Q4 hustle is upon us and our team has been working hard on several priorities, but here are three I will share with you today (see below for more information on these topics):
A bit more on these three things…
While business have been busy navigating a global pandemic and complying with new regulations, Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been working on updates to administrative rules that may significantly impact businesses across our state. These rule changes are technical, so bear with me.
Under current law for an employer to be liable for a serious violation, OR-OSHA must prove that the employer knew or could have known of the violation. It is a fault-based system. However, in its most recent rules proposal for employer responsibility, OR-OSHA proposes defining “reasonable diligence” to change Oregon’s fault-based system to a strict liability system which could make it easier for OR-OSHA to win a contested case. Additionally, through a separate rulemaking on penalties, the agency is seeking to grant OR-OSHA’s Administrator unfettered discretion to impose maximum penalties on businesses up to $135,382.
The three main issues we have found with these rule changes:
Without strong opposition or feedback, OR-OSHA could adopt these rule changes at the end of October. Oregon’s businesses are already under immense pressure from OR-OSHA and are struggling to stay afloat during COVID-19. We are working to encourage businesses to weigh in on these two rule changes.
Consider weighing on these rules by Friday, October 30th:
To Comment: Department of Consumer and Business Services/Oregon OSHA
350 Winter Street NE
Salem OR 97301-3882 E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
Fax – 503-947-7461
Comment period closes: October 30, 2020
Our annual Economic Summit will take place this Tuesday, October 27th and we would love to have you in attendance. We will hear from our keynote speaker, Rebecca Ryan, who is a futurist and an economist and has done work with communities across the country on how to prepare for future economic changes. Next we will hear from Henry Fields, a state workforce analyst about the economic impacts of COVID-19 on Lane County.
In addition to those two economist presentations we will have 5 “lightning talks” on key industry and economic activities in technology, food and beverage, wood products, bio-science, and entrepreneurism and innovation. We will then hear from a panel of small business owners about the challenges and opportunities they are facing.
Next attendees will have an opportunity to choose from 4 breakout sessions on healthcare & COVID-19, homelessness in Lane County, our housing crisis, and the economic impacts of diversity, equity and inclusion work in our community.
Last we will launch our new RISE Executive Leadership Institute and hear closing remarks from Eugene City Manager, Sarah Medary on how we can move our economy forward.
I hope you will join us!
While we have seen the permanent closure of tens of thousands of small and large businesses across the country due to the impacts of COVID-19, a glimmer of hope can be found in startup activity across the country as well. Since the crisis began, Americans are starting new businesses at the fastest rate in more than a decade, taking advantage of pent-up demand and new opportunities created by the crisis. We want to do our part to help these startup businesses succeed.
Under the leadership of Managing Director, Matt Sayre, Onward Eugene started EUG Launchpad this fall. It is a 12-week virtual program that helps entrepreneurs by providing them with a step-by-step method to develop their business model and their product ideas. The program is supplemented with interviews of successful local founders who discuss their startup journey and lessons learned, as well with guest instructors with expertise in financial modeling; business structure, contract and intellectual property law; raising capital; and pitching to investors. The Fall 2020 cohort is comprised of nine startup companies in a variety of traded sector industries, led by facilitator and entrepreneur, Jeremy Green.
Thank you for following along on a heavy update. I appreciate your engagement and hope you have a great week!
Checking-in with you all tonight with my second “Quick Note”: a brief, informal update on the work of the chamber over the past few weeks.
Quickly…Our team is constantly juggling many issues and priorities, but my focus for the past two weeks has centered around three main topics:
I’ll share a bit more on those things...
I was glad to see our Lane County Commissioners, with the leadership of our County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky, have a productive and reasonable conversation this week about how our community should approach the increase in COVID cases in our county. When faced with the option of requesting from the Governor’s office that Lane County go back to “Phase One” they opted not to take that step, but to take a more nuanced, data driven approach.
We have been advocating that this be the approach as the data is showing our case increase is primarily coming from social gatherings (of all ages) not from restaurants and retail establishments which were hit hard by the phased regulations this Spring. Unfortunately, that does not mean we are out of the woods as the Governor’s office can add our county to the statewide watch list and mandate that we return to phase one if our cases continue to increase. We are working at the state level to advocate for a nuanced approach as well. If we are forced to scale back business operations and community activities, those regulations need to be driven by the data and information we now know about the virus- which is much more robust than what we knew this past Spring. The moral of the story is, if we want to keep people safe and businesses open, we need to take this seriously, scale back social gatherings and not let this virus get out of hand in our county.
Yesterday in my regular check-in with Sarah Medary, the Eugene City Manager, we had a good discussion about our regional economic development strategy and the importance of a tactical plan to not only help us recover from the economic impacts of COVID but to proactively put our community on a path to improve our business climate and individual prosperity. While Sarah is still relatively new in her position in an official capacity, she is not new to this community and I can confidently say that I believe she gets it. Strong businesses and good paying jobs is the way to build ourselves long-term out of the immediate issues facing our community like homelessness and our housing shortage. Prioritizing economic development is how we “move up stream”, if you will, and I am hopeful that we are making significant strides in our goal to focus the community on this work. We have a lot of work ahead of us but it’s worth it and we’re up for it. More to come on that front soon.
Lastly, in conversations with executives over the past few years I have heard over and over again that one challenge they face in their business is finding the time and budget to train mid-level and executive level employees to be better managers and company leaders. I am excited to announce that at this year’s Economic Summit, among an agenda that will highlight the state of our local economy , we will be rolling out a new “executive leadership program” that will provide affordable, scalable management and leadership training for businesses across our community. We will be using a digital platform with hundreds of leadership training modules that will be paired with facilitated discussions on how to use the tools in real-life situations. Over the past two months we have been piloting the program with 14 local CEO’s and executives and have benefitted greatly from their feedback and input on the program. More to come in the next few weeks, but I am really excited about this program and the possibility it has to improve leadership capacity across our community.
If you haven’t yet, please consider registering for our virtual Economic Summit on October 27th. Our speakers and agenda will be announced next week.
That is plenty for this Friday evening. Enjoy your weekend and, as always, please do not hesitate to reach out if there is anything we can do for you or your business!
It is hard to believe that it is almost the end of September, but honestly, I can’t quite tell if that is because it feels like it should be the middle of 2021 by now or that I feel like it was just February. This year, I think it’s a little of both.
With Q4 around the corner, I don’t know about you, but I am seeing the clock-tick on some of my 2020 goals that were put on the back burner when our world flipped upside down in March. While I am holding my breath for the next challenge that 2020 will bring, I am working to reset this quarter and do what we can to end the year strong.
One of those goals was to be in touch, with all of you, more often. While I work to schedule one-on-one zoom appointments or socially distant coffee meetups, I want to also keep you all updated regularly on the work of the chamber in our community. So, I will be sending you all a “Quick Note” (pun intended) every couple of weeks with information on our advocacy and economic development efforts, updates on my meetings with local officials, and insights to the challenges and opportunities I see facing our business community.
My hope is that this can be a conversation. I will keep my notes informal and I may editorialize here or there. I look forward to your feedback and opinions on things that I share, topics that interest you and challenges you are facing. While I strive for excellence, I have yet to achieve perfection. So, I appreciate your grace and advice as I launch in to my fourth year as CEO at the Eugene Chamber and continue to navigate the nuances of representing a wonderfully diverse and dynamic membership.
As I am quickly exceeding my wordcount for a “quick” note I will get on to the updates...
Monday night, the Eugene Chamber attended another “zoom” city council meeting for a marathon testimony night on multiple business issues. We spoke in favor of land use zone changes that will enable a new facility and expansion for Sheppard Motors in East Eugene. We also testified in favor of a modernization to our city sign codes that will allow digital billboards and open up affordable advertising opportunities to businesses across the community. In public hearing number three of the night, we supported moving forward with an RFP to redevelop and build mixed-use housing at 1059 Willamette, the site of the old LCC building. Council will make a final vote on each of these issues in the weeks to come.
This week, we were happy to partner with Bushnell University and childcare providers across the community to relaunch our “Committed to Community” webinar series with presentations on managing your mental health in times of crisis, and childcare solutions for the Fall. If you missed the webinars, you can view them on our Facebook page or on our website here.
Lastly, after an exhausting two weeks of rapid emergency response activities, the Holiday Farm fire containment is slowly improving, and the reality of the long-term impacts are starting to set in. Over the past two weeks the Eugene Chamber has been working closely with regional partners on emergency response activities and coordination. If you answered a call or late-night text from me, one of our staff or someone else in the county with an ask for boxes, food, safety vests, forklifts, storage space or rooms for evacuees — thank you. To our hotels who have pulled off a herculean effort to house nearly 900 evacuees with only hours notice – thank you. To our wood products and timber industry partners who lent staff and equipment and expertise to our public sector partners when you didn’t have to risk your safety or well-being – thank you. Thank you to all of you for stepping up when you were likely already struggling yourself. Every one of you make this community worth fighting for every day.
Next week we are excited to host our 5th annual Young Professionals Summit, virtually, on Tuesday, September 29th. If you have staff that haven’t registered, there is still time to do that here. Additionally, many of our staff will also be attending a 3-day, virtual conference for the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives where we will hear best practices from around the country and talk about what the future of chambers may look like.
If you are like me and are constantly struggling to dig yourself out of an avalanche of emails, and one more email is the last thing you need right now, please let me know and I am happy to take you off the list. No hard feelings. If you know of someone who you think would like this update, let me know and I am happy to include them.
I look forward to continuing this conversation with all of you.