BY MARIE PULEO | POMPANO BEACH NEWS REPORTER
POMPANO BEACH CHAMBER: As local businesses face the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, the Greater Pompano Beach Chamber of Commerce, which also serves Margate and Lighthouse Point, has been working to help them sustain their operations.
“It’s about stepping in and being a resource for the business community,” said Jean McIntyre, the Chamber’s president and CEO.
The focus has been on keeping businesses informed through a number of resources that the Chamber has pooled together.
McIntyre said she is “busier than I have ever been,” keeping up with all the executive orders that have been issued at the federal, state, county and municipal levels, and how they affect local businesses in Pompano Beach, Margate and Lighthouse Point.
The Chamber has consolidated that information on its website along with information about relief programs, so businesses can have a simple way to access what they need to do.
“We’re trying to help them pivot, and survive and thrive in this new world, which we’ve all had to do,” said McIntyre. “Because it’s new, and it’s not going back. Not like it was before.”
McIntyre said that before the COVID-19 outbreak, she put out a weekly communication via Constant Contact to all Chamber members about upcoming programming at the Chamber and other community information. Now, there are times when she sends out three updates a week because information changes so quickly due to COVID-19.
McIntyre, a former banker, has been president and CEO of the Greater Pompano Beach Chamber for two years. She also serves on the boards of numerous organizations, including the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, the Broward County Council of Chambers, the Broward County Office of Economic and Small Business Development, the Broward Partnership, the Broward Education Foundation and the Tower Forum (a nonprofit business organization made up of key players in the community).
McIntyre is also actively involved with the Pompano Beach Economic Response Team’s support and recovery efforts for the business community of Pompano Beach, and is a member of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“You can imagine there’s lots of information coming from all those places,” said McIntyre.
In addition to its website, the Greater Pompano Beach Chamber has been distributing information through its social media sites, including information to help promote member businesses.
If a small business that’s a member of the Chamber has a flyer, the Chamber will market it for a small fee to the 3,500 people in its data base. Before the coronavirus struck, this service was used by about two businesses a month. Now, almost everyone wants to get their marketing material out.
“There’s been a lot of push for things that were different than what we used to do,” said McIntyre.
The Chamber’s website has a list of all the open and active restaurants that are Chamber members, with links to their delivery services.
McIntyre recently added a section to the website that focuses only on the tourism industry, because “it has just been so devastated by this.”
The Greater Pompano Beach Chamber website also includes “safety net” information, such as the Together 4 Broward interactive map that shows the locations of all the feeding programs taking place in Broward County.
The Chamber has also been hosting virtual meetings on relevant topics for local small businesses in Pompano Beach, Lighthouse Point and Margate.
In January, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chamber had decided that its mission in 2020 would be to focus on small business initiatives. It added programming to help support their efforts, including small business training courses with content provided by other Chamber members.
These free, hour-long training courses, called the “Next Level Business Program,” were being held about twice a month in person. In April, the Chamber started offering the courses virtually, once every week. In May, the courses were offered twice a week. In June, the plan is to offer them once weekly, but if information changes rapidly, more will be added.
One of the past courses included strategies for reopening, and what businesses should think about in the next 90 days to six months as they try to move back into being operational. Another course was about cleaning procedures that businesses must follow.
“I’ll find things that as a small business owner you would need to know, but might not have at your fingertips,” said McIntyre, “and hopefully another small business owner who has expertise in that area can share it with you.”
COVID-19 has catapulted small business owners into using Zoom and other virtual tools to stay connected and market themselves, said McIntyre.
“I don’t see that changing,” said McIntyre. “I think the virtual component will remain.”
The Chamber’s four networking groups, which are typically comprised of about 15 people each, will be moving back to a live environment, although McIntyre said the Chamber will probably create a new opportunity with a virtual networking group.
McIntyre said the short-term challenge for small businesses will be funding.
“If they didn’t take, or qualify for, some type of federal assistance, they’re really going to be cash-strapped their first few months, until things can come back,” she said. “I think access to capital is going to be somewhat restricted during this recovery period.”
When Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding was first being offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Chamber hosted training programs with experienced bankers to help business owners understand the different types of loans and the tax implications.
For businesses that received PPP funding, McIntyre said the application was simple, but figuring out how to pay it back and not be penalized by it is going to be hard. The Chamber will run training programs to help businesses navigate that aspect.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, McIntyre “was on every political phone call I could get on” with U.S. senators and representatives from Florida, to make sure the Chamber had all the information and could ask relevant questions about what initiatives were being planned, and when they were going to be rolled out.
A new countywide initiative that McIntyre is involved with is “I Love Local 2020,” through the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the public-private economic development arm for Broward County. The initiative is getting ready to launch, and will encourage the whole county to pull together and support the local economy.
“I think the big takeaway is there are a lot of resources for the business community out there, and maybe resources they didn’t think they needed before,” said McIntyre.
“It’s going to be a matter of adapting and changing and being flexible,” she added. “Anyone who’s too stuck in a rut is going to have a hard time.”
While small businesses are trying to figure out everything they have to do to survive, the Greater Pompano Beach Chamber is there “to advocate for them and provide a voice for them,” said McIntyre.
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