How Can Companies Be Good Corporate Citizens In A Rising Pandemic?
As small-business owners across the country struggle to stay afloat, Americans are increasingly looking locally to see how they can save and protect the shops and restaurants that tie their communities together.
To reinvigorate business infrastructure during an unprecedented pandemic, towns and regions are turning to a somewhat old-fashioned strategy: chambers of commerce and other local business consortiums.
Chambers of commerce are often better known for sponsoring local parades on Memorial Day than for helping businesses survive challenging times, but in the right hands, some business leaders think they can be powerful engines for economic recovery and change.
“It might sound like an outdated mold, but if there were ever a time that our communities needed rebuilding and for people to get involved in a chamber-of-commerce-type model, that time is now,” said John Parker, co-founder and CEO of Parker Brown Construction, a general contractor based in Canoga Park, California, and a member of the board of directors for the Valley Economic Alliance, which is part of the United Chambers of Commerce, a business consortium that represents Southern California’s San Fernando Valley.
“The help should be something more substantive than just volunteering at a soup kitchen once a year. It has to be real corporate citizenship,” he said.
In the last three months, Parker said, the Valley Economic Alliance has received an influx of requests for assistance from local business owners but has also seen a marked rise in businesses and individuals reaching out to see how they can assist others, either through donations or business advice.
According to Parker, chambers of commerce can fill a gap in the national recovery effort by helping businesses that weren’t able to benefit from government stimulus programs, either because they did not qualify, or simply because they don’t have the back-office bandwidth to apply for funding through the Paycheck Protection Program.
For businesses like nail salons, small grocers and restaurants, chambers of commerce and groups like the Alliance can be a way to connect with established leaders in the community to get advice about running a business during a time of crisis, filing for paycheck assistance, or to make their needs heard in the larger local culture.
“They need to know how to get their business growing again,” Parker said. “We can give them advice on how to make the pivot to a more online presence, bring in new customers and work within the community to help create more jobs and prosperity.”
Parker suggested that a series of roundtables on resilience in the face of the current pandemic, focusing on strategies to drive new business, is one way that established businesses can make sure they are giving back to their neighbors and communities.
Business consortia may also be able to play a vital role in the fall as children return to learning outside the classroom. With Los Angeles schools not opening at the start of the school year, children will need to need to attend class remotely. But many families in the San Fernando Valley lack the devices they need for their children to participate in virtual learning.
“Maybe your business has been hanging on to a number of old computers that you can donate,” Parker said. “Or you might even have the ability to give away tablets or phones that the children can use — that could change a life in the fall.”
Businesses looking to make a difference in their communities may also be able to cover teachers’ costs of supplies, purchase textbooks or even fund entire disciplines, like music or technology programs. Chambers of commerce can be a fundamental link between the business community that wants to give back and where the resources actually need to go.
Parker also stressed the importance of good corporate citizenship among the real estate community, urging local CRE leaders to actively listen to local residents and businesses to see what kind of impact they can make with their investment.
“Every building is not in the middle of an ocean, it’s a community in itself,” Parker said. “People live there and work there. With every project we take on, we ask ourselves and the owners, ‘What does this building bring to the area? Does it do more than just look nice? Can it help other businesses thrive?’”
Yet the role of a chamber of commerce is not solely based around helping the business community. Parker said that one of the best ways to ensure a vibrant, thriving community in the San Fernando Valley — or any neighborhood — is to make sure that residents are proud to live there. To that end, local chambers of commerce have this year worked to honor local high school students with a socially distant graduation ceremony and planning other social events.
“A lot of people are worrying about these big companies moving out of California,” Parker said. “But we have to think on the smaller level, too, and make sure that every owner knows that this is a strong community that will help support them in their time of need.”
This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Parker Brown. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.