We are facing unprecedented times. Everyone has felt the pain and impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing and business restrictions related to it. Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce business operations such as RBA Staffing and background screening are fully operational remotely but have started to decline as expected. Many businesses are seeing a similar decline and employees are finding themselves out of work. I decided to postpone all Rochester Chamber dues invoices and service billings until further notice so as not to add to the pain that everyone is experiencing. We want to give our members and customers the necessary time to recover.
On the other side of that, I am proud to say that Rochester Chamber has gone into a 24/7 customer service operation to help our members and the entire business community navigate uncharted waters. We are working to help businesses understand the many programs available to them through the local, state, and federal governments as well as connecting businesses with resources and each other across our community. Many of our members do not have a dedicated human resources staff, and our HR Helpline has become a go-to for the many questions related to personnel issues generated by the pandemic and response.
This is why I believe that membership in a chamber of commerce like ours does matter. We are by far the largest chamber in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region. We have the relationships and opportunities to answer questions and access elected officials. In a crisis like this, facts and information are crucial. We cannot communicate enough. The entire business community, regardless of membership, is welcome to use the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Resources for Business page at www.GreaterRochesterChamber.com. The page contains links to financial assistance, HR help, advice from law firms, community and social services, health resources, and much more. We are constantly updating with the latest information.
Earlier, I mentioned the pain caused by the pandemic. Every day, it’s heartbreaking. Every day, we’re hearing about companies that are shutting down or laying off part or all of their workforce. Some companies are hiring, however, and Rochester Chamber is working closely with partners at Monroe County, Greater Rochester Enterprise, and RochesterWorks to connect them with job seekers. For those out of work, unemployment claims have skyrocketed, almost paralyzing the current system. As people face the uncertainty of their health, they’re also facing this huge economic uncertainty. Some businesses have already determined that they cannot recover from this.
As painful as it is, when you see the stories of families losing loved ones to the pandemic, who can’t be with those loved ones in their last days and hours, the health care workers on the front lines watching people die and working tirelessly to save others bring hope in a dark time. They are the heroes. They put their own health at risk every day to serve us. So while I’m proud of what Rochester Chamber and other community partners are doing to help business, it really pales in comparison to what others are doing. They are encouraging us and keeping us going.
As far as the overall community response, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has done an extraordinary job leading the state. He has risen as a model of leadership in a crisis. I had the honor of serving as Gov. Cuomo’s lieutenant governor for four years and saw first-hand these same leadership behaviors in floods, hurricanes, and other crises. The state is in great hands with him at the helm. Locally, Congressman Joe Morelle, County Executive Adam Bello, and County Health Commissioner Dr. Mike Mendoza have all done an extraordinary job. They have boots on the ground every day and communicate regularly with us. Congressman Morelle has participated in a weekly Rochester Chamber webinar to explain the federal response, Adam Bello has launched interest-free small business loans, and Dr. Mendoza is our Dr. Fauci, at the forefront sharing facts every day.
On the business front, I cannot begin to count the number of companies that have contacted Rochester Chamber to offer help in manufacturing medical gear, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and other critical items in the fight against the coronavirus. I am so proud of our members and companies that have reconfigured their operations to produce things that we need now. It’s a demonstration of the spirit of public service and innovation. People have risen to the occasion everywhere. Never doubt the innate goodness of people.
We have a long road ahead of us. This crisis is not going to end anytime soon. I believe we’ll be in this situation deep into May and possibly into June. At some point it is going to abate, but in the meantime, we must mentally prepare for the social distancing and business restrictions mode for a while. We have to protect our health and protect our community. There will be more pain. Unemployment will rise. More businesses will be impacted.
As difficult as this is, we must remember that together, we are going to get through this and come out of it stronger. Let’s hang in there and do the best we can to help each other. As a community, as a state, as a country, what makes us great is how we react in these kinds of circumstances. The spirit of this community is something of which I am very proud. Crises don’t make individuals, organizations, and communities, but a crisis does show what we are made of. By that standard, the Rochester region stands tall.
Robert J. Duffy is president and CEO of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at rduffy@GreaterRochesterChamber.com.