Chambers of commerce need the federal government to step up and help them survive the COVID-19 crisis. Not doing so could undermine a critical element of local business development and recovery potential for communities across Galveston County. And that hurts us all.
While Texas’ oldest chamber of commerce resides in Galveston, this is a statewide and national issue. Chambers, whose mission is to help small businesses grow and thrive, are at risk because of regulations excluding them from the first round of Payroll Protection Plan assistance. And as one may debate the logic, not allowing aid to those organizations that many local businesses look to for guidance and support during this crisis is absurd.
The irony here is that the government correctly provided payroll assistance to the local businesses severely damaged by the effective shutting down of the nation. But chambers of commerce, the very entities working on behalf of those local businesses, were omitted.
The result is like sending a check to a sick patient and cutting off funds to the doctor who helps to manage the patient’s health. This arrangement makes no sense, and we hope it is only oversight and not a malicious action.
But regardless, the government needs to step up now.
Galveston is home to the first chamber chartered by the state of Texas. The chamber is currently celebrating more than 175 years of serving local businesses. One cannot deny the crucial role it has played in the history of our community. Hurricanes, floods and now COVID’s impact on the local business economy only elevate the charge the chamber upholds for our community. Small businesses need the resources chambers can provide.
But Galveston’s chamber is not alone. Texas City and its team play an equally important role in a city similar, but with different challenges over the past half-century. And as Texas City is a hotbed of growth, local businesses will need assistance, guidance and the tools to succeed.
And can you imagine League City, with the county’s largest population, without a local voice for businesses? With an influx of national chains comes the opportunity for locally created enterprises to thrive in the same waters of success. And chambers, with deep ties to local business leaders and networking potential, play an essential role in their ability to succeed.
Chambers’ operating models are not unlike any other business — they need revenue to survive. Current chambers earn income from memberships, events and contributions — all under extreme pressure in this upside-down COVID world. And with continuing downward pressure on all revenue lines, chambers are facing difficult resource decisions precisely when many local businesses need them most.
COVID-19 is a game changer. And the PPP program is a highly unusual tool — one we hope never to need to deploy again after this crisis. But today, as we continue to see an uncertain business climate, we should make sure our local businesses have access to both the tools and resources they may need to navigate this crisis.
Small business is too big to fail. Let’s give local businesses the resources they need to succeed.
• Leonard Woolsey