by Teri Coutu

Membership Services Chair, Board of Directors

As we sit in the middle of our first quarter of 2021, there is still a heaviness surrounding our businesses, not to mention our country, as we continue to fight the Coronavirus and the various social and political challenges at hand. However, in spite of the issues we face, your Chamber Board continues to be optimistic of the opportunities ahead!

2020 was an incredibly stressful year for everyone, and when you consider the fact that we, the  Chamber, had anticipated revenues of more than $215K, and brought in less than $75K – we can honestly say that we feel your pain. However, as you’ll soon see when we release our 2020 Annual Report, your Chamber continued to work hard to meet the changing needs of our local business and community members. 

While I don’t want to spoil the fun of reading (and watching) the 2020 Annual Report when it’s released, I think it’s important to reflect on some of the highlights from last year that served our members.

COVID Information & Resources. We worked very hard to keep members informed of current COVID statuses including:

  • Local, state, and federal orders and policies
  • Cases, data, and surveillance information
  • Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other funding and support opportunities for small businesses 
  • Development of Gift Card program to support local businesses
  • Distribution of Ingles gift cards to support local community members who were furloughed/unemployed due to COVID.

Economic Development. While many communications were interrupted, the Chamber Board and Committee members continued to work on projects that would support economic development in the area including:

  • Negotiations and planning for the West Side Connector
  • Researching Private and Federal Grants 
  • Shoulder season expansion ideas and plans
  • Development of Lake Lure Town Center

Local Community Engagement. We continued efforts to provide information and engage community members through:

  • Hosting two public forums to discuss present and future needs and goals for the Hickory Nut Gorge.
  • Providing two candidate forums for open Town Council positions
  • Development of “Light Up The Gorge” Christmas tree lighting and community activities to create a socially-distance-safe holiday activity

Membership Services. While social distancing made it challenging to offer Re-Charges, ribbon cuttings, and other group activities, we developed new forms of communication to educate, involve, and promote our members including:

  • Developing Chamber Chat on Facebook. Sometimes live, sometimes pre-recorded, Chamber Chat provides interviews, workshops, discussions, member spotlights and other activities to highlight and help our businesses and community.
  • COVID Business Survey. We interviewed several local businesses during COVID to help understand and address their concerns and challenges. The video report is on the Chamber’s Facebook and YouTube channel.

These are just a few of the activities we were involved in last year – even under the financial and social distancing restrictions brought about by COVID. For 2021, our goals are set even higher! As mentioned in our last article, this year we are embarking on a plan to brand and market the Gorge as an Outdoor Community. As we focus on the natural assets that surround us, there is an amazing opportunity to further develop the Hickory Nut Gorge as an outdoor destination where people can enjoy hiking, boating, bouldering, and so much more right outside our doorsteps. 

While it is hard to predict what 2021 will bring, your Chamber is devoted to investing our time and energy into activities that will benefit the community at large. If you are committed to helping create a successful future here, we hope you will submit/renew your membership and join us. Together, we can accomplish anything!