How Abilene Chamber Works to Keep Local Economy Open During the Pandemic
Updated: Feb 28
As Connector-in-Chief at Connector Street, I have the tremendous privilege of speaking to and working with Chamber of Commerce leaders across the country. Chamber leaders are passionate about helping their member businesses succeed, particularly during these challenging times. Rarely, however, has saving lives been part of a Chamber’s critical mission. But in Abilene, Texas, it is.
Like many cities across the U.S., Covid is surging in the City of Abilene and Taylor county. The predicament is dire. At the time of this writing, no ICU beds are available at the community’s three hospital locations, and seven Abilene citizens had succumbed to the disease over the last 10 days. According to Hendrick Health System which provides health care to Abilene and the surrounding area, Texas is on a trajectory to trigger a roll back to more restrictive guidelines which would negatively impact businesses.
“Abilene is a West Texas enclave driven by our own grit and determination. We can’t watch our neighbors’ houses burn down,” says Doug Peters, President & CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is the first responder to the business community, Doug explains. “We need to help keep our people healthy and our economy healthy,” he continues.
Early on, the Chamber sought to change behaviors to tamp down Covid spread. The Chamber promoted the COVID-19 Compliant Business Partner Pledge, pursuant to which members agreed to engage in anti-Covid practices at their places of business. At the time of this writing, 180 business members had signed the pledge and were listed on the Chamber website.
The Chamber created a process for connecting their business members to key resources. But they didn’t just aggregate Covid-related resources, they vetted and verified each one.
The Chamber became the hub of a spoke and wheel system to connect Chamber members and front-line workers with needed supplies, such as PPE. “We work 24/7,” says Doug of himself and members of his staff.
The Chamber also launched a campaign in support of the community’s healthcare workers, organizing gift packages for frontline workers, and creating events, such as drive-in movie nights, for healthcare workers.
Just last week, Abilene Mayor Anthony Williams called a meeting of community leaders about the seriousness of the Covid situation. According to Doug, the message was clear. “We are out of ammo. The fight isn’t over. We need your help.”
Doug, along with 13 other community leaders, signed on to a letter in full support of the Mayor and the medical community to encourage everyone to practice the most effective anti-Covid strategies.
As the voice of the business community, the Abilene Chamber has endeavored to communicate that everyone must do their part to restrict the spread of this deadly disease. Doug explains that, although they have gotten some pushback, the Chamber has a responsibility to keep the economy open which means wearing masks and keeping in-person meetings to a minimum.
If the schools are shut down, then moms and dads can’t go to work.
If the ICU beds are full, then people who get hurt on the job are unable to get the treatment they need.
Doug and his fellow community leaders see a grim future if Covid cannot be controlled. “We are all working together to save lives, of course, but also we are trying to prevent a government-mandated shutdown. We have to take the bull by the horns,” he says “The business community can get it done,” Doug offers confidently. “We don’t wait for people to help us. We do it ourselves.”
Chambers of commerce have long served the role of super-connector in their communities, connecting members to each other and to opportunities for growth and success. Chambers are part of the connective tissue of the community, whether at the local, regional, or national level, bringing together leaders from government, education, healthcare and private industry, among others.
During the pandemic, the stakes have never been higher. From the very beginning, the Abilene Chamber has risen to the occasion to keep its members safe and their economy open.
It may seem like common sense to take this type of approach. But from where I sit, it is extraordinary.
Andrea Tinianow is a Delaware attorney and founder of the Connector Street app. Andrea is a frequent speaker and Forbes author on a range of topics related to making connections, innovation, blockchain technology and the law. Watch Andrea’s TedX talk on The Power of Making Connections or connect with her on LinkedIn.