Leaders of local business organizations say they will continue in the new year to help local companies overcome with pandemic-related challenges.
“All of our actions and policies in 2021 are about putting people back to work, ensuring a strong talent pipeline for businesses to grow and ensuring that the amazing and diverse workforce in our region accelerates the coming economic recovery,” said Julie Coons, president and CEO of he Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
Two key factors in that success formula: vaccinating the public and continuing to invest in ways that help companies build, attract and retain skilled talent, Coons said. The chamber in 2021 also will urge that governmental resources be applied to education at all levels, as well as key workforce-development programs in Virginia, she said.
“We will also remain focused on ensuring policy makers don’t lose sight of medium- and long-term goals such as transportation, taxes/regulations and the cost of doing business,” Coons said.
The chamber’s 2021 legislative agenda urges Gov. Northam to use his emergency powers to implement health remedies – such as contact tracing, rapid testing, social distancing and mask usage – but only restrict people’s movement and close down large numbers of businesses rapidly if those health measures fail.
Chamber officials also hope that Virginia’s temporary workplace-safety standards, adopted during the pandemic, will expire when governor lifts his emergency declaration. The organization’s legislative package asks General Assembly members to create a process that better engages with stakeholders when such rules are being promulgated.
The chamber’s legislative agenda also supports funding for a dedicated relief program for rents and mortgages, but opposes new eviction moratoria, which would “only serve to exacerbate the problem without providing lasting relief to tenants or landlords.”
Elsewhere in Northern Virginia, 2021 plans for the Vienna Business Association (VBA) and Greater Merrifield Business Association (GMBA) still are up in the air because of the pandemic, said Peggy James, who serves as executive director of both organizations.
“We will have exciting stuff coming up at both [groups], but nothing is set in stone right now,” she said. “We do have big plans for 2021 and we will continue to support our members the best way possible.”
One key VBA priority will be lining up sponsors for Oktoberfest and holding the event in some form this year. The pandemic forced the cancellation of last fall’s event.
“Even if it needs to be socially distanced, we’re not going to go for two years” without holding Oktoberfest, James said.
VBA leaders aim to return to a normal schedule as much and as soon as possible, James said. The organization picked up 30 new members last year, she said. That success mirrors 2020 membership gains by a rival organization, the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s pretty shocking. We’ve had a really good year,” James said. “We want to give people the best bang for their buck.”
VBA will continue to forge ahead this spring the way it has throughout the pandemic, with programs promoting businesses, including not only member companies but those that do not belong to the association as well, James said.
GMBA, however, did not fare as well last year, James said. Unlike Vienna, a long-established town, Merrifield only in recent years has seen an explosion of mixed-use growth.
“They don’t have the community over there like Vienna has a community,” James said of GMBA. “We have had no new members all year long, so we are struggling . . . We are planning for spring and looking for ways to engage the community. We are improving our e-mail content and doing short articles on different businesses around Merrifield.”
Because of the pandemic, James said, the new autonomous shuttle bus in Merrifield can only have four passengers (including the driver, who is being carried while the pilot project is underway).
“I haven’t seen a lot of people on it, but it’s great,” she said. “It just runs all the time.”
James urged the public to continue supporting local restaurants, especially through the winter months, when outdoor dining’s appeal diminishes.
“January and February are going to be brutal on restaurants,” she said. “Doing curbside pickup and stuff like that is so critical and will save a restaurant.”
Vienna benefits from an active “foodies” group that promotes local restaurants, but Merrifield does not have a similar organization, James said.
“There have been lots of really great restaurants that have gone under,” she said. “I hate to see that happen.”