Q&A: Tysons Chamber chair stresses nimbleness in pandemic response

Andrew Clark took over in July 2020 as the new board chairman of the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce. 

As the pandemic drags on, the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce is exploring different methods – from holding safety-conscious gatherings to encouraging intra-industry support – to help member companies survive.

The chamber now is focusing on “business verticals” that encourage companies in complementary industries to purchase services from each other, said Andrew Clark, the chamber’s new board chairman. The chamber’s “Connections That Matter” initiative also will use networking to shore up members’ vendors, he said.

“Let’s pause on the competition and come together,” Clark said during an Oct. 14 town-hall meeting with members and non-members via the Web.

The chamber has been highlighting recent changes in the local marketplace and how some companies have altered their approach to meet them. For example, to offset the recent sharp downturn in business travel, extended-stay hotel Staybridge Suites Tysons-McLean has begun marketing itself to construction firms as a place where out-of-town employees can stay and avoid long commutes while working on projects, Clark said.

Chamber leaders on July 18 held the business organization’s first live, in-person event of the pandemic. About 15 people were able to converse on the high-up veranda of the Tower Club in Tysons.

The club, which according to Clark is “almost a sister organization,” had participants follow guidelines from a 40-page safety document. These included wearing face masks, signing COVID waivers and having their temperatures checked.

Safety also was paramount at the chamber’s Aug. 19 Summer Soirée, which served self-contained dishes touched by only one other person.

The chamber’s membership grew by 16, or about 10 percent, in September, and it expects similar growth in October, said Clark, who in July succeeded Tucker Gladhill as chamber chairman.

The Sun Gazette later asked Clark about the local business climate.

Have businesses been doing more in-kind trades during the pandemic to help each other and lower costs?

“We aren’t aware of member-to-member in-kind transactions, as we don’t track them. However, several chamber members have done exceptional work for the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce and we take special care to highlight that good work within the membership.

For example, Reggie Holmes of Enthuse Creative created designs for Tysons Restaurant Week, Rassi Borneo of TimeLine Media contributed beautiful photos of delicious food and gorgeous restaurants, and Ata Birol of Childress Agency gave us a fun social-media campaign. Finally, Joe Hu of AlphaGraphics Tysons printed signage at cost. All volunteered their time and expertise to make Tysons Restaurant Week a huge success. It’s the kind of community action we encourage at the chamber, and it helps our members make connections that matter for their businesses.”

What advice do you have for people who are considering opening businesses during the pandemic?

“Look for the pain in the marketplace now and see if you can solve it. Try to find natural alignment with business partners that help you better find and serve your target customers. In the chamber, we have created several affinity groups of businesses that serve the same or similar customers.

We have a Buildings Affinity group that includes businesses that provide services like recycling old paint, resurfacing parking lots, water-damage remediation and commercial landscaping. These businesses all serve commercial buildings. They can share best practice, refer each other and promote each other to clients that will likely need these services – if not today, one day – and in the process they all have a stronger business. They rise as a team.”

Is the chamber helping members apply for CARES Act funds, Fairfax RISE grants or other sources of financial aid?

“The chamber doesn’t do this assistance directly, but does have members and partners who do. When the pandemic hit, we immediately pivoted to take all our in-person events online and we reformatted the content with speakers from the federal, state and local governments to talk about available resources. We offered a Webinar to hear the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Town Hall. We participated with other chambers to offer a live [question-and-answer session] with Fairfax County officials who spoke about local programs, the CARES Act and [Payroll Protection Program] grants and loan polices.

We also had knowledgeable chamber members speaking on pertinent topics, such as a webinar titled ‘Contracting in the Time of COVID – How to Get In and How to Get Out.’ We partnered with Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to promote their Working in Northern Virginia program’s job-matching efforts to help connect those looking for a job with area companies that are still hiring during the pandemic.”

Is there any critical mass building among business groups to press the government to end these lockdowns?

“Tysons Chamber and other area chambers do collaborate to monitor and advocate for issues in state government that impact our business and non-profit members. To date, there is no collaborative or consensus effort to end lockdowns. We all want to return to a fully thriving economy that is unencumbered, but of course we also want safety for all.”

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

 

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