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Board Chair Message: What a long, strange trip it’s been

Well, I guess you wouldn’t expect the Round Rock Chamber Chair for 2020 to begin an article about the Chamber’s accomplishments for the year by quoting Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, but I just can’t get this line out of my head: “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been”.

In January, our leadership team excitedly began implementation of an aggressive operations plan. A tremendous amount of discussion and work went into designing a plan that would best drive economic growth and prosperity in the region for all businesses and citizens.

Early on, we realized that many aspects of our plan would not be appropriate or even possible because of the anticipation and then reality of the pandemic. Our board, committee, and council meetings quickly moved to Zoom and we all learned the importance of the “mute” button.  We initially were forced to cancel events until our wonderful staff designed ways for us to effectively hold events virtually. Our Power Lunches, our first Future Focus Business Conference and even the Taste of Round Rock became virtual events. We so wanted to gather our investors and community together under one roof but knew that this wasn’t possible or safe to do.

We began seeing and feeling the struggles and pain that many of our investors were suffering through. Our community’s business owners and employers and local governments and citizens were being presented with challenges that we had never seen before and were making some very difficult decisions. Businesses were being shut down, people were losing their jobs and struggling to pay their bills.

During a meeting with Mayor Craig Morgan on March 18, an idea was born. Round Rock Cares was formed to directly help small business owners and their employees. The Chamber partnered with the City of Round Rock, the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation, and Dell Technologies, with each organization initially donating $25,000 into the program. Quickly, the application and review processes were set up. Round Rock Cares received over 240 applications requesting nearly $1 million in aid. The Chamber and its partners went to work creating awareness and raising additional money through donations.  The Community Foundation took on the task of reviewing the applications and processing the distributions.

On April 1 the first checks were issued directly to business owners. $420,000 was raised and awarded to small business owners to help them to keep paying rent and employees’ wages. This was before the federal programs were announced or available.

Wanting to help wherever we could, we felt that we needed to ask the business owners what they really needed. The Chamber team administered our own survey and later helped to administer the Wilco county-wide survey. Over 850 businesses responded to the surveys, sharing their needs.

Chamber staff then helped advise the Wilco Forward group in forming and administering the Wilco Forward Fund. The Chamber established a COVID-19 resource page and continually shared and updated information about the government lending programs. A Chamber staff member was designated to provide direct loan packaging support to business owners.

At the request of the mayor, the Chamber organized and convened a meeting with healthcare, business, City, and Chamber leaders to discuss a possible decision to issue a mask order. Once the order was issued on June 26, we helped to communicate and support the initiative. This was before such decisions were made by our governor.

Just as our investors and business owners in our community had to look at their revenue streams and expenses, it was important that we did the same thing at the Chamber. We had to ask ourselves if we could continue to be the Chamber that we wanted to be without depleting our cash reserves?

Jason and his team looked at every expense and greatly reduced our variable costs. The City of Round Rock agreed to additional funding of our Economic Development contract. With significant engagement by our team members, our investor numbers have remained strong. These and other factors have enabled us to achieve a much better cash position than was budgeted. We were able to continue and, in some ways, expand our mission without having to lay off or furlough any of our team members or reach into our reserves to fund operations.

During a very difficult environment, our Economic Development team has announced seven project wins. Jason hired our new Vice President of Economic Development and created and filled the new position of Economic Development Manager.

All of our committees and councils and leadership programs continued to meet virtually and truly moved the ball forward in their respective areas of service. Many of our board members leaned in and guided us through unfamiliar waters.  Our discussions and work with the City team has truly solidified a valuable and trusted partnership that spans Main Street.

I am so thankful for and proud of the extraordinary job that Jason and his entire team has done this year. Our team members switched to working from home and many of their job descriptions changed daily. They were presented with unique challenges and came up with unique and effective solutions and all along the way they continued to ask how they could best help others.

It has indeed been a challenging year for us all. At times, it has been a sad year. At times it has even been a frightening year. Throughout the year, Jason and I often talked about the challenges that were presented and the very real opportunities that we were given to help in ways that we normally would not have realized. We not only saw that happen within our organization, but we saw it happen all over our community. People figured out how to do things differently to not only keep themselves going but to help their neighbors as well. This is COMMUNITY.

We are truly fortunate to be in Round Rock, Texas!

Scott Swindell