August 17 2020

Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce Furloughs Staff Due to Impact of COVID-19 on Economy

By: Rich Hosford

The Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce has furloughed its staff after seeing a significant dip in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


“I am writing to share that the Executive Committee of the BACC has made the difficult decision to pare back, as many of our members have had to do as well,” Board of Directors Co-Chair Sonia Rollins said in a letter to members. “Effective August 21st, the BACC professional staff will be placed on furlough.”


Rollins said the chamber had been working hard to support its members during the economic shutdown and she and the other board members were proud of the work the staff had been able to accomplish.


“The Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce has been working hard through these challenging times,” she wrote. “The Board is grateful for the efforts and endless hours of our professional staff that many of you know so well. President Rick Parker and his team of Katie O’Connor and Debbie Patterson have driven the Chamber to be one of the most respected professional organizations in the area. We are beyond proud and grateful for the work that has been done.”


Rollins outlined some of the work done by the team during the pandemic and subsequent shutdown. This includes delivering information to members through virtual training, virtual networking events, government affairs, and charitable work among other activities. 


For his part, Parker said he believed the chamber helped make a difference for businesses in town. 


“I think the chamber was a critical part of rising to the cause and helping people get the information they needed and to let them know there was an organization that didn’t have all the answers but was providing as much information and support as possible,” he said. 


He added that when businesses were impacted, his team attempted to help in any way they could. They set up a list of restaurants that were doing take-out and delivery, even including non-members to help everyone, that they maintained on their website. They would also reach out to the businesses to see if they had any specials or promotions going on to help spread the word. 


“We’ve been scouring, getting information, and calling people,” he said. “We really pushed everyone to our take out list. We wanted to help in any way we could.” 


Before the pandemic, the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce was already an active organization. They held weekly networking events and planned a number of annual events including The Taste, the Spring Soiree, a golf tournament, and the Black Tie Gala fundraiser to support local nonprofits. Parker said they also worked with small businesses to help them with their online resources and with larger businesses to navigate town rules and regulations. He said the goal was to get everyone together and working in unison for a common goal. 


“It’s all about the collaboration - nothing happens without a lot of people working on common goals and finding the best solution,” he said. “That’s a key thing the chamber has done.” 


In the end, however, it came down to economics. Parker said he didn’t feel like he could push members who were struggling to pay dues and the lack of events cut into their income. 


“We’re funded by events and members and the events are gone and members don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to pay their bills,” he explained. 


Finally, Parker said he hopes that in the future when the economy recovers the chamber, in some form, will be back up and running in full capacity. 


“Hopefully someone will pick up the pieces at some point and get it to the next level,” he said. “There are people behind these organizations, not just logos. They are people and their families.”


The Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce’s website will remain up and running and board members will be active. 


“Our Government Affairs committee will still continue to work hard to represent the business voice in so many avenues,” Rollins wrote. “Virtual events will be offered and we will look to build our volunteer base to help as much as possible. Please reach out if you have an idea and some time to help.”


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