We The Weavers

You have heard me say again and again that as stewards of the Chamber, we exist at the intersection of community and economy. Often our role in this space is that of a crossing guard, directing “traffic” by guiding businesses, leaders and our fellow citizens towards the best route to accomplish their goals and the collective goals of our community. Over the past 6 weeks, this work has evolved with heightened purpose — both internally and externally.

I recently watched this video from our friends at Heartland Forward on “weavers” in the community and it helped frame the work about which I now write.

 Across our community, we have seen businesses rise to provide resources for businesses and community members in need. Movista launched digital platforms called Support Local NWA and Project Health — respectfully, providing a place to purchase gift cards for local businesses, and a place to gather data about your workforce to maintain a healthy workplace. Ropeswing Hospitality Group partnered with Tyson Foods, Coca Cola and George’s to celebrate “unsung heros” on April 28, National Superhero Day, handing out 1000 hot dogs and Coke products to “any critical, essential employees.” Bentonville City Councilman Chad Goss issued a challenge through his company The Retail Firm. The challenge was to “reactivate the expense account” and asked employers to open up some finds for their employees to expense meals purchased at local restaurants. These are only a few examples of the private, for-profit sector stepping up in creative ways to serve others.

Our leaders in the non-profit space have also been hard at work finding ways to help. The Amazeum launched Amazuem YOU; The Momentary turned their social media feeds into activated art spaces; and Arkansas Arts & Fashion Forum issued the mask maker challenge to provide protective gear for the public.

Your Chamber has increased its digital delivery of content and resources. We’ve opened our platforms even more to serve all businesses, not just our members. We pivoted programs to virtual formats with our Virtual Caffeinates, ASSEMBLE - a business women’s meeting space -and partnered with Dale Carnegie to host a stress management webinar. Each are drawing 50+ attendees and providing much needed breaks and human connectivity in a potentially isolating situation.

 I am honored to serve as the President and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce. This year, that role sees me in the position to also serve as Chair of the NWA Chamber’s Association which also includes the chambers in Fayetteville, Rogers, Springdale and Siloam Springs. I am working closely with leadership at the Northwest Arkansas Council on a project funded by the Walton Family Foundation — bringing additional resources to small businesses in the region through increased capacity from the Small Business Technology and Development Center at the U of A. The group of businesses advisors walks small businesses through SBA/PPP funding via direct consultation as well as webinars. We’ve seen that the businesses in greatest need of federal help are often the least prepared to take advantage of it.

Lastly, as a team, the professional staff of your Chamber has invested in each other. While physically distant, we are closer than ever. Yes, as intended, our daily Zoom meetings have built professional accountability. The miraculous unintended consequence has been the building of emotional responsibility for your team member’s well-being. We have utilized Slack not only for Prospect and Project Lists but for Gratitude Lists and Playlists. Our team has self-organized “Virtual Coworking Hours” to be together while separate and safe. Most recently, Sherry Rolsma issued a “Kindness Challenge.” While all of us stepped up to donate to causes, give a gift to an essential worker and offer the additional “thank you,” it was Allison Chase who brought a tear to our eyes when she baked 9 homemade pot pies. On Sunday she delivered one to each of our houses. While working apart, we have woven closer together. I am proud. I am grateful.

You are each leaders in your businesses, as well as in your community. Let us lean into our talents and leverage our ability to provide solutions and resources for those in need. I believe that as a 21st Century Community, Bentonville will walk through this situation well, emerging stronger and even better positioned to continue building the 21st Century Economy. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to be active weavers, especially now.

We are looking to the future and following the plan laid out by Governor Hutchinson, as well as using our leaders in the business community as an example. We are indeed open for business and your Chamber confidently hopes to be back in the office by June 1st

Until then, keep smiling and stay safe.­­