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SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER UPDATES

Message from the president

June 25, 2020
Today, the Commonwealth took another step towards reopening. The Administration issued its initial guidance for the safe return of our students to school this fall and the safety protocols required. Face coverings, socially distancing, smaller class sizes, and lunch in the classroom will become the norm. School districts will be required to draft three options for their reopening to include a mix of in-person and remote learning, exclusive remote learning, or a full-scale return to school. In the coming weeks, additional guidance will be provided to schools and districts.
We recognize and appreciate the challenges our teachers, school districts, and educational leadership faced to quickly employ remote learning. We understand the hurdles our employees faced while juggling the needs of working, parenting, and teaching. We appreciate the challenges our employers faced when balancing the needs of their employees with the needs of the business.
The disruption caused by the pandemic and the pivot to digital learning further illuminated our region’s digital equity gaps, achievement gaps, and disparities across the region and the Commonwealth. Reopening our school systems will make significant progress on our journey to COVID-19 recovery, but we will need to work together so that our student population can get back on track without leaving a generation of students behind.
We continue to hear of new grant opportunities for our small businesses. Some of the Springfield neighborhood councils are stepping up grant programs for businesses within those councils' geographic footprints. I encourage Springfield-based businesses to reach out to your neighborhood council to discover what opportunities may be available.
To better support the positive trajectory of our economic path, we want to be sure that we are developing economic recovery programs and policies that are informed by the real needs of our business community. And so, we have partnered with MassINC Polling Group and organizations across the state to conduct an important statewide survey about how the coronavirus has impacted small businesses in Massachusetts. We’re asking for your input to ensure our work is informed by your current needs.
The survey is targeting small businesses with 500 or fewer employees and is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, and Mandarin. It should take less than 10 minutes of your time and will be open through July 6.
Today, we will join some of the nation’s top business leaders to discuss closing the opportunity gaps in four critical areas: education, employment, entrepreneurship, and the criminal justice system. We all must work together, not only regionally, or even statewide, but on a national basis to move all parts of our community and economy forward.
Stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President

Quickly Evolving News

June 23, 2020
A Message from the President
Yesterday was an exciting day for our business community with many businesses coming back online for the first time along with our restaurant community being able to expand to indoor dining. The Administration will now monitor the next two weeks of public health data to make its determination as to when Phase 3 (VIGILANT) will begin. We can all support the reopening efforts by continuing to wear a mask, socially distance, and follow sector-specific guidelines.
The Administration also announced a tax-free holiday on the weekend of August 29 and 30. Retail items of up to $2,500, purchased in Massachusetts for personal use on these two days, will be exempt from sales tax.
The deadline is fast approaching for businesses to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program. All applications for the Program must be submitted by June 30.
The SBA has posted a new streamlined process to apply for the forgiveness of the PPP loan along with an EZ version for eligible businesses. To be eligible for the EZ version, businesses must be:
  • Self-employed and have no employees; OR
  • Did not reduce the salaries or wages of their employees by more than 25%, and did not reduce the number or hours of their employees; OR
  • Experienced reductions in business activity as a result of health directives related to COVID-19, and did not reduce the salaries or wages of their employees by more than 25%.
Continue to visit our Online Resource Center for additional information about funding programs, reopening support, and more.
Stay safe, stay well, and stay cool.
Nancy Creed
President
June 12, 2020
Today, your Chamber held its annual meeting – for the first time, virtually. Typically, this in-person meeting doubles as a grand celebration of our collective success. But, clearly, nothing is typical anymore. While anything pre COVID-19 seems like a distant blur, it is important that we still remember what we have accomplished together to drive the economic vitality of our region.
As your Board Chair Mark French remarked, coming into this pandemic, we were well positioned to weather the economic impact of COVID-19, due in part to adding 61 new members. We completed our second year of our three-year strategic plan, accomplishing more than 80% of our identified tactics; graduated our second cohort of RiseUp Springfield, our small business development program; held our first-ever cannabis conference to support this new economy, and launched a new website, which, now more than ever, will be critical to our members for accessing valuable information.
And then came COVID-19.
Within three days of the Commonwealth formulating a Command Center, your Chamber moved to remote operations without any glitches. We pivoted the Leadership Institute class of 2020 to an entirely online program; hosted more than 10 virtual events; developed a COVID-19 communications plan with over 50 valuable outreach messages while initiating a Good Newssection to market member businesses. We initiated relevant polling questions to attain the pulse of the business community, which has been used by all media outlets; connected members with more than 1.5 million pieces of PPE; met with the Baker/Polito Administration on a weekly basis; was the only area chamber that presented to the Reopening Advisory Board; launched a Spanish-language section of the website; developed a comprehensive Guide for Reopening, saving members thousands of dollars in time, energy, and consulting fees; identified more than 100 resources for businesses; completed more than 1,500 outreach calls and emails to members to check-in and offer assistance where possible; advocated for legislation supporting local businesses through this crisis, and participated in every single press conference held by Governor Baker all in just 12 weeks' time.
But our work is not done.
Today, the Baker/Polito Administration announced a new municipal grant program to support the efforts of municipalities in creating safe outdoor dining and commerce spaces for our struggling restaurant and retail sectors.
The Federal Reserve has expanded its Main Street Lending Program to make it possible for more small and midsize businesses to receive financial loan support.
National Grid and Eversource have doubled their incentives on energy efficiency programs, agreeing to pay up to 100% of these programs for small businesses.
Statewide workforce training fund grants are available to help employers and employees adapt to the new workplace.
And we have partnered with MassInc. to survey businesses on commuting and remote work to ensure that the Commonwealth develops strategic and smart transportation policies for our region moving forward. I encourage you to lend your voice to this process.
We may have a ways to go, but we will continue to be there alongside you.
Congratulations to our newly-elected Board of Directors, and thank you to all of our members. I am humbled by your continued support of our work.
Nancy Creed
President
June 6, 2020
Today was a great day for our business community, our visitors and our Commonwealth.
The Governor announced the onset of Phase 2 (CAUTIOUS).
As of Monday, June 8, restaurant, lodging, retail, childcare, summer camps and more will reopen under the new guidance required for each industry sector.
As well, preventative health care services may resume and sector-specific protocols for close contact personal services such as nail salons, massage therapy, personal training and other sectors not otherwise addressed in Phase 2, have been issued. These sectors, along with indoor dining, will be allowed to reopen later in the phase. The public health data will continue to guide when we take the next step in Phase 2.
Springfield has released its notice, application, and guidelines for restaurants interested in providing outdoor dining to customers. While the permitting process may take some time, Mayor Sarno has committed his administration to expedite the process as best it can while maintaining the safety of all involved. Applications and supporting documentation should be emailed. If a restaurant does not have access to email, an appointment may be made to drop off the application by calling the Licensing Department at (413) 787-6140.
We also learned of two new grant opportunities. The Red Backpack Fund will provide grants up to $5,000 for support majority-women owned and led businesses and nonprofits. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, in partnership with MassDevelopment, has launched a new grant program for state and municipal agencies that coordinate transportation services; regional transit authorities, and Health and Human Services Transportation providers
MassMutual, in partnership with Western New England University, joined the COVID Relief Coalition to provide free legal support to small business and nonprofits.
And Peter Pan buses are hitting the road again.
Continue to stay safe and stay well. Continue to follow the guidance so that we can continue to make progress.
While we still have a ways to go, today was a great day.
June 4, 2020
Last night, the Payroll Protection Flexibility Act was passed. The Act, which will now go to the President for signature, makes changes to the original PPP program by:
  • Extending the eight-week loan term, now allowing borrowers 24 weeks to use the PPP funding in order to be eligible for loan forgiveness
  • Lowering the threshold of the required loan forgiveness payroll percentage from a 75/25 ratio to 60% or more of payroll and up to 40% on other costs.
  • Extending the covered period from June 30 to December 31
  • Extending the loan repayment period from two years to five years
  • Allowing borrowers whose loan is forgiven to be able to defer payroll taxes
This much-needed flexibility is a welcome relief to our small business community who continues to be challenged by COVID-19.
We took another step yesterday towards our reopening with Governor Baker releasing guidance for outdoor sports, and indoor facilities for sports camps to open in Phase 2 (CAUTIOUS). This will be welcome news for the youth of our region and this sector of our economy. Guidance was also released for golf facilities to expand their operations in Phase 2. On Saturday, Governor Baker is expected to announce when this next phase will begin.
Your Chamber is working with the City of Springfield for restaurants to reopen in Phase 2 for outdoor dining. We expect the City to finalize its application process no later than tomorrow, June 5. In an effort to streamline the process, applications will be submitted to the City’s Licensing Commission via email. The Commission will then convene all appropriate City departments in an effort to quickly move an application through the process. Applicants will not need to apply through the state’s Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission; no public hearings will be required, and most fees will be waived.
While the City is still finalizing the application details, applicants will be required to provide a layout of the proposed outdoor space, note what safety barriers will be used to keep patrons safe if the outdoor dining will use on-street parking, sidewalks, etc., and include letters of support from landlords and neighboring businesses should the space needed be on properties not in direct control by the restaurant or spill out onto adjacent properties. If restaurants are proposing street closures, there will be an additional step in the process to work through those details. Restaurants which are currently licensed for outdoor dining/alcohol consumption will still need to apply as the permit will cover the new COVID-19 restrictions. We will post more information and the link to the application in our Resource Center once it is available.
When we met about this virtually yesterday, I was encouraged to see our City leaders working side by side with our restaurant community - committed to a successful reopening. It was clear that we are all working together.
Continue to stay safe and stay well.

A Brief Pause for In-Person Programming

All around us, our region is taking action to minimize the spread of COVID-19. In congruence with the guidance of Governor Baker as well as the actions of other chambers and organizations, the Springfield Regional Chamber will pause in-person programming until May 1, at which point we will determine next steps.

We intend to reschedule our current events, including Fire & Ice, the Mayors' Forum and our Beacon Hill Summit, when it is safe to do so. Just like you, we are taking this situation seriously and day-by-day.

BUSINESS DOESN'T STOP... AND NEITHER DO WE

Business hasn't stopped, and your Chamber hasn't either. Our legislative advocacy work in Boston continues. Board and Committee meetings will continue virtually. And our staff will continue to work, be it in the office or from home, to serve our members during this challenging time.

A NEW STRATEGY

New developments call for a new strategy. To that end, we're refocusing some of our resources to support digital member and community engagement.

Be on the lookout for webinars, our regular newsletters, as well as exciting member stories and engagement opportunities on our social platforms. We will continue to build community and support commerce, even "from home.”

REFUNDS

We will be processing refunds for anyone who has already purchased admission to events previously scheduled in the near future: Multi-Chamber Speed Networking Breakfast, Mayor's Forum 2020, Fire & Ice, Beacon Hill Summit 2020.

Thank you for your patience and support, and please reach out to us with questions or concerns.