BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — It has been over one year since Maumee Chamber of Commerce members gathered in the traditional setting for an in-person monthly luncheon, but April marked a return, at least partly, to those gatherings.
On April 13, the chamber switched from an online-only format to a hybrid model for its monthly meetings. The change allowed members to choose between attending in person or participating via Zoom in the virtual format. Approximately 100 members were engaged in the luncheon – 60 in person and 40 by Zoom. Chamber of Commerce executive director Kristin Meyer was pleased with the response and is hopeful that meetings will be fully in-person by August.
“We are super happy about being back in-person because there is a segment of our members that just don’t want to do Zoom,” she said.
Monthly luncheons are a sign of a return to normalcy after an extremely challenging year for a business organization like the chamber, whose sole purpose is to promote the interests of the local business community through networking opportunities and other forms of connections. The coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions posed significant challenges for individuals and business owners everywhere, and it forced Meyer and assistant director Colleen Tankoos to quickly pivot their strategy to better serve members.
“Right in the beginning, we looked at ourselves as a source of information,” Meyer said.
With so much material flowing out early in the pandemic to businesses from a variety of sources, the chamber worked to streamline the information for the local business community.
“We looked at ourselves as a way to turn down that firehose of information and lock into what would really affect the businesses that belong to the chamber,” she said.
As the year progressed, the focus switched to creating new ways to advocate for and support businesses.
“We tried to help people come up with ways to pro-mote themselves without having to spend additional dollars,” she said.
For example, instead of in-person events, virtual events such as coffee connections were organized as ways to meet new people in the community.
Not all companies were adversely affected by the pandemic. Some businesses thrived, such as delivery services, used car businesses, behavioral health providers, home improvement, lawn and gardening and fitness equipment, to name a few.
“The interesting thing to me was that some businesses absolutely killed it – they were doing so well,” Meyer said.
For every business sector, however, the prevailing struggle Meyer heard over the past year has been employment; that is, finding and maintaining employees.
As “Help Wanted” signs continue to spring up throughout the area, finding enough people to fill those jobs is a significant challenge. Fear of catching the virus, high unemployment benefits, lower starting pay and childcare issues are just some of the factors contributing to the problem.
Meyer believes that as time passes, effective solutions will be implemented to resolve the employment issue. She recalled a roundtable discussion on workforce development prior to the pandemic in which an executive from a local Fortune 500 company compared today’s workforce with workers from 40 years ago. Most notably, today’s young workers have different expectations, such as greater work flexibility, a more relaxed dress code and quality vacation and personal time.
“There may be highly qualified people who want to craft their work life differently to complement their home life. So, as this new generation is coming up, I think employers need to think differently about those types of things,” she said. “You’re working to pay for your real life, so that kind of paradigm shift will probably need to happen as we keep pushing forward to fill all of these open spots.”
The chamber favors economic development and is in full support of the proposed changes to uptown Maumee. The plan, which will roll out over the next several years, aims to increase public gathering spaces, allow for more walkability, add public parking, slow traffic and enhance business development. Meyer is working with city administrator Patrick Burtch and other city leaders to help craft a messaging strategy for the proposal.
“My involvement with it is to help with ideas. I am a good channel to help funnel information – I will not have any say in decision-making,” Meyer said. “Disseminating information out to the public or at least having a spot for them to go to get information about the project will be welcome, so I am helping get the message out about the project. I am confident that once people hear all the facts and plans, they will be excited about the changes.”
The Maumee Chamber of Commerce currently serves 475 members. For information, please call the office at (419) 893-5805. You may also find information online at www.maumeechamber.com.
The following Maumee Chamber of Commerce events are scheduled for 2021:
Monthly Luncheon — Tuesday, May 11
Mike D’Eramo, chief administrative officer of the Toledo Clinic, will present information on the new clinic satellite location under construction at Side Cut Crossings.
Muddy Mini Marathon — Saturday, June 19
The communitywide Muddy Mini Marathon, which was canceled last year, is back on this year. The race will take place on Saturday, June 19 and features either a half- or a quarter-marathon as well as a 5K race.
All runners begin the races in Maumee and finish at Fifth Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens, in downtown Toledo.
The chamber secures volunteers and water stop sponsors for the event. Money raised from the sponsorships supports the chamber scholarship fund.
Annual Golf Outing — Monday, June 28
The annual golf outing will take place on Monday, June 28 at Stone Oak Country Club.
The event, which is sponsored by Premier Bank, sold out last year, and it is anticipated to sell out again this year.
In addition to golf, the event features both lunch and dinner along with raffle prizes. Members who are not interested in golfing, but who would like to network, are welcome to enjoy lunch before play begins.
This year’s outing will also feature a drone drop, sponsored by McLaren St. Luke’s. The drone drop allows individuals to purchase a numbered golf ball, which will be dropped on the putting green for a chance to win prizes.
Hometown Hero Awards — Thursday, August 26
The annual Hometown Hero Awards banquet, which normally takes place in March, has been moved to Thursday, August 26.
The event, which is sponsored by Metamora State Bank, honors and recognizes community members, teachers, groups and businesses that have made a lasting and notable contribution to the community.
The deadline to submit a nomination for the award is Friday, May 7.