FROM THE DESK OF...Jeff Hettrick, Executive Director
I want to start by hoping that everyone and their families are enjoying good health while we are in the middle of one of the most unique times in our history. As you have seen the Ottawa Chamber has pivoted our focus to being information driven over the last six weeks due to the COVID 19 pandemic. We are attending conference calls, video chats and webinars to collect details on grants, loans, programs and resources. The Chamber summarizes what we have collected and sends news releases, along with computer links to more information, to our members. As we are in the month of May, the business community is starting focus planning for how to approach the future.
The first item I want to mention is that the Ottawa Chamber is not advocating for an immediate reopening of all Illinois businesses. I have been tuned in to almost all of Governor Pritzker's press conferences since the pandemic hit the state. The governor has declared numerous times that we need three items to effectively combat COVID 19, Testing, Tracing and Treatment. He has pushed hard to get testing kits to the communities and to use the most information possible from the data the experts have received from the testing. The next phase we are moving into is the tracing component, where the health workers strive to identify contact with an infected person. The treatment option is both the short term boosting of facilities and the long term push for a possible vaccine.
The federal guidelines have stated that once the health care experts have testing ramped up and our cases have steadily declined for 14 days, reopening in stages is possible. We are not at this state yet, and we need use our time to make sure we get the planning correct. As examples, should restaurants eliminate seating in every other booth to maintain social distancing, how can you keep bar patrons 6 feet apart, and how do you space tables if other patrons are walking through the site? On top of these we add about what PPE is needed, who supplies the material, does there need to be a certified training session and concerns over cleaning constantly. As you can see this is not a simple matter of opening doors, so the chamber is directing attention to specific issues so that owners can make plans to ensure customer and employee safety.
The Ottawa community has seen a large increase in tourism related businesses in the last 10 years. When the tourism industry reopens, businesses will need to maintain their focus on safety. One way to do this is to openly and publicly tout the safety of the facility. The U. S. Chamber had an expert speak on a survey where the visible hand sanitizer for customers along with visible cleaning (wiping tables, credit card machines) increased a customer’s perception of the safety of the establishment. The Chamber is partnering with the Ottawa Visitors Center to hold a virtual roundtable of the restaurant industry. It will take place May 12 at 9 AM (09:00) in order to discuss concerns and promote best practices. One idea we are looking into is some type of printed certificate showing the business voluntarily complies with new COVID 19 cleaning regulations. Ideas like this may ease the residents’ and tourists’ concerns.
In the last two months, Ottawa has forged partnerships and the community has worked to support our local businesses. We have seen lines for take-out food, curbside delivery and new online services. The Times (Shaw Media) is going to publish a list of all of the businesses reopening all or part of their business in the newspaper. They are also offering a match of advertising dollars from their foundation to help small businesses. This is just one example of how we have forged ahead as a community.
The Ottawa Chamber is a business group made up of 380 businesses whose dues fund our operation. We are working with and communicating with the city of Ottawa, LaSalle County, the Ottawa Visitor's Center and other chambers. Our business members are one aspect of the community and we are working to take the lead on getting information out to businesses on programs, loans, grants and unemployment. We are moving to focus attention for the future and everything we need to do to maintain a safe environment for employees and customers. Many of us have family members in the high-risk categories and we are all concerned about the possible spread of the COVID 19 virus. We will continue to work through issues in our community and we know Ottawa will emerge stronger when we all work together.