2020 Year In Review
2020 started off just like any other year. We made our New Year’s resolutions and started planning for all the things we intended to do. We had our State of the City Address by the mayor and our first networking luncheon at Pilgrim Firs.
Our Carnivale went off without a hitch on February 21st, and we were off to a great start!
As the year progressed, the news of an extremely volatile virus came out of China. We all watched and listened with anticipation. Most of us didn’t take it seriously, it was half a world away. Then March of 2020 came and the first cases were reported in the United States. Not just the United States, but in Washington State. Covid-19 had become real to us all. Governor Inslee enacted a series of emergency measure to help “flatten the curve.” The call to flatten the curve required for all non-essential businesses to shut down or for employees to work remotely where possible. The two weeks to flatten the curve has extended to months.
Throughout the year, restrictions have been modified, but the damage to local businesses and our economy has been done. Government assistance to many small businesses has been helpful, but unfortunately, many business owners are watching their dreams collapsing around them.
The Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce has tried to remain positive and assist all businesses in South Kitsap in dealing with ramifications of a seriously curtailed business environment.
During 2020, the Chamber pivoted just like many of the businesses in South Kitsap. Our mission and purpose remained unchanged. We continued to promote business and encourage community, but we also focused on providing information and assistance surrounding navigating a pandemic business environment.
By this time, it was is obvious that were we all in totally uncharted territory, and to make matters worse, the rules continued to change nearly every week.
The Chamber was quick to react creating several resources to help share up to date information. Initial updates were made to a separate page on the Chamber website, but we soon migrated all the information to a new webpage we created, www.kitsapcovid19.com.
The website www.kitsapcovid19.com was created to share information and provide direct links to online resources from government agencies and private the private sector. Some of the resources highlighted included:
- Kitsap County
- US Chamber of Commerce
- Employment Security
- Washington St Department of Health
- Association of Washington Businesses
- Small Business Administration
- WA St Department of Commerce
- Congressman Kilmer
- Washington Retail Association
- Washington Hospitality Association
- Governor Inslee’s Opening Guidelines
We quickly recognized that we could not keep up with all the changes, but the least we could do was provide the resources for business owners.
The Port Orchard Chamber also created the “Getting Back to Work Toolkit.” This toolkit was the first toolkit developed for Kitsap County businesses and was distributed by all the Chambers in Kitsap County. The kit included posters and guidance on reopening policies and procedures as outlined by the governor’s declarations.
In conjunction with the new webpage, we also created the Kitsap Covid-19 Business Support Facebook group to further share resources and best practices by other Kitsap County businesses and agencies.
As local media sources discontinued operations, social media became even more important. As previously mentioned, we created the Kitsap Covid-19 Business Support Group, but we also used our existing social media presence to help spread the word on local businesses and encourage community.
The framework for these posts included:
- Share the Love
- Shop Local
- We’re Open
- Member Plugs
- Community Resource Announcements
- Local Covid Resources
- Business Support
Along with the Social Media campaigns we have conducted throughout the year, we remain dedicated to promoting shopping local. Beginning back in March, when the shutdowns first occurred with created a local restaurant list. The list grew with each passing week. The list included local restaurants that were providing take out and delivery. We featured the list on Social Media and our website. When the second round of restrictions hit in mid- November, we revived the list and actually put it online as the Port Orchard Dining Guide. The list
is constantly changing and can be found at: www.portorcharddiningguide.com.
During 2020, the Chamber created 349 posts with a total reach nearly 170,000. Chamber staff also monitors activity on the Port Orchard Positive Facebook page. In addition to social media, we emailed informational updates to our members throughout the year. All total, during 2020 we sent out 50 email blasts to help local businesses navigate the pandemic.
As the county was initially able to open up, Personal Protective Equipment became an important aspect of a safe opening. In the beginning, PPE was difficult to come by. Most of the PPE was reserved for medical staff and government agencies.
The City of Port Orchard was able to acquire PPE as a priority agency. The Chamber worked with the City to distribute both disposable masks and hand sanitizer to Port Orchard businesses.
The Washington State Department of Commerce was able to procure No Touch Thermometers. The Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the DOC and KEDA distributed the thermometers to qualifying businesses.
There is no doubt that the restrictions not only effected businesses, but they have affected the mental wellbeing of the residents of South Kitsap. In an effort to boost morale, while still maintaining the theme of “Stay Home/Stay Healthy,” the Chamber embarked on a couple of other campaigns. During the summer, we created the Facebook page Rediscover Kitsap.
The Rediscover Kitsap Facebook page was created by the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce and managed by all the Chambers of Commerce in Kitsap County as a way of sharing information on recreational activities throughout the county. It was designed to give options for “close to home fun.” We also created a local “Staycation Guide” with lists of South Kitsap specific recreational activities.
During the Summer the Chamber of Commerce also introduced the “Gratitude Wall.” The Gratitude Wall was was a project designed to let people reflect on the things they were grateful for during 2020. People were encouraged to write something they were grateful for on a tag and then tie it to the wall.
The Gratitude Wall was was introduced at a Saturday Farmer’s Market. It spent time at the Port Orchard Public Market, That One Place and Whiskey Gulch. It was very well received, and hundreds of people added encouraging tags to the wall. This is definitely something we are looking forward to continuing again in 2021.
Financial assistance slowly became available to affected businesses. The first round of grants distributed by the Washington State Department of Commerce consisted of a few million dollars. Kitsap County was allocated about $300,000 of the total award. The Kitsap Economic Development Alliance was tasked with identifying 60 qualifying applicants. Initially nearly 1000 applicants applied. The Chamber was represented on the screening committee. Kitsap County was provide with, just over 30 awards.
The Chamber also provided guidance and assistance to local businesses in applying for and taking advantage of other assistance programs like PPP, Eidl loans, and County CARES grants.
One of the chief pivot points for all businesses was the need to do more.… remotely.
In-person shopping and dining became more difficult. In-person meetings and networking became non-existent. Zoom, Facebook Live, and teleconferencing became the new normal. The Chamber embraced the change and quickly developed our own programs. Some were more successful than others, and we learned a lot.
New Chamber programs introduced via Zoom, Youtube and Facebook included:
- YouTube:- We finally set up a YouTube Channel. Videos have become very popular, and in 2020, they were often the best way to share our messages.
- Candidate Interviews- Since we were unable to hold our normal candidate forums, we opted to conduct interviews with candidates for local races. We conducted interviews with candidates for County Commissioner and State representatives for both the Primary and General Elections. We recorded the interviews and placed them on YouTube. This allowed interested parties to view the interviews when it was convenient for them.
- BYOC- Early in the Pandemic we held weekly “Bring Your Own Coffee” zoom meetings. There were an opportunity for businesses to get together and discuss issues and share best practices. As time went by, people became “zoomed out” and we discontinued the weekly meetings.
- Member Spotlights- The Chamber began recording interviews with local businesses. These are popular spotlights and help to put faces to businesses, especially during these remote, faceless times.
- Virtual Job Fairs- While many people were furloughed during the restrictions, there was no shortage of job openings. The Chamber conducted online/virtual job fairs via Zoom. These job fairs were recorded and put on our YouTube channel.
- Video Community Updates- In addition to member spotlights we also tried to spotlight and inform the community what was happening around town. We did some community updates around upcoming events. These include the Fathoms Parade, Festival of Chimes and Lights, and the Library
With new restrictions on retail hitting in mid November, we created a new holiday shopping campaign called Home for the Holidays and printed the Home for the Holidays Handbook. The handbook featured local gift shopping options, restaurants as well as an events guide. With donations gathered from around town, we put together several raffle baskets to be awarded to local shoppers.
On a more normal note, the Chamber continued to advocate for the local community and our local businesses. The Chamber testified and provided support a number of local development projects. We participated in a Strategic Advisory Boards with the City of Port Orchard Police Department and South Kitsap Fire and Rescue.
Beginning in the summer a new development coalition was formed by Congressman Kilmer and State Senator Randall to address the growing congestion around Gorst. This coalition includes members from all public agencies in Kitsap County, the US Navy, local Tribes as well as other strategic partners. The Chamber attends the City of Port Orchard Economic Development & Tourism Committee meetings as a business partner and often attends City Council meetings.
The Chamber continues to support the South Kitsap School District Career & Technical Education, serving as a CTE Industry Chair for Business and Marketing.
This year has been a challenge on so many levels. Our goal is to see every business in South Kitsap grow and thrive and we look forward to working with each of you in 2021! The Chamber remains dedicated to your success!