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Muhamed Abdelhack covers business and economy for The Paper. He is a communications and journalism graduate of UNM.

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As the pandemic cloud continues to hang over New Mexico, and businesses battle to maintain a level of sustainable operations, chambers of commerce have become a lifeline to businesses in providing support and guidance whenever possible. Within the Albuquerque metro area, multiple chambers of commerce and professional organizations exist—ranging from the Greater Albuquerque and Rio Rancho Chambers to the Hispano, African American and American Indian chambers. Throughout the pandemic, and in a time where a little support can make all the difference, these chambers, as well as others, have stepped up as a representative voice for their members.

“Many businesses are hanging on by a thread, and it seems the thread gets thinner and thinner the longer the pandemic wears on,” said Sara Fitzgerald, senior vice president of policy and strategic communication for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber has advocated at every level of government for funding and policies that will help our businesses weather this pandemic.” The Albuquerque Chamber, in their annual meeting, hosted a panel of national experts that spoke about the production of vaccines, new treatments and the latest on federal relief negotiations. “At the federal level, we pushed for Congress to swiftly establish and fund the Paycheck Protection Program, and we’ve urged them to pass a supplemental relief bill that would provide new PPP funding,” Fitzgerald said. “At the state level, we pushed during the summer to use CARES Act funding for small business grants.” The Chamber’s role in this fight has not been just to disseminate information to its members but to also provide guidance around public health orders and to provide input to business decision makers. Currently, the Albuquerque Chamber is partnering with the city to distribute, free of charge, PPE items to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

In the past chambers would hold networking events, ribbon-cutting ceremonies and various educational forums as ways to help businesses grow together. Not to be dissuaded by current restrictions, much of that has shifted to live online events and the mobilization of broader community-based support. “We’ve held many virtual events and continue to do so,” said Jaime Gallardo, member consultant at the Rio Rancho Chamber of Commerce. We’ve led efforts with Sandoval County Census to purchase gift cards from local businesses impacted by the pandemic, and we are currently promoting our Shop Local Save Local initiative to help drive more business locally.” Additionally, the Rio Rancho Chamber of Commerce has developed a COVID-19 Resources web page for members, businesses and the community at large through their website, rrcc.org. The site includes all pertinent information about local grants, state grants, PPP and EIDL loans.

Even with the easing of occupancy restrictions for mostly big box stores, some smaller businesses still struggle to find their place. If you are one of those small businesses reading this article, reaching out to your local chamber of commerce can help. Many are expanding benefits to their members and offering unique ways to market and advertise for businesses. “This year of unprecedented circumstances has challenged our community’s businesses, but the chamber remains committed to sharing timely information, being a strong voice on their behalf, and guiding our local business through these changes and the recovery that lies on the other side,” said Sara Fitzgerald of the Albuquerque Chamber. Multiply that initiative by every other locally operated chamber of commerce, industry support organization and not-for-profit entity, and small businesses—while still having to roll up their sleeves—have plenty of support behind them.

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