Commentary: Cordova businesses meet challenge with innovation

Image courtesy of Cathy Renfeldt/Cordova Chamber of Commerce

Last week, the Cordova Chamber of Commerce offered its Annual Meeting virtually. With 42 registered attendees via Zoom and over 400 viewers on Facebook Live, this online Annual Meeting was actually better-attended than our normal in-person event. Perhaps Cordovans are warming to virtual events, like the Virtual Shorebird Festival the Chamber hosted last spring — the first of its kind in the state — and the virtual music and art festival Jammin’ SalmONLINE the Chamber organized in conjunction with several other local partners in July; and Gird-dova Fungus Fest, which welcomed over 1,000 virtual attendees from all over the U.S.

Acknowledging it’s been a challenging year, the Chamber board and staff also celebrated the successes of 2020, by honoring several local businesses with awards and reporting on Chamber efforts to connect Cordova businesses with COVID-19 info and resources. Did you know that in 2020, the Chamber added a staff member whose entire focus was to reach out to every business, check in and — if needed — match them with the right type of relief resources? Our business support specialist also worked one-on-one to help businesses fill out and submit successful applications for COVID-19 relief grants and hosted and promoted several webinars and Q&A events about COVID Relief.

The Chamber also strengthened and leveraged partnerships to make the most of our channels and the skills of our staff — combining them with resources and funding from partners. PWS Business S.M.A.R.T., a partnership of several regional organizations including the Chamber worked to educate and connect businesses and individuals with essential COVID relief and resources. Due in large part to this group’s efforts, almost $12 million was awarded in AK CARES grants alone to over 230 Cordova businesses! We also worked with the city of Cordova on two great initiatives: Cordova Cares Bucks (incentivizing safe behaviors while stimulating businesses) and Cordova Cash Cards which the city used to distribute over $1 million in individual economic stimulus to citizens via local-only gift cards.

Perhaps the most important program the Chamber put out in 2020 was our Come Back Better Campaign which included a variety of free tools and encouraged Cordova businesses to not give up hope, but rather Rethink — Rebuild — Reopen — Recover.

In the midst of all this, we continued to advocate for the Cordova: continuing to push for reliable, adequate, and sustainable Alaska Marine Highway System and air service through a variety of channels and helping give Cordovans a voice with easy comment templates and reminders.

At the close of the meeting, Chamber board member Katrina Hoffman, expressed her pride in the Chamber, the businesses, and the community of Cordova: “The way the Chamber was able to pivot away from some of the things we like to do best — oriented toward community events and supporting tourism — to pandemic response and community and business support in light of the pandemic is nothing short of incredible… I feel really lucky to live in a place like this, where people are so resourceful, resilient, and supportive of each other.”