The Isle Area Chamber of Commerce, though not able to hold events and function as they normally would because of pandemic restrictions, has been behind the scenes advising businesses of their resources.
Linda Dahlen, Isle Chamber of Commerce member and business owner of Data-Link Accounting Services, could only speak for her own clients, associates and friends but said “the pandemic took away life as we know it here on the big pond.”
Some businesses in the Mille Lacs community, and the state in general, providing outdoor activities thrived. And businesses deemed essential bore the burden of becoming COVID-19 compliant, which in some instances, caused a huge drop in income. Other businesses had to close completely due the Governor’s executive orders in response to the pandemic. The Chamber itself experienced a loss in membership revenue.
Each of these businesses had their own issues in dealing with the fallout of the pandemic.
Tina Chapman, executive director of Mille Lacs Area Tourism Council was privy to advanced information on the executive orders and seeked clarification of those orders as needed. She received information on PPP (the paycheck protection program), EIDL (economic injury disaster loans) and other various loans and assistance packages available from the state, county and municipalities. She then passed this information on to Mille Lacs Tourism members as well as Isle Chamber members and other businesses who weren’t members of either organization.
These resources turned out to be a valuable lifeline to businesses in the Mille Lacs community and around the state. “I often checked in with mostly tourism members but also businesses on Main Street to see how they were doing and to make sure they were utilizing programs as they saw fit,” said Chapman.
As for the events that the Chamber was able to hold, the exceptions were the Student of the Quarter awards, Educator of the Year award, the candidate’s forum for the general election, and the Holiday Lights Contest. They were also recently able to hold their annual meeting with social distancing protocol.
“I think we provided emotional support to students and educators by still having those events,” noted Dahlen. She noted that there was a great turnout for the candidate’s forum, which was held in full COVID-19 compliance. “People had been cooped up for so long that anything social was a blessing, even if it was politics.”
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHAMBER
Formed decades ago under various names, the present Chamber was initiated in 2006 where a more structured organization was wanted by the community and businesses after community meetings at Faith Lutheran Church were held and led by Judy Cain, former executive director of Mille Lacs Tourism. At those meetings, having an area Chamber of Commerce was one of the top three outcomes voiced by the 100 some attendees. The original organizing trio was Steve Reis (former deceased owner of Hardware Hank, Linda Dahlen (Data-Link Accounting) and Kathy Zimpel (Isle Automotive). The non-profit application process resulted in official IRS recognition in 2009.
Dahlen encourages area businesses to get involved by becoming a member and attending meetings where networking opportunities are available. “Like any organization, you get back what you put into it,” said Dahlen. “Getting involved helps you work alongside other members of the business community and forge working relationships with them that benefit your business. It also provides opportunities to market and grow your business, stay in the loop with local happenings, and be a part of the greater good that is Isle.”
Dahlen added, “Thanks to the many people in the past who built the foundation of our present Chamber business organization. Thanks to those who started the current Chamber and made it a ‘legal’ non-profit. Thanks to our original charter members for stepping up to put wings to the Chamber; they are shown on our website. Thanks to those who stepped up to do the enormous task that is Isle Days each year. Thanks to those diehards who faithfully attend board meetings and to the leaders who were presidents, treasurers and secretaries. Thanks to the many visionaries along the way whose ideas have become realities that benefit businesses and the entirety of the south Mille Lacs Area.”
For more information on the Isle Area Chamber of Commerce, see http://www.islechamberofcommerce.org/.