By Leonardo McClarty

Undoubtedly, 2020 was one of the most challenging years many of us have ever faced in our lifetimes.

The Coronavirus pandemic contributed to business shutdowns, rising unemployment, virtual learning and missed family gatherings to name a few. The virus also increased attention given to racial strife, health disparities, economic inequality and political turmoil.

Suffice it say, Covid19 and its aftermath has wreaked havoc on our daily lives.

For many in the nonprofit sector, the pandemic has impacted fundraising, programs, service delivery and much more more.

I wish I could say the Howard County Chamber was spared but we were not. The March 2020 shutdown and subsequent restrictions thereafter had us evaluating everything we do from programs to internal operations.

While we faced uncomfortable times, I am proud to say that we weathered last year’s storm.

Last fall, my tenure on the board of directors of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executive’s (ACCE) ended but not before I was able to see first hand the turmoil COVID19 placed on many of my peers.

The inability to hold major programs and events coupled with financially strapped members and no federal relief forced many chambers of commerce to lay off staff, contemplate merging with a neighboring chamber and/or close their doors all together.

Although the Howard County Chamber lost members and canceled or reformatted key programs, we never missed a payroll, furloughed any staff nor got behind on bills.

I would love to say that this was due to my decision making or keen business acumen, but I know otherwise. Yes, I am an experienced chamber executive. Yes, I sought and received wise counsel from the Chamber’s board of directors but most importantly, YOU, our members continued to support us.

All sponsorship commitments were honored and those that were able, paid their dues in full. Other members paid their memberships when able.

All in all, we worked tirelessly to provide you with policy updates and relief information and the business community in turn supported us.

I would love to show appreciation in person but since we are all still socially distancing, I will fist bump and and thank you in writing. On behalf of the Chamber board of directors and staff, I sincerely Thank You.

We exist because of you and we will carry on because of you.

Leonardo McClarty is president and CEO of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.