Agility and flexibility. Those were key attributes that helped the Howard County Chamber not only weather the COVID-19 pandemic but rebound on the other side.
At the end of 2020, the chamber had 657 members. By the end of 2022, that number had grown to 712 members. After hosting nearly every event in a virtual or hybrid style for most of 2020 — and into the third quarter of 2021 — the chamber has moved back to in-person gatherings.
Jessamine Duvall, outgoing executive director of Girls on the Run of Central Maryland, said she made the decision to rejoin the chamber this year after not being able to join in 2020. “We were in true survivor mode, and we basically cut everything to a bare minimum,” she said. “But rejoining the Howard County Chamber was one of those things on my list to renew as soon as we were back to normal.”
Duvall said she deeply appreciates in-person gatherings. “We’ve learned the benefits of being able to do virtual meetings, but in a small community like Howard County, I’m loving going out and seeing people in person,” she said.
When such gathering was impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic, the chamber found innovative ways to adapt.
“The chamber relies heavily on relationships and person-to-person interactions, such as events, meetings, trainings, and education,” said Ken Goldstein, vice president of client strategy for DP Solutions. “By implementing secure remote workforce tools, including virtual conferencing and collaboration, the chamber was able to keep their organization up and running, continue with member engagement activities, and maintain relationships with their membership base and the community, which is critical to their mission.”
Goldstein also noted that, with the rise of remote work and other factors at play, the pandemic also saw cyberattacks skyrocket. “To bolster their security posture and defend sensitive data from theft and loss, the chamber implemented robust email filtering and multifactor authentication to protect their staff from advanced attacks and identity-based threats,” he said.
Retaining the use of technology even as the pandemic lifted has proven beneficial and allows the chamber to continue to serve members effectively, Goldstein said. “These solutions have provided the chamber with greater flexibility and the ability to pivot to meet whatever unexpected challenges come their way,” he said. “Their use of technology has allowed them to stay in front of their members and partners, to continue to host events even if speakers and panelists are remote, and most importantly to continue to meet their mission, no matter where they are.”
Ultimately, the human factor is what keeps members coming back to the chamber.
Donté Lewis, founder and CEO of Vine Technology Solutions, rejoined after deciding that, to get more out of his chamber membership, he needed to put more into it. “I didn’t feel I was getting a ton out of it before — but I didn’t network to the degree I do now,” he said.