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Ashland chamber is conduit for economic recovery info

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce has taken the unusual steps of becoming the main public window of reliable information, not just for operation and survival of area businesses, but for economic recovery, especially immediate access to cash flow.

The chamber has thrown open the doors to all businesses, not just members, encouraging universal signup at ashlandchamber.com, where you’ll find useful news and changes posted immediately.

Deep-diving into the complex network of coronavirus recovery, chamber staff are meeting twice or more weekly on Zoom with city leaders, state and federal legislators, Small Business Administration and other players, posting fast-changing news on ashlandchamber.com and seeking to get loans from a super-busy SBA at reduced interest, says chamber Executive Director Sandra Slattery.

“It’s a liquidity issue, first off. We need cash in our economy,” says Slattery. “Last week the governor declared Oregon an economic disaster area. That helps a lot. We need to see interest lowered and we need the government to fund it, as well as the staff to handle it — and not just loans. We need grants, especially for a community like Ashland, which is tourism-based.”

Slattery, who has become a member of Gov. Kate Brown’s Business Recovery Network and Regional Solutions, gets daily briefings about resources available from the state.

“This has to be easy,” she notes. “The way I think about it is, we’re in crisis response mode but also recovery mode, so whatever we can do to be ahead of the curve accessing resources that become available. We’re talking grants and whatever revenues that are coming down from the federal and state government.”

The chamber page opens with two popups, “business recovery” and “chamber staff.” The first answers questions about labor laws, unemployment info, loans, grants and even tells you which restaurants are doing takeout and delivery. On the second one, you can email questions and seek help from staff members.

The city’s primary working partner in the “creative pipeline,” Assistant City Administrator Adam Hanks, says the city is “using all the resources we have to make sure we’re advocating for what business needs, with no strings attached, as quickly as possible — and helping people understand how dire the situation is. Some of the help will be loans, which aren’t attractive to some businesses, but we’ve not seen grants come down the pipeline yet.”

Hanks says the feds are “working on it, but the challenge to be successful is to streamline the eligibility requirements and do it all within the time frame needed.”

The chamber is devoting its full resources to this crisis, says Visitor & Convention Bureau Chief Katherine Cato, and doing it immediately each day. “We’re the funneling point now about what businesses are offering and what’s available to them. We’re here to listen and support, share information and creativity that businesses are striving for to safely navigate this crisis.”

Sixty percent of the town’s tourist base comes from California, Cato adds, so the lockdown of that state has been huge. We need to unite, and people who are not part of the chamber need to get connected.”

Ashland thinks of itself as a resilient community, says Slattery, and “now is the time to own it. We will get past this and we need to support each other more than we ever have, so as we come out of it, let’s think of how we need each other. That’s critical, and I hope it’s clear to everyone.”

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