The Springfield Chamber of Commerce played host to an online, solution-oriented business forum. Stay-at-home orders have emptied streets downtown and beyond. MIKE NORDTVEDT/LIFESLICE PHOTOGRAPHER.

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Chamber of Commerce held a virtual Leaders Forum during their Lunch Vox session on April 17 to discuss the state of business through the lens of Springfield Chamber board leaders. 

As the community navigates the health and economic crisis, the chamber is still holding onto their mission of strengthening, representing and promoting businesses to foster a prosperous community. 

President and Chief Executive Officer Vonnie Mikkelsen of the Chamber moderated the event, which highlighted leaders in a variety of different business sectors to discuss the impact and how the chamber can help. 

Panel members included: Board Chair Charlie Kimball, Murphy Company chief financial officer; Nancy Bigley, Oregon Medical Group, clinic manager; Liz Dahlager, Mereté Hotel Management, Vice President of market intelligence; Nick Nelson, Keller Williams Realty, broker; and Jon Kloor, NW Natural, community affairs manager. 

The event was sponsored by Chambers Construction, and Debi Creager, Vice President and CFO, said the company is still working but has had to make adjustments, as some owners have halted construction and some have continued. 

“We’re healthy and working and looking forward to the end of this,” she said. 

Kimball started off by answering what the Chamber’s role was as a leader of the community. He said his role as chair is to provide support to the chamber and make sure the chamber is moving forward with all their projects the best they can. He said communication between education, business and government has always been important, but now especially. For advice, he said to find someone to talk to and spend time with family. 

Kloor said he sees the chamber continuing with what they do best: being a convener, champion and catalyst for small businesses and the community as a whole. 

Mikkelsen posed to the group what the top concern was for businesses. For Bigley at OMG, it’s the balance of keeping healthy people healthy and continuing to deliver care safely to people with chronic issues. 

She said that everyone’s role seems to change daily, and she has observed change fatigue for her coworkers. 

Dahlager said that in the hotel business, two of their hotels have closed, and the others have seen a significant staff reduction and changes in operation, such as pools and fitness rooms being closed as well as breakfast bars. Her biggest concern, however, is the impact on the tourism industry in general because it is expected to take closer to a year. 

Mikkelsen then asked about what happens next, and what is needed at a local or state level. Nelson said that confidence in getting through this is crucial. Kimball added to that, saying hope is another aspect that’s needed. He said he appreciated Gov. Kate Brown’s five-step plan but he’d like to see measurements attached to those goals and more information on what businesses will start to open first.

“This isn’t a car we can turn a key back on,” he explained. “It’s a nuclear reactor, rods have to go in and power goes on slowly.” 

Kloor added that he’d like to see all the legislatures have an opportunity to weigh in and help lead the state through this process. 

Bigley presented a question to the group asking about preference of Telehealth for non-emergency appointments, which Creager said she was very comfortable with. She added that her No. 1 concern is the economy and there are things people can do to get back to work safely. 

Testing was also considered as a possible option to help businesses get back to work. One chamber member said that businesses supplying testing to employees could be a key in reopening businesses. Another member, Dean Huber, said it’s been helpful that Oregon hasn’t had an influx of the virus compared to other places. 

Lastly, the panel discussed key takeaways they can utilize in the future. Kimball said manufacturing doesn’t work well remotely; however, he found employees to be resilient and more accommodating to changes than originally suspected. He also said virtual conference video calls were a positive note for the future. 

Dahlager added that her company has found efficiencies in working remotely, but also from the guest side, technological advancements are being utilized and likely to be expedited, such as mobile key check-ins and test requests. 

Kimball added one last piece of advice as the panel came to its close: “Keep smiling.”