“We advocate for small businesses,” Fickling said. “We're here to help local businesses grow. So whether it's a small business of one or two or five or 10 people, or a major corporation, we're the connector to the community. I think the chamber is a necessary component to any successful and thriving business community. That’s what our priority is, but we’re hurting right now too.”
When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, it excluded 501(c)(6) organizations, such as chambers of commerce, from accessing loans and grants made available to most other small businesses, according to the American Society of Association Executives. A second round of funding approved April 24 is also not available to chambers.
Chris Wallace is president and CEO of the North Texas Commission, the regional public-private partnership between businesses, cities, education institutions and other local stakeholders. He said he is calling on North Texas' congressional representatives to include associations in the next stimulus bill.
"In recent discussions with our 15 members of Congress, we are encouraging them to include associations and chambers of commerce (501(c)(6) organizations in the next stimulus package," Wallace said in a statement. "The COVID-19 pandemic has also created financial hardships on chambers and associations, who, during this time, are busy navigating emergency aid resources for their own members."
Because chambers of commerce operate as businesses, each with their own staff, the Lewisville and Flower Mound chambers of commerce have been involved in local, regional and statewide efforts to advocate for relief for chambers.
Lori Walker, the CEO of the Flower Mound Chamber of Commerce, said she has been on multiple calls with state lawmakers in recent days.
“We want to make sure they hear our voice and know that it’s really important for our chambers to have some type of relief for the sake of our local economic development and our local business community,” Walker said.
Chambers of commerce are valuable to local businesses because they connect owners with the rest of the community and with resources that can help them succeed, Walker said. And even as the chamber feels the financial strain caused by the coronavirus, Walker said she remains focused on helping members through this hard time.
“We called every single member, more than 700 people,” Walker said. “We had a lot of very depressing and sad calls. In the first week, people didn't know how long they could hold on in the beginning. They were worried about having to lay people off. Now, we get past weeks three and four, and some of them have had to make those layoffs. So the emotional side of this is hard and we want to help them through it.”
Fickling said she has had similar conversations with Lewisville business owners.
“We are just feverishly trying to figure out things we can do to help our businesses because so many of them are just in a terrible situation,” Fickling said.
Fickling said because the Lewisville Area Chamber of Commerce is funded mainly by membership and events, the organization has seen about a 90% drop in revenue since the coronavirus outbreak emerged locally.
“I will say that, from our standpoint, we are just trying our best,” Fickling said. “It's a double-edged sword because we're trying to keep ourselves afloat, but we're really trying to make sure our businesses hang on.”
The Lewisville Area Chamber of Commerce finished a major remodel on its event center right as stay-at-home orders started being enacted by state and local governments, Fickling said.
“We're hoping that when things get back to normal, then, our event center will help us with a little bit of revenue from a different angle,” Fickling said. “I feel like we need to make our whole year in the second six months of the year. And at this rate, depending on how things go with the virus, we may have to make it up in the last three months of the year. We definitely have a major setback at the moment.”
Despite the present challenges, Fickling said she is optimistic about the future.
“I feel like when we get the go ahead to fully open back up and get back to our lives that we're going to see an explosion of business,” Fickling said. “It may be slower than I had hoped. But if people can hang on, and just get through it—and I know that every week we extend this, it becomes more and more difficult—but if a business can hang on, I really feel like they will be back bigger, stronger and better than ever.”