Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting Addresses COVID-19 Business Climate

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Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Peers.

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 annual meeting made the switch to virtual, last Thursday, November 5, instead of the usual annual evening event packed with exhibits, dinner an A-list keynote speakers and opportunities to network and socialize.

The 102-year-old business advocacy organization has spent the COVID-19 pandemic helping the flailing small businesses affected the resources, programs, tools and direct support they need to continue creating jobs and opportunities in their communities during the crisis. The event took the time to detail just how heavily impacted the city’s economy is and what that means for the Chamber.

Sponsors for the event, like ConEd and National Grid, spoke about resilience and sustainability. “How apropos for all of the members that serve the Chamber, when we think about the moment that we are in. It is about Resilience. It’s about survival, but it’s about thriving. We do all of this and we do it together,” said Melanie Littlejohn, National Grid vice president of customer and community engagement for National Grid in its New York state areas. 

“Here’s what’s really scary,” said the keynote speaker for the night journalist and professor Greg David, “New York City has lost just under 700,000 jobs since the economy hit its peak in February. The unemployment rate is 14 percent, almost double the national average. Why? Well, all the achievements that we have done over the last decade in diversifying the economy have now turned out to be vulnerabilities.” 

David said the pandemic has terribly hurt the tourism and higher education sectors of the city, and the outcomes of the mayoral and presidential elections will determine how the city survives. “We would receive a lot of aid in the eventuality of a Democratic President and Congress. There would have been higher taxes, but maybe there would be restoration too,” said David.

Chamber President and CEO Randy Peers lauded the Bring Back Brooklyn Fund as central to the Chamber’s recovery plans and mainly supported by Borough President Eric Adams. Peers said the plan is to keep the fund around year-round and focus on the hyperlocal economies of neighborhood corridors. He said the pandemic has made the organization a truly borough-wide resource for communities and has increased its visibility.

“Through our successful crowdfunding campaign we raised $750,000 for no-interest recovery loans and PPE grants, the U.S gave us $125,000. A special thanks go out to New York Presbyterian Health who gave us a half-million dollars for PPE and such things like deep cleanings for small businesses. We are now also able to fund heaters and air filtration systems for our restaurants,” said Peers.

Peers said in total 16 recovery loans have been closed, $1.1 million in financing for 31 other businesses secured, and 71 deep cleanings have been conducted.  

“Even with all that success, the Brooklyn Chamber has not been spared the impacts of COVID, especially the financial impacts,” said Peers about the cuts to their budget and programs this year. “The Brooklyn of Chamber, ironically, did not qualify for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.”

Peers said community and membership is important, but without federal relief that’s needed the Chamber won’t have access to funds. 

He also noted that one of the key developments the Chamber had invested in was Industry City rezoning, which he said would have created jobs but the “far-left” had “scuttled” the project, costing politicians their jobs.