Opinion: Building the resilience of San Diego small businesses is crucial

Sanders is President and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

It goes without saying that the change our business community – and all of us – have experienced over the past two years is simply unprecedented. In my opinion, what is equally novel is the way our businesses have responded to the upheaval. In the face of difficult times, San Diego businesses have largely responded to these challenges with empathy and a desire to support one another.

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I have had the privilege of serving San Diego in various leadership positions. We have been through difficult times. Challenges that have tested our faith in each other, our collective resilience, and certainly made us examine and re-examine what is important. But I have high hopes.

Yes, this pandemic is different in many ways. But what really stands out for me, and what I think is the legacy of that time, is the connection.

Like all businesses, the Chamber of Commerce had to change course. More than ever, we have become a connection hub. When people felt isolated, without direction, or didn’t know where to go to get the information they needed to make critical decisions, we responded.

Mutual support, recording, sharing lessons learned and a general sense of community have become a lifeline as we remain socially distant and increasingly exhausted. Real relationships have been built in our virtual spaces, frankly some of them have even been to our surprise. It is an honor to be the place where this connection occurs.

We were proud to do it and it taught us how to deliver value as companies literally face swimming moments. These are the lessons we are taking with us in 2022.

We know businesses need fundamentals support, so we’re going to focus on that. Making sure our workforce is healthy and getting vaccinated so we can keep moving forward is a clear priority. We know that businesses want to be clear about what policy makers expect of them. We’ll be there to provide the information and resources businesses need to respond and plan for the future. And just as important: we’ll continue to do it in a way that doesn’t require a team of legal experts to figure it out.

We will also continue to advocate for practicality. We have seen how businesses can adjust and adapt. It is important that we make sure that they can do this for the time being, but it has to be reasonable. We will encourage decision makers to remember our small businesses when making policies and bring them to the (virtual) table where those ideas are discussed. Hear the real stories of how we stretch staff as their customers get frustrated. Find out the cost of the technology that could enable contactless payments, and why it might be too much for some.

One of our goals for next year is to help build the resilience of small businesses. The pandemic has exposed inequalities that already exist, and we have an opportunity to work to close these gaps. We’re talking about home-based, minority-owned, veteran, and women’s businesses that have traditionally not had access to the same supports as more resourced businesses. It’s about providing more education, supplies, and the ability to harness technology to improve the way they work. The stronger and more diverse our business community is, undoubtedly benefits all of us.

It’s important to continue to have difficult, but rewarding, conversations about our teams. Do they reflect our communities and our customers? Are we responding to changes in our working methods and the demands of our lifestyles? Just as we try to meet companies where they are located, we also need to meet members of our workforce where they are.

We don’t have all the answers yet, and that’s okay. We must remember that connection is always important. If you aren’t already part of an organization for your business, make it your New Year’s resolution. Whether it’s our chamber or your local industry association, find what works for you and get connected. And then get active. We are really stronger together and the different perspectives and experiences shared will make us more resilient.

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