As businesses around the Pensacola area are feeling the deepening effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, local chambers of commerce are working to provide help.
Part of that assistance will take the form of the inaugural “Re-Employ EscaRosa” campaign, by the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce; FloridaWest, CareerSource EscaRosa, the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber, and the Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve been talking among ourselves about what can we do to help get people back to work,” said Todd Thomson, President of the Greater Pensacola Chamber. “I hear from employers quite a bit that they have jobs, but they need people.”
“In talking to CareerSource EscaRosa, we found they were having some events in September; we had been taking with Florida West and the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber about doing a job fair,” said Thomson. “So what we did is we just got together and said, ‘Let’s make September a reemployment month.’”
A number of the job fairs are virtual, but there will be opportunities to visit CareerSource EscaRosa and apply in-person.
“It’s really an opportunity for folks that need a job to get one,” Thomson said. “We’re lucky – our unemployment rate has been going down steadily the past few months. But we want that to continue, and we want to provide this as a month-long opportunity for those folks to find a job.”
Virtual job fairs are on tap for Sept. 3, 10 and 24. More information is available at the websites of the participating organizations. What kinds of jobs will be up for grabs? Thomson says they’ll pretty much run the gamut.
“We’re going to be asking companies to sign up to be a part of this; but from just anecdotal stories that I’ve heard, it really is across-the-board in terms of jobs that are out there,” said Thomson.
Meanwhile, other work is underway in helping both induvial and business cope in the pandemic.
“It’s really been a challenge now, because most of the minority small business out there really do struggle to try to keep the business going,” said Brian Wyer, President and CEO of the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber. “Many of them are very new, so they really are having a [challenging] time, pivoting towards a way to help support their businesses in some non-traditional ways.”
One of those “non-traditional” ways involves a higher-profile virtual presence.
“A lot business and everything is based on relationships, and usually it’s face-to-face,” said Wyer. “Seeing a person, shaking their hand. A lot more is being done virtually as far as payments, and the way you take in money and not being close together [by] using more social distancing. So it is kind of challenging for people.”
While the danger is real that a number of businesses could go under because of the pandemic, Wyer believes that danger is exacerbated in minority communities.
“I think with a lot of minority businesses, it was kind of their dream; they went all in,” said Wyer. “They had a day job and they quit that job to invest everything in their business. And when you do that, whatever happens to you can truly affect your ability to stay open and continue to prosper and get bigger.”
And if Wyer could get the ear of government – grassroots to federal – his message would be simple and to the point.
“This is a time period that we may be different by the color of our skins, but we have more similarities that we do differences,” Wyer said. “And we need to work together and find ways – such as recently with the protests and with George Floyd’s murder – that we have to make sure we’re sympathetic with those concerns that we’re having and really help to work together for that.”
“It’s been very mixed; I’m hearing that from a lot of places that have a good business/retail/tourism mx like we have here in Santa Rosa County, especially in the central; part,” said Donna Tucker, who leads the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.
Its roughly 600 members have been surveyed on what their needs and experiences have been in the COVID-19 siege.
“A lot of businesses, depending on their segment, are reporting record years,” Tucker said. “And they’re attributing that to people being home more. Some of tof the retail, the larger retailers actually have been devastated more than some of the smaller ones.”
Another major area that’s getting hammered by the virus is beach tourism, although Navarre Beach is smaller and quieter than the larger beaches in the Panhandle.
“The little pier in Navarre out there was closed for a certain amount of time; some of the little tourism shops – because they’re mom-and-pops,” Tucker said. “They have a difficult time finding staff to come in because they’re afraid of the exposure, or maybe they’ve had somebody within the family with the virus and they can’t open the shop.”
On the down side of the mixed economic bag in Santa Rosa, says Tucker, is the military.
“They have had active military and some of the contractors sign agreements that they would not go to local restaurants; participate in gatherings, go to barber shops, hairdressers,” said Tucker. “So we had businesses, especially here in Santa Rosa County with [NAS] Whiting Field right up the road, they have pretty much lost that business for right now.”
Job seekers must be registered on Employ Florida at www.employflorida.com; and be sure to update your resume prior to the events.