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Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Debbi Moore participated in 671 Zoom meetings during the year following state public health orders closed businesses because of Covid.
She still remembers the very first one.
It was a woman who owned her own small business, closed by the health order, crying because she wasn’t sure how she would pay the rent or feed her baby.
“We had to get people in line to get money out there,” Moore said, “to get resources out there for business.”
Moore had dealt with the recession that started in 2008 when she was with the Rio Rancho Chamber of Commerce. But Covid was different because “people were dying,” Moore said.
“We had to step back and look at the whole picture,” she said. “You had to pivot.”
Businesses needed guidance on a host of fronts, Moore said.
The Greater Las Cruces Chamber and other chambers in the county “were in the trenches,” she said. “You have to figure out a way to navigate it. You had to make decisions quick.”
Moore said she and the greater chamber’s other two employees, Brandi Misquez and Cindi Armijo, also had to help business owners and employees cope with isolation and grief.
“We had to calm fear,” Moore said. “We had to put hope back in the scenario.”
Moore, Misquez and Armijo answered 12,636 phone calls (an average of 1,053 per month) during the March 2020 to March 2021 period and spent more than 10,500 minutes (175 hours) per month answering those calls. That doesn’t include the amount of time they spent on research follow-up to the calls.
“It caused us to be very sensitive to people’s needs at a whole new level,” Moore said.
“Covid broke our hearts,” she said. It also “brought out a new part of our hearts. That’s what I want to hang onto moving forward.”
Covid also helped the greater chamber create and strengthen partnerships with other chambers, organizations like The Bridge of Southern New Mexico, Las Cruces Public Schools and state and local governments and others, Moore said.
In particular, the Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce “were right there with us,” she said. “We’re all working together. We all want a better community.”
With schools closing, it meant helping people cope with daycare challenges. For essential businesses, it meant helping find ways to keep employees safe. For restaurants, it meant finding ways to help them stay open and keep their employees and customers safe as they provided pick-up and takeout service.
“Businesses were resilient. We’re a very resilient community,” she said. “We survived Covid together and we can navigate to the normal together.”
Going forward, Moore said many businesses will conduct more of their sales online. That will have to balance with how “they draw the customer back into the business,” she said, and with more employees working from home.
“I think it’s going to be different,” Moore said.
For the greater chamber and other organizations, there will be an increased focus on job training and retraining, she said, and connecting current and future employees with new career paths. It will also mean nurturing entrepreneurs as they create new businesses, and helping existing businesses find the employees they need to fully reopen and to expand.
“We’re the keeper of the jobs,” Moore said.