Chambers of Commerce shift from meetings to action

Ryan Peabody


Never would I have guessed that the call for help I received in the second week of March would be the first of dozens over the next several weeks. As the chairman of the board for the Southlake Chamber of Commerce, the words: “Ryan, we have a problem,” are never the words you want to hear from your organization’s chief executive.

Words of warning were spreading through the community faster than the virus they were heralding. Only one story was being covered by the global media­­ – “COVID-19.”

Health and safety were the top concerns as many businesses came to an abrupt halt, leaving countless people without the income that they relied on to purchase their essentials. As the narrative rapidly evolved in the ensuing weeks, the business community began to look in earnest to their local communities for help and guidance.

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“Let’s work the situation,” I said to Mark Guilbert, president and CEO of the Southlake Chamber.

From that call in early March, we were in AHOD mode – “all hands on deck.” The chamber rapidly shifted gears from luncheons and ribbon cuttings to full-out business support in an uncertain economy. The Southlake Chamber immediately paused invoicing for all membership dues. “Let’s give people a chance to take a breath,” we said.

Lists were created and published with every restaurant in or near the city that was offering curbside or delivery. A personal call was made to every single business in Southlake from the Chamber. That’s right – EVERY single business. Not just chamber of commerce members – but non-chamber members, as well. We needed to establish the “new normal” built on a foundation of stability, support and, most of all, hope.

We needed every business to know that as the voice of the business community, we were going to come alongside them and get through this together. That’s what started our recovery in Southlake and that’s what will continue to drive us forward.

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There is only one way to save a drowning business – jump right into the water and help pull them out. Show them new resources. Be such a resource, ourselves.

As a business and estates attorney, I received dozens of calls for help on the governmental Paycheck Protection Plan applications. Several weeks of hours were spent preparing PPP applications for local businesses. Not a single one of them will receive a bill. I was honored to assist them in a time of dire need.

The time to invest back into the community is right now. Business is about cultivating and strengthening relationships.

To invest in our neighbors and local businesses with what time and resources we possess will make us all stronger as we navigate through these turbulent waters. The Southlake Chamber of Commerce has built a culture based on this philosophy.

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“How can we help? Here are some ideas and action items. You’ll be hearing more from us. Please call us with any questions. ANY questions!”

For the last several months, the chamber has also been sending out links to every resource that we have available. From the CDC to the state, county and city websites, all containing the most current and important information for our local businesses. When we recover, and we will, I want our community to look back and know that we – as their chamber of commerce – went above and beyond, right alongside them.

The chamber has also joined forces with city council members Shawn McCaskill and John Huffman, with the full support of Southlake City Mayor Laura Hill, in a city-led strategic workgroup of local leaders and influencers, designed to put the Southlake business community at the forefront of economic recovery in the area.

Under the banner of, “The Southlake Standard,” the chamber has partnered with the City of Southlake to develop the path forward. Our objective is to safely restart the local economy by leveraging the vision and skills of an amazing team of high-achieving professionals from our own backyard.

The Southlake Chamber is not in “wait and see mode.” We are in “action mode.”

The heart of our community consists of our talented residents and their families, and they deserve a safe and healthy environment as we work our way through this COVID-19 crisis. As a team, we are putting the plan together and getting it in place.

Efforts are already underway, and people can expect to see the results now and in the coming weeks and months in the form of valuable published information from the City, chamber and our partners.

Best practices are being developed, vetted and given to our businesses.

“If you want to get back to normal and do it safely, come to Southlake,” is a phrase straight from our think tank.

The plan will undoubtedly evolve as we move forward, but for now the chamber and city are hard at work, working the problem and doing so together.

We salute every local chamber of commerce that is partnering with their community leaders in their own efforts to succeed in their own version of the “new normal.”

Ryan Peabody is chairman of the Southlake Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Peabody Law Firm.