$100K in ARPA Funding Will Help Establish Program to Assist Businesses

By Debbie Townsend

2022 is the Edina Chamber of Commerce’s 50th anniversary, and it was supposed to be a year of celebrations: the biggest gala yet, special events and cheering a new accelerator program aimed to help emerging businesses.

COVID-19 changed all that. When the pandemic shut everything down in 2020, the Chamber lost more than 50 of its 410 members as businesses scrambled to cut costs to survive. All the fundraisers and special events were either canceled or went virtual. President Lori Syverson said the Chamber’s revenue plummeted about 73 percent.

“Here we are, the Chamber of Commerce that people turn to in times of crisis, yet we were one of those businesses,” Syverson said.

The Chamber’s leadership got to work, reaching out to businesses to find out what they needed most. Stopgap measures like the federal Paycheck Protection Program or CARES Act funding kept many businesses afloat, but they needed help adapting to new business models that emerged from the pandemic. “They were telling us, ‘We survived the last two years, but we don’t think we can survive the next two,’” Syverson said. “They are being forced to change how they do things, and they are not sure how they do that.”

So the Chamber shifted its business accelerator into the Edina Innovation Hub, using the $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding from the City of Edina to launch it later this year. In explaining the hub, Syverson and Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Steve Blexrud cited the parable about “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to catch a fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

“I can be the best cupcake baker in the world, but if I don’t know how to market cupcakes in today’s environment, my business won’t succeed,” Blexrud said as a made-up example.

Businesses, whether they are new or have been around for 20 years, will come to the hub with a problem, or problems. The hub will have them working one-on-one with experts to learn skills – from accounting to marketing to online sales – so they can succeed on their own. While the Chamber is already doing some of this work, the hub will have a physical space for learning. In addition to core business functions, topical training will be offered, like dealing with staffing during the “Great Resignation.”

The Chamber is already seeing an influx of new members eager to participate in the hub. Bill Neuendorf, the City’s Economic Development Manager, hailed the hub as an excellent idea to help businesses. Gone are the days when Chambers of Commerce could rely on a few events where business cards were exchanged and call it a success. The Edina Chamber is starting off its 50th anniversary becoming the Chamber of the future, working hand in hand to ensure businesses succeed and to draw new businesses to the area. Celebrations can wait.

“I’m very excited and as proud as I’ve ever been to be a Chamber member right now,” Blexrud said.

Learn more about the Edina Chamber of Commerce at EdinaChamber.com.