Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce sees ‘robust recovery’ ahead
As we head into a third year of the pandemic, the situation remains exhausting and challenging, especially with the omicron variant stalking from every corner. But I believe there’s a bright side somewhere, especially for small businesses that have demonstrated resilience through knowledge, pivots, disruptions, innovations, and collaborations. Each of these principles has become an even greater part of their playbooks and toolkits during these everchanging and uncertain times.
In fact, recovery is on the horizon and has never looked better.
In Northampton, revenues from various local taxes (lodging, meals, recreational cannabis) and parking and license fees grew 58% during the six-month period from July 1 through Dec. 31, in comparison to the same period in 2020. Revenue during the most recent six-month period noted above was $2.4 million. While this is slightly more than 20% off from pre-pandemic revenue of $3.5 million during the same six-month period in 2019, these economic indicators demonstrate a positive trend that I believe will continue in 2022.
A fair question that one may ask is, “What’s behind the optimism?” The answer is simple. We now have a clearer view and better understanding of what it takes to sustain business, stem sales declines and make products and services more relevant to customers.
The day-to-day operational challenges will persist, as well as the debates about public health mandates and protocols, but business owners can likely pivot more quickly and more efficiently than they could previously. Also, systems and processes that did not exist before are now in place and can be activated effortlessly, when necessary.
Disruptive business models and innovation have also enabled breakthrough successes for many small businesses and non-profits. We expect to see continued advancement toward e-commerce capabilities to help businesses grow their customer base and increase demand through online sales. A retailer-developed site (ShopNoHo.com) features over 60 local shops that encourage residents to shop online and local. This tool is just one of many examples of how online purchasing capability has been expanded into local business models and the power of collaborations.
Technology, disruption and innovation have also had an impact in the non-profit sector. For example, the Northampton Survival Center has doubled its food distribution by disrupting its operation from mostly pick-up only to home and site-specific delivery and curbside distribution.
The Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce has also seen a dramatic rebound in sales of the beloved Northampton Gift Card – our chamber’s key economic engine – mostly through a shift to online purchases. These days, the chamber sells 10% more gift cards online than it did prior to the pandemic in 2019. Such service shifts are perfect case studies on what it takes to survive and thrive during these turbulent times.
Entrepreneurship and collaboration have always been at the forefront of the small business community in Northampton. Since the pandemic, two dozen small business have opened and collaborations among business owners are too many to count.
The investments in the economy and community are significant, as exampled by “Summer on Strong,” a Northampton hot spot for great outdoor dining, live entertainment, and pedestrian friendly shopping. This oasis was set up last summer during the broad reopening of the economy and lifting of many COVID restrictions. Shared outdoor spaces and increased collaborations are here to stay.
Another silver lining from the pandemic that will have an impact on communities is the role of social values within for-profit businesses, especially among those that have experienced explosive growth since the pandemic. In these organizations, social values will continue to play a role and set apart businesses that demonstrate a commitment to events and opportunities that make a difference in our communities – from tackling food insecurity to promoting sustainability to making diversity, equity, and inclusion a business imperative. Such causes are expected to enhance recovery in local economies and communities.
Each year of the pandemic has had its own reality, and 2022 will be no different. It will likely be marked by rapid change, which has become all too familiar. However, 2022 will be a year of robust recovery as dedicated funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will be allocated to municipalities, non-profits and other entities. This year is especially ripe for increased innovation and collaboration – two cornerstones of the Northampton business community.
Vince Jackson is executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce. To learn more about the chamber and its work, go online to northamptonchamber.com.