Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce officials on Wednesday celebrated a return to normalcy during the organization’s annual meeting. Even so, chamber leaders acknowledged that the shadow of the pandemic continues to loom large more than a year after COVID-19 began to impact the tri-state region.
About 325 people attended the luncheon, which was held at Grand River Center in Dubuque and marked the first major, in-person gathering hosted by the chamber since March 2020.
“We’re back,” exclaimed chamber President and CEO Molly Grover. “And it feels so good to see all these faces again.”
Grover emphasized that she has been encouraged by seeing renewed consumer interest in attending live events, dining out and travel. The attendance at Wednesday’s luncheon — which was on par with turnout from the same event in 2019 — reinforced her belief that the business community is emerging from the fog of the pandemic.
“I think we are recovering from COVID,” she said. “I don’t know if we are living in a post-COVID world … We’re not taking that victory lap yet, but things are going in the right direction.”
The luncheon took place on the final day of the chamber’s fiscal year, providing both a literal and symbolic point of transition for the organization.
Chamber Board Chairman Darin Harmon concluded his term and passed the torch to incoming chairman Scott DeSousa. Both took the opportunity to assess what the chamber has endured and where it will go next.
Harmon highlighted the chamber’s continued efforts to connect with members, noting that the organization hosted more than 250 virtual events over the course of the year.
Chamber leaders initially feared they would retain only 76% of members during the pandemic. They exceeded expectations by maintaining more than 85% of members, Harmon noted.
Harmon touted chamber initiatives that supported mask-wearing and vaccinations. He also highlighted the creation of a “restaurant caucus” that offered support to that struggling industry over the past year.
“I think it is clear that the chamber was there every step of the way and, despite the challenges, our businesses persevered,” he said.
DeSousa, president at Friedman Group AssuredPartners in Dubuque, emphasized that the chamber will continue to advocate for local businesses in the year ahead.
“We don’t consider ourselves a pro-Republican organization or a pro-Democrat organization,” he said. “We are a pro-business organization and we will work with our public officials to get things done for our members.”
He also urged residents to shop at local businesses, noting that companies ranging from the retail industry to the hospitality sector need the support as they attempt to move on from COVID-19.
“Some of our businesses have emerged from the pandemic strong,” he said. “Others are still struggling. We cannot forget that. We still have a long way to go.”