A local business recovery initiative is starting with the goal of addressing the blow to the local economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and economic offices at the University of Virginia, Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville are launching Project Rebound to bring together the local business community, discuss the challenges of COVID-19’s economic effects and seek solutions.
Chamber President and CEO Elizabeth Cromwell said in a video press conference Tuesday that there are a lot of people in the community who are trying to help and businesses that are already trying to collaborate and partner.
“We felt like we had an opportunity to bring all those ideas together, so that we’re not duplicating efforts, hopefully, and that we’re exploring ideas and best practices through some industry specific committees that we are inviting members of the business community to participate in,” she said.
Unemployment claim numbers hit their highest peak so far in Charlottesville and Albemarle the week of April 4, where the city had 985 claims and the county had 1,429 claims.
Between the week of March 14 and April 11, Albemarle had a total of 3,978 claims filed, while Charlottesville had 3,029, according to numbers from the Virginia Employment Commission.
The Project Rebound initiative has seven teams focused on specific industries and sectors, such as hospitality and tourism, IT, financial and defense and nonprofit and community organizations.
Members of the local business community can join a team relevant to their experience. The project is open to all members of the business community, not just chamber members.
Comments on best practices and ideas, challenges/obstacles and opportunities can be submitted on the chamber’s website.
The teams will begin work immediately and will submit information to the steering committee by the end of May so findings can be shared with the business community before Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order expires in June.
“We want to have some recommendations in the hands of the business community before that time, and depending on what those recommendations are … I think it’s quite likely that we will take a deeper dive into some of those areas that we discover and come up with more recommendations for kind of a phase two, if you will,” Cromwell said.
UVa has been addressing the health care needs of the community, and President Jim Ryan has asked staff to continue looking for ways to partner with the community during this crisis, said Pace Lochte, the assistant vice president for economic development at UVa.
“We recognize that we have a significant economic impact on the region and we really want to work with the business community to understand what it will take to get our region up and running again,” Lochte said.
Chris Engel, the director of Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development, said that the community has had a shock that nobody has endured before.
“This pandemic has brought something to the forefront that we’ve never seen before, essentially disconnecting the consumer from the rest of the economy, which has been fairly devastating across the country and across the world,” he said. “We need to work together to the extent that we can locally to help get that connection back together and do it safely, do it efficiently and hopefully we’ll be better for it as we come out the other end.”
Cromwell said the name for the project was inspired by UVa men’s basketball Coach Tony Bennett talking about adversity after his team won the NCAA national championship last year.
Applications, as well as public comments, can be submitted online at cvillechamber.com/rebound.