By Leah Sander
WARSAW — Life has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the economic realm.
People have lost jobs and the overall economy has been affected.
One would think that would have extended to businesses not joining the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce last year.
Not so, said Chamber President and CEO Rob Parker.
“We’ve never had more new members than we did last year,” he said.
Sixty-two businesses became part of the Chamber in 2020, helping the chamber to reach almost 600 members as of now. Of those, the majority were new businesses.
Parker cited several reasons for this phenomenon, crediting Chamber Member Relations Manager Scott Wiley and Marketing and Communications Manager Lauren Klusman for their recruitment work.
He pointed to low-interest rates and plenty of liquidity for causing businesses to start up. He noted local businesses reaching out to those locally have been able to succeed.
That’s not to say all county businesses have been unscathed, he said, but that overall the county’s economy recovered better than others in the state or nation.
That was due to many being able to work from home and keep their jobs, he said.
He noted statistics that the county had an 18.5% unemployment rate in April 2020. That dropped to 4.4% in October 2020 and most recently was at 3.7% in February 2021.
Parker said economists consider 4.0% or lower to be a good level.
The Chamber is working to help employers lower that rate even further. He did note the labor market was “tight” right now.
He attributes that at least in part to people being offered extra funds in unemployment compensation thus causing them to not want new jobs.
He said it’s unfortunate the strategy for dealing with the pandemic has been similar for all parts of the country, whether or not they actually had large surges of cases.
“We really didn’t need to shut down like they did in the big city,” he said.
Parker said he did want people to be “vigilant” about following health guidelines.
“I don’t want to close businesses or close restaurants (again),” he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Chamber has continued its mission of helping businesses, adjusting to new needs.
Early on, the Chamber helped businesses get personal protective equipment for workers and communicate information from Kosciusko County Public Health Officer Dr. William Remington and state and federal leaders.
Parker said the Chamber’s working to encourage people to get vaccinated. He also said it’s continuing to improve access to child care, noting that the pandemic “amplified” that problem.