Businesses, nonprofits and government join forces to survive, thrive during pandemic.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc around the world. Overnight, schools closed, thousands of businesses shuttered and normal life came to a standstill.>
In Jackson, TN, government, business and the nonprofit sectors came together with a response plan and resources to keep the community informed and moving forward.>
The Jackson Chamber created a website and launched a campaign called Forward Together, which provided COVID-19 case updates, local news, small-business resources, remote working tools and information on takeout/curbside businesses.>
“Forward Together was a platform to put all the information in one spot,” says Julie Daniels, communication coordinator at the Jackson Chamber. “We called every single one of our 1,000+ chamber members to check in and see how they were, if they were open or closed, what we could do to help them and if they were confused about any of the mandates, and how do we push people to your business and keep them safe.”
Providing a Spark in Jackson, TN
Pre-pandemic, to help businesses “ignite” with networking and learning, the Jackson Chamber, in partnership with theCO, held an event called Spark on the first Thursday of each month. These events featured a different speaker each month but, with the immediacy of the pandemic, the need shifted.
A shorter version of this event became known as Spark Plugs, covering topics like PPP loans, resources for remote learning and working, and mental health.
Spark Plugs took place on Facebook Live. “They were short weekly livestreams geared toward information that you needed to know right away,” Daniels says.
Efforts Designed to Help Artists, Foster Inclusion
Another project was Music & Chill, in which Jackson restaurants would host a local musician to perform and stream it on Facebook Live, then take donations while encouraging people to patronize the restaurant.
“We saw that artists were hurting so much, and at the time, restaurants started opening up â€“ it was really a way to highlight the restaurants and the musicians,” Daniels says.
Additionally, in August 2020, amid nationwide discussions concerning equity and inclusion, the Jackson Chamber joined United Way of West Tennessee to share conversations and screened outdoor films highlighting important issues surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion.
Leaders from organizations and community groups came together to form the Jackson Equity Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization advocating for equity and justice for marginalized, disenfranchised and oppressed people in the community.
Shifting Strategies in West Tennessee
Community support could also be seen from area businesses during the pandemic, as stores and restaurants worked hard to help others and stay afloat. Some even changed the services they offered or what they normally produce. Samuel T Bryant Distillery in Jackson converted from making moonshine to producing hand sanitizer, allowing staff to stay on the job.
“We’re primarily a tourist business, with about 70% coming from interstate traffic, and for awhile there, there wasn’t any interstate traffic,” says Sam Bryant, distillery owner.
The distillery provided hand sanitizer, in short supply at the time, to frontline workers and individuals and has now returned to creating its drinkable spirits.
Another local company, Master Medical Equipment and its sister company, ReNew Biomedical, suddenly helped provide new and restored ventilators to places all over the world, including New Orleans and New York stateside and as far away as Argentina, Brazil and Italy.
“Suddenly, ventilators are the most sought-after piece of equipment in the world, and we found ourselves right on the wave of that,” says Josh Kasper, lead marketing designer at Master Medical. “We were fortunate in our partnerships with the manufacturers that they were able to provide us with ventilators. We went from selling about five per week to suddenly having orders for 100 a day.”
Despite doubling productivity and distribution output, the companies didn’t hire additional staff, but just increased the hours of the workers they already had. “It was quite an experience not just locally, but nationally and internationally, as well,” Kasper says.
For the Love of Jackson
The COVID-19 outbreak hit small businesses especially hard. To help struggling local enterprises, Jackson business and government organizations came up with imaginative strategies to encourage residents to locally invest their dollars.
For example, For the Love of Jackson (FTLOJ) was created by the Jackson Chamber, Visit Jackson TN and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center, along with sponsorship by several local financial institutions.
“We really wanted to shine a light on the small businesses in Jackson and West Tennessee. Especially since we weren’t able to get out of the house because of COVID, we wanted to assist businesses with additional marketing,” says Monique Merriweather, director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in partnership with Jackson State Community College.
Three videos featuring over 20 businesses were developed focusing upon dining, entertainment and shopping sectors. Those were marketed through television, social media, digital and radio campaigns. The public was invited to post their photos experiencing Madison County #LoveOfJackson businesses to potentially win one of the two $500 giveaways.
“The way we cohesively pulled together to magnify our small businesses for the greater good of our community … was really amazing,” Merriweather says.
Want to learn more about doing business in Jackson? Check out the latest edition of Livability Jackson, Tennessee.