Collaboration key to recovery, new South Metro Denver Chamber president says

Keener says industries must adapt to 'new normal'

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Keep calm and carry on.

That was the message from Jeff Keener, the new president of the South Metro Denver Chamber, which represents more than 700 business on the south side of the metro area.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will affect businesses for the foreseeable future no matter what happens, Keener said.

“There’s no quick fix to all this,” said Keener, who took the helm of the chamber from Bob Golden, who departed for a new job in October. “We won’t be rocking and rolling in three months. We’ll be feeling this for years.”

With that in mind, the chamber is working on how best to address member needs. The chamber represents businesses ranging in size from small restaurants to Lockheed Martin.

“Businesses are going through incredible challenges right now,” he said. “You want to look ahead, but you’re looking day-to-day. We need to prepare for tomorrow, but what is tomorrow? What are we preparing for?”

For the chamber, the COVID-19 pandemic means providing as many services to members as possible, such as professional assistance navigating an ever-evolving landscape of health regulations and federal and state relief programs.

The chamber has been holding virtual panel discussions with local leaders including mayors, school superintendents and CEOs, in efforts to spur collaboration and communication.

Despite the hardships faced by shuttered businesses, Keener said it’s important for businesses to comply with health regulations.

“Businesses that are going rogue and opening up anyway, we know they’re desperate, but everyone’s better off if we figure out how to live within the rules,” Keener said. “Don’t upset the apple cart.”

Some businesses are figuring out how to adapt, Keener said, recalling a visit to a local bike shop that is now conducting many of its repair services outdoors.

“We encourage people to live, but live within the rules,” he said. “If a store’s rules are to wear a mask, just wear a mask.”

Even as restrictions ease, businesses likely won’t be out of the woods.

“This will never be over until people feel it’s over in their minds,” he said. “Red Rocks, restaurants, churches — you can open up all you want, but until people are comfortable, it won’t be back like it was.”

The chamber is also closely watching developments at the state government, where lawmakers say they will likely need to cut more than $3 billion from the state budget, including from roads and education.

“That matters a lot,” Keener said. “An educated workforce is very important for a strong economy. That’s where a lot of our focus was before the pandemic. Every level from K-12 through college and technical school is vital to building the skills employers need.”

Still, there are glimmers of hope in the current landscape. Lockheed Martin announced plans to hire hundreds of new employees at its Littleton-area plants, and some businesses, in fields such as information technology, cleaning and manufacturing, are actually seeing business pick up, Keener said.

The chamber is a useful resource for businesses in a scary climate, Keener said.

“Yes, we’re entering a new normal,” Keener said. “But people got used to enhanced airport security after 9/11. We don’t think about it much now. If we keep collaborating and supporting one another, we’ll figure this out.”

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