The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the first crisis the city of Huntington has faced. It probably won’t be the last. But like the 1970 plane crash that claimed the lives of 75 people and the opioid epidemic that’s stolen thousands more, the city, its people and its businesses are finding ways to rally support and overcome challenges caused by the coronavirus.
One organization at the center of this effort is the Huntington Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit business association focused on making Cabell and Wayne counties a better place to live and work. In recent months, the chamber has tapped its deep professional network to connect business owners to resources, information and much-needed help.
“I think people are coming to the conclusion that no matter who you are, everyone is going through the same thing right now and that this commonality is what’s holding us together,” said Bill Bissett, president and CEO of the Huntington chamber.
Bisset said a sense of camaraderie is washing over the city and that the business community is leading by example. When local restaurants needed liquid hand sanitizer but couldn’t get any because supplies had dried up, a local law office stepped up to provide and distribute several jugs.
“No one in the public or private sector is thinking at 5 o ‘clock that it’s time to go home,” Bissett said. “They’re going the extra mile to solve problems and find ways to keep people in business.”
Adapting in a crisis
Bissett said one of the hardest things about COVID-19 is not knowing the extent of economic and human damage and how long disruption will last.
“If I’ve learned anything through all this, it’s that business owners are ingenious,” Bissett said. “Our people are resilient and they’re taking this very seriously and finding ways to stay in business while following social distancing and public health guidelines.”
For some businesses, that means embracing virtual work or telecommuting. Thanks to technology, the Huntington chamber has been able to continue offering services to its member businesses, which represent a variety of industries and sectors.
“How we do business is going to change on the other side of this,” Bissett said. “In the short term, there are questions about how businesses can sell things, but business finds a way.”
Supporting first responders
Business owners in Huntington aren’t just concerned about their staying open. Bissett said several companies have reached out to the chamber looking for ways to give back to the community.
“I’ve seen a lot of businesses, even competitors, helping each other out and pooling resources to help our community get through this difficult time. It’s been really encouraging to watch,” he said.
And when COVID-19 cases started surging in the area, local businesses worked together to show support for first responders in Cabell County by providing box lunches made by a local restaurant.
“A meal can raise your spirits,” Bissett said. “People were telling us that getting that box lunch was a real morale booster.”
And as the economy begins to reopen, Bissett is cautiously optimistic that West Virginia can get back to business.
“We aren’t through this just yet,” he said. “But we turned an audible click this past week and that is reason enough to have some hope.”
Apart But Not Alone
West Virginians have been resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic. If you know a businesses, community organization or individual finding creative ways to give back to their community, we want to hear about it. Share their story with us at commerce.wv.gov/wv-stories/wv-apart-not-alone.
Bill Bissett, Huntington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO
Liquid hand sanitizer that was delivered to area restaurants prior to opening for outdoor seating.
(Left to right) Toney Stroud, an attorney with Encova Insurance and Chair of the Huntington Regional Chamber, joins Drew Hines, owner of Butter It Up in Downtown Huntington, as they deliver boxed lunches to Cabell County EMS workers.
Cabell County EMS workers enjoy a boxed lunch, courtesy of AT&T and FirstNet.
(Left to right) Andy Feeney of ATA&T and FirstNet join Toney Stroud, an attorney with Encova Insurance and Chair of the Huntington Regional Chamber, to deliver boxed lunches to Cabell County EMS workers.
Jason Beter, owner of Oscar’s Breakfast, Burgers & Brews, outside of his restaurant. Oscar’s has been one of the many Cabell County restaurants that developed curbside and delivery orders to meet the needs of their customers while protecting the health of their employees and customers.
Jason Beter, owner of Oscar’s Breakfast, Burgers & Brews, places a curbside pickup order outside for a customer. Oscar’s has been one of the many Cabell County restaurants that developed curbside and delivery orders to meet the needs of their customers while protecting the health of their employees and customers.
A banner outside of Oscar’s Breakfast, Burgers & Brews allows customers to call ahead and pick up their curbside orders, which protects the restaurant’s employees and customers.