In many ways, the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce has tried to keep its traditional events and connections with local business running as close to normal as possible, given the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year.
The annual golf tournament was able to hit the links, and the 24th Annual Business Excellence Awards were held – albeit virtually this year.
President Brad Kiendl said the pandemic has affected both the way local businesses operate, and the way the Chamber does things.
“It’s going to continue to shape the way we do business,” he said.
The Chamber had a few advantages going into the pandemic, including the fact that it had already held a few virtual events even before everyone had to start relying on Zoom, Kiendl said.
The Chamber successfully switched to using online conferencing tools to hold the all-candidates meetings for the provincial election in October, drawing hundreds of people to watch for both the Langley and Langley East ridings.
One of the new projects the Chamber has launched was a blog on its website. The blog includes links to everything from local events like the upcoming byelection and City and Township council news, to aid for local businesses and news that directly affects shops and restaurants.
For example, it recently highlighted the B.C. government’s cap on fees for food delivery services, which had been an issue for many restaurants that had come to rely on takeout and third-party delivery services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and SkipTheDishes.
“We’re an organization that, ourself, has struggled with the ability to put on events,” he noted, and added that it’s been one of the busiest years ever for chamber CEO Colleen Clark and her staff.
“We recognize this has not been an easy year for a lot of businesses.”
But businesses, often through the Chamber, have innovated, changed the way they do things, and managed to keep going.
“Langley businesses have proven to be very resilient in extremely challenging times,” Kiendl said.
On the retail side in particular, the Chamber has been busy promoting “buy local,” through a variety of initiatives since close to the start of the pandemic. People have been shopping in local stores, even if the shopping is virtual or via curbside pickup.
Keeping local customers connected to local stores has been one of the cornerstones of the Chamber’s efforts over the past 11 months.
Businesses forced to find more efficient ways of doing things have already said the new procedures will stay in place long after the coronavirus pandemic is over, Kiendl noted.
He mentioned a local manufacturing plant that has regular pickups at its shipping yard.
In the past, they would have three- or four-hour windows for drivers to arrive, which meant the yard was always busy.
To cut down on interactions between drivers and staff during the pandemic, the business got a scheduling app and has reduced pickup windows to 15 minutes.
Businesses have also adjusted to online retail and curbside pickup. Not all of those changes will stay in place, but some will.
Another big change is the possibility of another, future pandemic, which Kiendl said will affect how local businesses plan for their long-term futures.
Businesses, like the broader community, are hoping that some sort of normalcy returns if and when vaccination covers most of the province and the numbers go down.
But ultimately, business owners can’t just wait to see what happens, Kiendl said. They have to take action to keep their operations going, and that’s driven these changes.
Many Langley businesses remain based on face-to-face interaction, and the longer the pandemic and the associated restrictions drag on, the harder that gets, both for the businesses and for people in general.
“We’re starving for social interaction, especially in person,” said Kiendl.
A buffer for Langley’s overall economy is its breadth.
“One of the things I love about Langley is how diverse we are from a business perspective,” said Kiendl.
Langley has multiple sectors, from busy retail districts around the City and Willowbrook, to agriculture, to the service sector, tourism, and manufacturing and warehousing, construction and real estate, and the film industry.
That diversity means that Langley isn’t doing better than average – some sectors have been hit hard – but it isn’t doing worse, either. Langley looks like a good example of what COVID has done to the wider economy, Kiendl said.