After taking several months off due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce’s Coffee and Conversation returned this month, featuring Small Business Development Center Director Keith Olson.

A larger crowd than anticipated met on Tuesday, June 23 at Meg-A-Latte’s Loft in Williston, enjoying scones and coffee before the program began. The morning’s topic was Recovery After COVID, with Olson as speaker. Olson said his office, along with the Williston Economic Development office, have been working on determining what incentives could be offered for businesses during this time. The issue, he said, was with ever-changing rules and guidelines regarding loans, paybacks and more.

“We are trying to figure out if the city would still like to come out with some (incentives), and we’re trying to figure out what that should be,” Olson said. “But we’re still seeing really good activity as far people starting new businesses. If a building comes open we’ll get three calls within a day.”

Olson added that his office was just beginning to see loan requests for new projects, and despite the slowdown in business, especially in the oil and energy sector, the Williston area is still faring better than places such as Minot and Dickinson in terms of retail, restaurant and small business. He stated that over the next few months, Small Business and Economic Development would begin to get a better picture of the pandemic’s impact as sales tax numbers are reported.

While Olson said he didn’t have anything “profound” to say, he said his office is focusing on answering questions and providing resources for businesses that need it. Some in attendance shared how things were being affected at their businesses, and what changes have been made.

“Once they started up baseball again, All Seasons Sport About has really been busy,” shared Lee Gunlikson, former Sport About owner. “The parents are starting to come back in for equipment and gear and different sportswear. It’s changed a little bit.”

Olson said he believed that in the months since COVID-19 struck the country, that people’s habits have changed in terms of how they shop and interact with businesses in public. The same has been true for businesses themselves, added Chamber President Rachel Richter-Lordemann, who said that one thing that impressed her was seeing how the Chamber’s member adapted to the pandemic, creating new ways to stay open and cater to their customers. Delivery, curbside pickup and by-appointment shopping are just some of the ways Lordemann said shops have been able to stay afloat amid the crisis.

“I like to look for a silver lining, and those are some things that really stuck our for me,” she said. “I hope that those businesses will continue to use some of those creative ideas to continue to be successful.”

Olson and Lordemann both stressed the importance of utilizing available resources to stay current on re-opening practices.Smart Restart Protocols and information can be found at ndresponse.gov.

Other resources provided by the Chamber of Commerce include:

www.canva.com, for free web-based graphic tools for businesses;

www.shopsmall.org, providing education resources for small businesses owners;

www.standforsmall.com, with offers, tools and expert advice for small businesses;

www.smallbusiness.withgoogle.com, for free digital skills training,employee mental health and well-being guidance, and more;

ama.org, marketing toolkits, digital marketing webinars and more from the American Marketing Association.

• Visit www.willistonchamber.com to find further information.

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