The year 2020 has been difficult for organizations around the country and the world in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce was no exception. Outgoing Chair Nick Rowe says the Chamber’s resilience and problem-solving skills helped make his year leading the organization a huge success.
And the Chamber’s work in 2020 is being recognized nationally. The Kentucky Chamber recently was selected as a top-three finalist for the Council of State Chambers’ “Chamber of the Year” competition with the winner being announced in the coming months.
Rowe credits much of the success to the leadership of new Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts, who took over in November 2019, and the creativity and dedication of the Chamber staff. He stated when he became chair of the organization, he expected the major challenges to be the leadership transition, a new governor, and retaining talent. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Chamber expanded its mission to help all businesses across the state navigate the crisis on multiple levels.
“We, at the Chamber, became the go-to organization for so many businesses,” Rowe said. “We’ve been able to coordinate with Senate and House leadership and with the governor’s office to find solutions for employers across the state. And it was challenging— especially with a Democratic governor and Republican legislature—but we had to find common ground so that we could go back to businesses with a united front and give them direction to navigate these challenges.”
Since the pandemic, the Chamber has increased communications efforts about the ever-changing policies and restrictions, personally answering questions from individuals and companies across the state. The Chamber also shifted from hosting large events to selling personal protective equipment (PPE) and employing other innovative strategies to help equip businesses with the tools needed to reopen.
While Rowe has been a member of the Chamber and of the Board of Directors for some time, he said serving as chair of the organization showed him that the Chamber is “solid at all levels” with the talent and passion of the team. He also saw many businesses across the state reach out to the Chamber for help that were not members, showing that everything the organization does adds value to Kentucky companies.
Rowe said 2020 proved, more than ever, that Chamber membership is critical because of the knowledge and services that the organization provides to businesses— through communication on key issues, advocacy on their behalf in Frankfort and Washington, D.C., crucial trainings, and so much more.
The future looks bright under the leadership of Ashli Watts, Rowe said. He emphasized this year has been the proof the Chamber Board made the right decision choosing Ashli to lead the organization out of many candidates nationally.
“We are so blessed to have her as CEO and it’s not easy,” Rowe said. “And I think it is great, especially as we look to tackle things like diversity and inclusion moving forward, Ashli has been the driver behind that. I am really proud of the fact she has the courage to challenge the norm. And I have been deeply impressed with how she cares about her team members. All of these things will continue to serve the Chamber extremely well.”
Moving forward, Rowe said he is confident 2021 Chair Winston Griffin will do an excellent job and he hopes to see sustained growth in membership, innovative solutions for businesses, and continued strengthening of relationships with local chambers and businesses as “we are all pulling on the same rope” to move Kentucky forward.