CONWAY — The six chambers of commerce of the White Mountains Region recently were awarded $295,000 in Chamber of Commerce Partnership Assistance funding from the N.H. Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR) to work alongside Ski New Hampshire and the White Mountains Attractions Association on programs to provide relief during the pandemic.
The programs will focus on promoting tourism, workforce recruitment, COVID-19 education and personal protection equipment distribution to the region that includes the Mount Washington Valley, Littleton, Lincoln/Woodstock, Twin Mountain/Bretton Woods and Franconia.
The Chamber of Commerce Partnership Assistance Fund is a special program created to reward collaborative efforts among chambers that were ineligible for CARES Act funding.
Representatives from the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, White Mountains Attractions Association and Ski NH spearheaded the programs, and the other chambers signed on.
The Mt. Washington Valley Chamber will serve as funding administrator.
The first program will be the White Mountains 100-mile Challenge, which encourages visitors to frequent local businesses via a regional 100-item “scavenger hunt” that encourages socially distanced travel.
This fall-through-early-winter program encourages transactions at member businesses in each of the six towns/locations of the participating chambers on 100 suggested stops throughout the northern White Mountains. Participants will then upload photos and their results to whitemts100milechallenge.com.
Social media channels, hashtags and posted reviews will further promote these regions.
Charyl Reardon, president of White Mountains Attractions Association of North Woodstock, said the challenge "encourages social distancing and does not promote large gatherings of people to any one area.
“The challenge helps to drive visitors to discover new parts of Northern New Hampshire and the businesses within them,” she added.
Another initiative is the Workforce Recruitment Program, which will identify tools for finding and hiring a workforce for the fall and winter seasons.
The goal of the Workforce Recruitment Program is to work with recruiting offices such as Trimen Work Solutions and others, State Office of Employment Services in the New England States and many others to develop relationships for sharing job information for positions in Northern New Hampshire.
Additionally, the plan is to identify lodging options for workers.
"Small businesses throughout New Hampshire have been handicapped by many of the programs implemented to ease the burden of the pandemic," said Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce of North Conway.
"The federal unemployment stipends made it easier for potential employees to decide to stay home instead of seeking employment. Plus, the fear that one could contract COVID-19 in the workplace and the need to be home with children due to a lack of day-care providers and remote learning caused by school closures only decreased the potential employment pool," Crawford pointed out.
In addition, the federal government’s cancellation of J-1 visas compounded the problem, causing ski areas and other attractions to have to reduce the number of days per week that they are open for business.
“The Workforce Recruitment Program is designed to address ways to boost the workforce pool in New Hampshire’s North Country,” said Crawford.
The third effort is the directed at COVID guidelines, required PPE and related educational needs.
Businesses say the pandemic has created new expenses in the area of PPE, public restrooms, signage, security, trash and waste removal, training materials (for employees) and education (for visitors and business owner/managers), forcing them to reallocate funds from other budget lines.
The program will identify PPE needs or previous expenditures of businesses, source items such as masks (cloth and surgical), sanitation wipes, hand sanitizer and gloves, identify public restroom, signage, trash, parking and shuttle needs, and provide financial support for the businesses that are members of the six chambers and associations to assist in covering their PPE needs.
Educational resources will be developed via a promotional campaign called Granite State Safe. The materials and advertising for this campaign will aim to educate out-of-state and in-state visitors on best practices for traveling to and around New Hampshire during this time. Learn more at granitestatesafe.com.