Business community resumes cautious gatherings

Don Fleming, right, welcomes attendees to the first in-person Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours Mixer held at Valencia Acura in Valencia on Wednesday, 071421. Dan Watson/The Signal

During the pandemic, virtual events all but replaced in-person gatherings as the business community worked to continue operations as much as possible.

Whether a conference, meeting and even happy hour, the business community attended events virtually for the past year and a half, but after working remotely, countless Zoom calls and a lack of business travel, business leaders in the Santa Clarita Valley agree it’s time to return to some normal business practices — as safely as possible.

As the economy began to re-open, in-person events also began to resume, with many local business organizations returning to holding at least some of their events face-to-face.

However, as COVID-19 cases begin to increase once more and the more infectious Delta variant spreads locally, many in the business community are left wondering how to proceed.

“I think everybody’s trying to figure out what’s the right balance, but I think that businesses are eager to get back to being in person as much as they can,” said Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the SCV Economic Development Corp. “The pace of that is different business by business, depending on what industry they’re in and what’s going on with their employees, but I think they’re eager to do so.”

The SCV Chamber of Commerce was among some of the first organizations to return to its in-person get-togethers, with many sharing their excitement as such during the first Business After Hours Mixer held at Valencia Acura last month.

“In-person interactions are vital for both fostering and creating connections, and while we did our best in the virtual environment to keep everyone connected, there’s no substitute for genuine one-on-one interaction,” Ivan Volschenk, managing partner at Evolve Business Strategies, which manages the chamber, said in a previous Signal interview. “The business community thrives on in-person events, where our leaders engage in authentic interactions to build lasting connections with one another, and these reliable bonds ultimately strengthen the fabric of our business community.”

Similarly, the Valley Industry Association has hosted a few of its events in person, such as its’ fourth annual State of the State in June and city update in July, both of which were held at the Hyatt Regency Valencia.

Even so, both organizations have been monitoring the changing situation and making adjustments as necessary.

“VIA is trying very hard to determine the thoughts and concerns of the business community about in-person meetings,” said Kathy Norris, president and CEO of VIA. “In fact, we’ve recently sent out a survey in which that question was asked, along with several others.”

Initial data from VIA’s survey indicated 79% of those that responded thusfar were reportedly comfortable attending in-person programs and events, while just 21% were not, according to Norris.

Norris said VIA plans to use the data to make final decisions regarding its upcoming VIA BASH, scheduled to take place in November.

“Whatever the results, the BASH will go on for 2021,” Norris added. “We conducted a very successful virtual BASH in 2020, but our hope is to present the 2021 BASH in person, whether indoors, or outdoors. We will, of course, follow appropriate protocol to keep attendees safe.”

The SCVEDC is also planning to host its fall Economic Outlook Forecast in person, as the organization monitors the health orders, according to Schroeder.

When in-person events resumed, the chamber made it clear the community’s health was always its top priority, according to Volschenk, who added, “We were excited to bring those events back, but (were) always cognizant that their health and maintaining everybody’s ability to work, and businesses to remain open was a top priority.”

Chamber events have always followed the latest Public Health guidelines, including masking guidelines and limited capacities among others, and while many of the chamber’s smaller in-person events have continued, the chamber recently made the decision to postpone its annual State of the County event out of an abundance of caution due to the high number of attendees planned for the event.

The 11th annual State of the County was scheduled to be the chamber’s first large-scale, signature event in more than 16 months, with more than 400 in-person guests scheduled to attend at Six Flags Magic Mountain with guest speaker Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

Most business organizations are continuing to offer a mix of in-person and virtual events, which local business leaders agreed they believe will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

However, while the virtual world can offer many benefits to the business community, many business leaders agree that it does not entirely replace in-person meetings, which are vital to a company’s growth and success.

“You can make a lot of good relationships using virtual tools, and they’ve been really effective in helping people maintain them, (but) I still think that there’s value and being face-to-face,” Schroeder said.

Networking and making new connections are more organic in an in-person setting, Schroeder explained, while in-person meetings also offer more opportunities to make these connections.

“There’s nothing that can take away from a personal, one-on-one interaction,” Volschenk added. “Virtual (interactions) have made it a little bit easier to maintain some of those relationships, but especially for new businesses, coming to a networking event is very important for them to meet people and to engage with the community at large.”

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