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Palm Coast Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2020 8 months ago

Disruption, hope and change: Q+A with Flagler Chamber President Aimee Stafford

Coronavirus outbreak forces businesses to telecommute. Will it stick?
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Things have been moving so fast that Aimee Stafford is in reaction mode. But the new Flagler Chamber president also has a sense that things are going to improve, especially after the federal stimulus package was announced.

“The help that’s coming is now becoming a reality, which really needs to happen,” she said in a phone interview with the Palm Coast Observer. “People need resources, and they need them quickly. I’m feeling a little more positive.”

"I’ve been so impressed by everyone who’s so driven to keep their customers safe."


Stafford is adjusting to working from home and telecommuting herself, and she’s trying to be creative about how to improve the chamber during the coronavirus outbreak.

“I think people are getting used to using those platforms at home," she said. "You might find this changing some businesses as they find that teleconferencing is easier than they thought it was.”


What will the federal stimulus package do for Flagler County?

The chamber, in addition to other organizations, are finally getting direct communication from federal and state officials. We’ve been speculating on relief for the last two weeks, and it’s finally coming to fruition, so folks should be seeing some financial relief soon.


You probably weren’t expecting a pandemic when you took the job three months ago. What opportunity to do you see for the chamber at this time?

I really feel like we need to be able to communicate broadly with our entire community, rather than just members of the chamber. The chamber represents the whole business community, whether you’re a member or not.

You have some businesses who are being directed to loans, but they have some other questions that the loan providers are too overwhelmed to handle, so I see the chamber being able to help.

I had a conversation with a cleaning business, and she needed someone to talk to. The chamber can connect people to others who may have good advice.

I think that’s a good role for the chamber, to help weed through all this information, to pull out what’s pertinent to our business community. My goal is to put together a comprehensive list of what’s in this $2 trillion package so people can pull out the minutiae that they might not initially pay attention to.


What are some creative things you’ve heard businesses doing in response to the outbreak?

We have a new Jimmy Johns franchisee in Flagler County, and they were so diligent on how they were cleaning, wiping down pens, wiping down point-of-purchase screens on every transaction. I think people often think businesses are only out to make money, but I’ve been so impressed by everyone who’s so driven to keep their customers safe.

"There is a way to support the economy from home."


Some restaurants were considering at-home chef services. A gift shop was talking about Facebook shopping for gifts. Car dealers are making amazing deals for people still in the market for buying cars. They’re just great deals available; you just have to be able to find them online. So there’s a couple of websites that have been put together to help people with that.

The chamber is working with the county, on It’s a real-time way for businesses to go on and update that they’re open, update their hours. They put information up there, like adjusted menu for takeout, and they can change that in real time, so that’s a service the county was able to offer.

There is a way to support the economy from home. We live in the information age.


How will the chamber be different on the other side of this?

We are in a building that used to house 14 people, and now there will be four of us. We are down to two employees. We are hiring, though we have to wait till after the coronavirus before we hire. We are in a building that’s too big for us, so we are looking to move. That’s the best use of our members’ dollars.

We’re going to plug away. I don’t see the chamber going away.


How is life working from home?

I have two 120-pound dogs who demand more attention than my 13-year-old boy. So I feel like I have furry coworkers, and they’re making me crazy. And then of course, begin a mother and working from home and trying to get my middle-schooler back to school mode takes some time.

It brings home the challenges of how you balance your family and work life. It’s fun and difficult at the same time. You have to learn to ignore the laundry staring at you in the face.


Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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