Rather than postpone proceedings until large crowds could again safely gather in person, the Regional Business Summit went virtual this year amid COVID-19 concerns.

Hosted by the Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the chambers of Sammamish, Mercer Island, Newcastle, and Snoqualmie Valley, the Sept. 10 event invited numerous Eastside-area business leaders to share insights and experiences via presentations and panel-style breakout sessions. COVID-19 was the unofficial theme of the event. All conversations in some way acknowledged, if not entirely revolved around, the virus’s effect on the regional business community. 

The summit commenced with words from the Issaquah chamber’s president, Kathy McCorry, and Kristi Reynolds of presenting sponsor Vistage.

“2020 turned out to be one of the greatest years we anticipated…then COVID hit,” McCorry said at the beginning of the event. “It’s been six months, and here we are not only experiencing a pandemic but what will be perceived as one of the largest paradigm shifts the world has ever known…today, we’re writing a new business culture.”

The event opening was mostly geared around a presentation from Chris Pirillo, the Intel Corporation’s chief community advocate. He focused on strategies employers and employees should take into consideration when working from home (“if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your business”). His presentation particularly emphasized video conferencing dos and don’ts, whether related to where you should direct your eyes when chatting with people over a tool like Zoom (do: look at the camera lens as if it were a person) or how to visually complement your professionalism (do: set your Zoom background to “white” to improve lighting). 

Kristi Tripple, Vivian Page, Jeff Dance, and Stewart Kelpe. Screenshot courtesy of the Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce via Facebook

After Pirillo’s presentation, summit participants were invited to break off into various individual sessions. For the first half-hour slot, which began at 10:15 a.m., attendees could either hear Patrick Byers (founder of Outsource Marketing LLC), Sari Davidson (CEO of BooginHead LLC), and Diana Wu (founder and lead dentist of Issaquah Premier Dental) discuss how they’ve pivoted to meet the needs of their customers in the COVID-19 era. Or they could listen to Katie Bosseler (owner of Chalk Boss), Matthew Griffin (CEO and co-founder of Combat Flip Flops), and Norman Wu (co-owner of Just Poke) discuss how their individual business models had to be tweaked as a result of pandemic-related impacts. 

“Having to rethink things…has been a big challenge for me,” Bosseler said during her session.

For the second half-hour session, which started at 11 a.m., participants had the option to either hear Thien-Di Do (vice president of Marketing & Communications at Northstar Energy), Stanford Le (interim CEO of the Snoqualmie Casino), and Renee Zimmerman (community project manager of Puget Sound Energy) talk about how their leadership strategies have been affected by the “new now,” or listen to Jeff Dance (Fresh Consulting CEO), Stewart Kelpe (Atomic director), and Vivian Page (Talking Rain executive vice president) speak about what their companies have been doing to hire and retain employees amid COVID-19 adjustments.

It was noted almost across the board during the latter session that companies are now more than ever looking at more expansive talent pools with the increasing normalization of telework in light of the pandemic. Remote work has also, inevitably, resulted in changes to pre-pandemic work dynamics.

“Recognizing the environment now that we’re in, you lose so much of the day-to-day interaction and the culture, the team building,” Kelpe said. 

Brian McGowan. Screenshot courtesy of the Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce via Facebook

The summit was capped off by an hour-long keynote from Brian McGowan, the chief executive officer of Greater Seattle Partners. Speaking from Atlanta, McGowan talked about the organization and gave insight into the state of the regional economy and its prospective recovery. He said the economy won’t reemerge in the condition it was in before. He said some job clusters will rise and fall, and that teleworking will likely become more than a trend in the near future. He added that it will also probably take “years” to gain back jobs lost due to COVID-19.

McGowan said that for the region to recover, it’s essential to set goals to foster racial equity and prosperity, build new institutional coalitions to support necessary changes, and adopt a comprehensive framework to pursue crucial goals. He invoked strategies employed by organizations like Detroit Needs Business, Oregon’s Community Investment Trust, and others as serving as exemplary precedents, and provided an outline of the recovery task force currently operating in the region.  

McGowan made an effort to end the presentation on a high note, highlighting the region’s diversity, environmental beauty, and creativity. About 10 minutes were spent afterward for a Q&A session during which attendees could ask McGowan questions using the chat bar next to the video feed. 

“It’s more important than ever that we work together as a region,” McGowan said. “Regions that react quickest…will rise out of this economic decline faster than others.”