Open season for ribbon cuttings
The scissors are the star attraction at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Well, the scissors and the host business, of course.
But everyone wants to see and hold the scissors.
"The scissors are pretty much walking down the red carpet themselves," Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Claire Slattery said. "There is no ribbon cutting without the scissors."
Around the suburbs, local chambers of commerce scissors are in greater demand than ever. After a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic largely put the kibosh on gatherings like ribbon-cutting ceremonies, especially indoors, suburban businesses are making up for lost time with all kinds of events.
A busy summer
Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kaylin Risvold was supposed to be on maternity leave, but with Illinois reopening as the number of vaccinations increase and coronavirus infections decrease, Risvold has been out and about in Naperville more than expected.
She's loving it.
"Our ribbon cuttings are through the roof. It's absolutely incredible. People are back, and they want to show off," Risvold said.
Batavia Chamber of Commerce Communications and Membership Coordinator Shirley Mott said her group hosted just nine ribbon cuttings in 2020, several of them before the lockdown began in March. Those that occurred in 2020 after the lockdown were held outdoors in good weather. Masks were required.
The Batavia chamber, which held 29 ribbon cuttings in pre-pandemic 2019, have held 10 ribbon cuttings through the first six months of 2021. Batavia's scissors are just warming up. Four more ribbon cuttings are confirmed for July and another 10 are in the planning stages.
In Naperville they are booking ribbon cuttings into September and October "because we're just so busy," Risvold said.
It's not just new businesses that are requesting ribbon-cutting ceremonies. It's also businesses that opened during the pandemic but postponed a formal celebration, like Prairie Community Bank in Elgin. It's businesses that are marking the anniversaries of their opening, as Band & Wire Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry of Westmont did in June. It's businesses that have reopened or remodeled or rebranded or just joined/rejoined the local chamber of commerce or just want to remind potential customers that they are there.
There are exceptions, however. Schaumburg Business Association President Lisa Gilbert said her group's numbers have held steady throughout the past year-plus. The SBA is busy, she said, but it was busy during the lockdown as well.
More than ribbon cuttings
Ribbon cuttings aren't just for the host business to get some publicity, though that helps. A local newspaper might attend, cable access TV might be there, and, of course, social media is a great way to get the word out about a business.
"To me it's a no-brainer" for a business, Batavia's Mott said.
What has changed is what happens at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It's less cut and run, more stay and mingle now. People have missed that face-to-face connection and are glad to get that back. It's good for people and it's good for business.
Schaumburg's Gilbert said her group conducted a survey of members that showed members "overwhelmingly" wanted to network. "They wanted that face to face."
The networking can make attending someone else's ribbon cutting worthwhile, but there frequently is another tasty benefit too. Go to a ribbon cutting for a restaurant or bar and you'll often be treated to some free samples.
"So many of our ambassadors said, 'hey, I'm not sure Seoul Taco would have been my go-to choice for dinner because I don't know what it is, but because I was able to go and sample it now I'm catering it for my son's graduation,'" Naperville's Risvold said.
Risvold said she has noticed a lot of food and beverage businesses having ribbon cuttings lately. But it's not just restaurants and bars that are celebrating.
Even home-based businesses can have ribbon cuttings. The Batavia chamber will host events for home-based businesses at the chamber office, Mott said.
There are more than ribbon cuttings that have suburban chamber of commerce staffs hopping. There are after-hour events, where a business will host members for cocktails. Naperville has a waiting list building for these events, with three already booked for 2022.
Golf outings also are popular around the suburbs, and not just for the golfers. More than half of Naperville's September golf outing sponsorships were sold out in June, which is unusual, Risvold said. Her staff even sold a couple of sponsorships before the event's date was even set, "which is crazy to me, but wonderful. and it shows the commitment of our business community and the chamber."
Surge in membership
Many chambers are seeing their membership numbers rise again after dropping during the pandemic.
The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, with 1,100 members the second largest local chamber group in Illinois, saw its membership numbers increase more than any month in the past 18 months, Risvold said.
"For a chamber executive it's a good feeling to be processing member applications," Lake Zurich's Slattery added.
The membership drive also is helped by the strong economy.
"There's a lot happening behind the scenes that not everybody knows about," Risvold said. "Just because you might see a business that has emptied out of a space in downtown Naperville doesn't mean that there's not one already set up and planned to come in. So we've got some pretty exciting businesses coming in downtown."
Also among the vital membership benefits is help filling jobs. With so many businesses around the country finding it difficult to fill all the jobs it has open, suburban chambers of commerce are getting involved in that too.
Most have job boards on which members can post openings. It might not have the reach of a national job-search company, but it's a good source for the community. The Batavia job board has had 30-40 jobs posted consistently the last few months. And when Mott sees chamber members posting a help wanted sign, she will stop in to suggest they post their job on the chamber job board, also.
Mott hosted her first interactive ribbon cutting June 30 for a school bus company hoping to hire drivers.
The school bus company, First Student, needs to find 180 new drivers in its Batavia location to service its contracts this fall. So they planned to have a trainer working with prospective drivers or special guests in the company parking lot showing them how to drive a bus.
Matching employers with potential employees has become a priority in Naperville also.
"My job board fills up every day, and every single person I talk to is trying to hire and can't get workers in," Risvold said. "That's the one thing the chamber is trying to help with right now is connecting people with workers."
Still room for Zoom
Just because the state has reopened for business and vaccinated suburbanites can safely get together indoors and without masks doesn't mean the days of the Zoom events are over. Some virtual events will continue, and some events will continue as hybrid virtual/in-person happenings.
"Online is not going away," Risvold said. "And the businesses that are going to do well are the businesses that realize that a lot of this change is permanent."
Risvold's group, the second largest in Illinois, held a diversity, equity and inclusion event during which a Starbucks vice president in Seattle made a presentation on Zoom. The group also could have conversations with local legislators in Springfield or Washington via Zoom.
The Schaumburg Business Association started a relationship with the Butler County Chamber of Commerce in Pennsylvania. The two organizations found they were similar in many ways and could learn from each other and their members could learn from each other.
Even events that primarily are in person will have a virtual element, at least for the near future. Some in-person events will have virtual attendees projected on a screen to the side of the event, so they can feel included and in-person attendees can feel their presence.
For instance, a Good Morning Schaumburg event in June saw roughly 50 people attend in person and about 40 virtually, Gilbert said.
Back to the scissors
But ribbon cuttings are what's hot now, and suburban chambers of commerce remain the go-to source for the comically large, ceremonial scissors used at ribbon-cutting ceremonies. They also bring the ribbon, often with the chamber name or logo printed on it.
"When you're in the community they say, oh, you have to talk to the chamber because they're the ones with the scissors," Slattery said.
The Lake Zurich staff would take themed photos of the scissors at each ribbon cutting, eventually putting the photos into a keepsake book that was given as a gift to a former chamber executive director.
"It was cute. It was a cool concept," Slattery said.
But a warning. The scissors, usually about 18-24 inches long, might look fun, but they are not harmless. Mott said the Batavia scissors are sharp enough to cut hair.
Rest assured, Mott said, there are no hair-cutting events planned for the scissors.
At least not yet.