Photos courtesy of Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership Is a Community Voice & Anchor for Small Businesses During Pandemic

Part One of a Two-Part Series

The Greater Houston region is, in itself, a lesson in resiliency. It has faced floods and hurricanes, prioritized revitalizing infrastructure, supported and marketed its central industries, and now is dealing with a global pandemic which will reshape business and communities for the future.

At the core of these efforts is the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP), a business-advocacy pioneer for more than 1,100 member companies. While continuing with its regular policy and outreach efforts, it is simultaneously helping the region through unprecedented days.

“The Partnership has been able to utilize the position that it has had for many years speaking for the business community and leverage the relationships and partnerships we’ve developed on various issues … to really be a voice during this pandemic and [economic] downturn,” says Chase Kronzer, the Partnership’s Director of Public Policy.

Texas, under Gov. Greg Abbott, recently began reopening parts of the state economy and phasing in its next steps.

In a public-health emergency of this proportion, the organization is now a go-to for small businesses that do not have expansive budgets, staff and systems. Kronzer adds: “The larger members who can afford to stay home and stay back opens up some space for smaller businesses to get back and do their thing. It’s actually been really great to see larger members that typically are pretty conservative when it comes to sharing their internal processes and what they typically do, being open about their protocols. We have strong community players. We saw things like this after Harvey too.”

“What we’re seeing is that in the information era, people are starving for credible information and guidance for small businesses and their owners in the wake of COVID-19,” says Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition Executive Director Ed Mortimer. “We’ve seen that regulations and practices from agencies and companies in the transportation and infrastructure sectors are needed and instructive during times like this. But, likewise, resources provided by the Greater Houston Partnership and regional chambers of commerce are virtual toolkits for survival.”

Leveraging Relationships to Help Houston

Kronzer’s policy portfolio includes energy, flood mitigation, large-scale infrastructure and transportation policy — sectors that were mostly deemed essential early on and have also become guideposts.

The Houston Work Safe Program grew from pulling together more than 70 business leaders from large and small companies, various regional institutions, and survey input from more than 850 businesses.

“Things have been changing very rapidly and we’ve been trying to be on the forefront of that. We’ve also been able to draw on our connections with state and local leaders to take what we’re hearing from the business community and position that — whether it was guidance on closure or now on reopening,” explains Kronzer.

The Partnership wants jump-starting business to be smart, safe and sustainable. On the landing page of its website, principles include: non-essential employees continuing to work from home; expanding cleaning; creating physical separation and alternate teams; closing communal spaces; and sick workers staying home.

Stakeholders also came together to help the Partnership create the Greater Houston Business Recovery Center, a one-stop shop for government, non-profit and private-sector resources. The organization also puts out daily email briefs with media reports and policy updates. Webinars, blogs and podcasts — featuring local experts and business leaders — have also been made available to the broader community. In what would be equivalent to standing-room-only events, webinars have included a Federal Stimulus Discussion with Sen. John Cornyn and A Guide to Reopening Your Business with Baylor College of Medicine.

Business Advocacy Organizations Indispensable in America Now

A few years ago, Houston ranked among the friendliest cities for small business owners, but the region is staring down something new. At the end of March, a survey by the Partnership showed that 91 percent of its small- to medium-sized member companies had lost revenue, 64 percent were concerned about finances and liquidity, 34 percent had reduced their number of employees, and about half said they would not pay employees during the shutdown.

Through the Partnership, Texans can navigate a labyrinth of information related to COVID-19 and federal fiscal resources, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, Small Business Administration (SBA) assistance, the Main Street Lending Program and the U.S. Chamber Guide to the Employee Retention Tax Credit.

Kronzer’s life is very different than it was months ago. He’s strategizing with allies, researching, and staying on top of COVID-19 issues. The Partnership’s employees are on daily calls with the Texas Medical Center so they can update members on crucial data. There are emails and virtual meetings.

Meanwhile, Kronzer, a Houston native, also manages his mainstay responsibilities which include cultivating issues to develop policy positions, engaging local, state and federal officials, and working with legislators and their staffs, and contacts such as engineers and transportation and public-works professionals. And this doesn’t include helping homeschool a six-year-old, care for a two-year-old, and preparing for a child on the way.

On the afternoon the ATM Coalition interviewed Kronzer, he had just jumped off of a call regarding the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) considering amendments to the United Transportation Program (UTP), which allocates Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) funds. Advocates in the infrastructure sectors and those who support robust federal investment know that the budgets of state departments of transportation are vulnerable because of lost revenue and the economic downturn.

We’ll discuss more about Houston infrastructure issues in part two of our story.

Kronzer’s background is an asset to the Partnership. It includes a George Washington University master’s degree in public administration, working as a foreign policy and national security researcher at the Cato Institute, helping craft and oversee the implementation of the Texas budget at the Legislative Budget Board, and time with an international healthcare research and advisory firm. He’s been at the organization for nearly four years.

The need for guidance and advocacy from groups like the Partnership is not going away anytime soon. As the nation continues to deal with COVID-19, rebuild and recover, communities are going to have to continue to coordinate efforts to serve the public and businesses.

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