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The Mid-America Chamber Executives (MACE) conference occurred over the week of May 10, 2021. Numerous awards were given to Chambers and Chamber professionals that have displayed the highest examples of hard work, passion, and effort. A new MACE award category, named Resiliency in the Face of Adversity, recognizes chambers for adapting to an uncertain environment by implementing a new way of doing things such as events, programs, projects, sponsorships, daily activities, etc. and being resilient when faced with adversity. The Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce received an award in this category for the 2019 Floods and COVID-19 Response.

The following is information from the award nomination:

In July of 2019, the Kearney community was impacted by the devastating flooding in several areas, including the hospitality sector, the historic business district, and many residential areas. Just eight months later, these same businesses were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic-- affecting employees, owners, and customers alike.

The Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce team took on the daunting task of providing a month-long plan to provide relief to the citizens of the county by providing the following four specific initiatives: the KAEER Fund, Kearney Strong COVID Information site (including a Back to Business Playbook), STIK program, and STAY Kearney campaign.

The purpose of the KAEER Fund was to provide monetary assistance to employees and business owners negatively impacted by COVID-19. This fund was set up and coordinated with partnership between the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kearney Area Community Foundation. A board of volunteers was put together to consider applications and grant checks while another group of volunteers verified employment status and other personal information. These checks were sent to applicants within 48 hours to ensure immediate relief. The KAEER Fund received over $200,000 in donations from local entities and private contributors. In the matter of three and a half weeks, over 1,300 checks were sent to applicants around the Kearney area.

The community saw struggle with income as well as quick access to updated community information. The Kearney Chamber team collaborated to publish the Kearney Strong information website-- a full page of COVID-19 business, community, and health information. A Back to Business Playbook was also published with links to TestNebraska, fliers for employers to print and share, tips for slowing the spread, mask information, PPE suggestions, and more. In its seven month existence, the Kearney Strong page received 57,244 views-- with about 32,000 of these views occurring in its first month.

STIK (Stronger Together in Kearney) was a gift card program created to help local businesses. In partnership with the Economic Development Council of Buffalo County (EDC), this program encouraged consumers to purchase gift cards through an online platform to local businesses. Once a business reached $500 in gift cards purchased, they qualified to earn $100 from EDC. Then once a business reached $1,000, EDC gave another $100. The Chamber sold over $6,000 worth of gift cards through STIK.

Finally, the STAY Kearney campaign was implemented to encourage the best ways to live, work, and play in Kearney. “STAY” is an acronym for “Shop, Taste, Adventure, and Your Kearney.” STAY Kearney included the Stronger Together in Kearney, Kearney Strong social media, and the STAY Kearney Coupon Book.

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