Providing calm — and guidance — in center of coronavirus storm: Meadowlands chamber head tries to lead by example

Meadowlands Chamber CEO Jim Kirkos visited American Dream, played golf and went to a local restaurant — which was packed, he said — last weekend.

He knows those types of weekends may be limited in the future because of coronavirus. And he knows, from talking to business owners in his area — right now, the hardest hit area in the state — that business owners need guidance.

That’s why his chamber is not waiting for the state to step in.

Last week, after working with Hackensack Meridian Health, his group sent out information on preventative measures businesses can take.

On Tuesday, he is holding a video chat and conference call with members of his executive committee and foundation trustees to figure out how the chamber is going to operate moving forward.

“At the end of the day, our members are looking for leadership,” he said. “They are looking for people to help them make decisions about what they should do next. And I want to be in that position to be able to do that.”

Like all chambers, the majority of the makeup is small- to mid-size companies, the ones that do not have national leadership — and those deep pockets — to guide them.

“What we’re seeing is the national companies can easily insert policies limiting travel and non-essential meetings and allowing employees to work from home,” he said. “I feel like the small- and mid-sized companies, which makes up the bulk of organizations like ours, are floundering and looking for guidance.

” ‘Should I go to work, should I not go to work, should I let my employees stay home or not.’

“I think we need to provide them some leadership. We need to follow the instructions of the health professionals, such as the CDC and locally, Hackensack Meridian Health, and we’re going to help you manage this.”

That starts at the chamber’s new modern headquarters. It was meant to be an extra meeting place for members. Kirkos is preparing for it to become the main one.

“We’re going to engage our in-house cleaning company to deep clean every day, all surfaces,” he said. “So, if somebody needs to come here and work in a space that’s not near everybody, they can come and do that. So, (if) we can be a resource we’re going to. We’re going to use technology of webinars and things like that so that if you don’t want to attend or your company won’t let you attend, you can still get the information on this.

“We’re not going to totally stop the ship, but we’re going to adjust the way where we need to work because we still need to be a good provider of information.”

Kirkos said he understands small business would have difficulty shutting down. And he knows his group needs to help.

“I don’t know that small business can afford to just stop,” he said. “We’ve got to come with a plan where we’re making adjustments and here’s the adjustments we need to make. I want to tell our members, we’re in this with you. And if you need our resources, tell us what you think you need, and we’ll be here to help you. And we’ll make our facility available and we’re going to continue to provide you constant flow of information that’s accurate.”

Most of all, Kirkos said his group is ready to adjust as concerns over coronavirus grows.

“I think we can all agree that it’s likely in the next two weeks to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “And if it doesn’t, that’s awesome. But I think the reason it’s only six cases (is) because we may not have tested enough for people. And the more we test, the more we’re going to find out that there’s people out there that have it.”

If and when that’s the case, Kirkos said the Meadowlands Chamber will be there.

“We’re going to try to lead by example,” he said.