Temecula chamber CEO talks about struggles, successes during coronavirus crisis

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Jeff Pack
Staff Writer 

According to Emily Falappino, president and CEO of the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, her first few months in the position has been anything but boring. 

“Speaking for myself, I can’t think of a better time to have accepted the job because as a person, I am not someone who does well in monotony,” she said. “I’m not a good maintainer. This allows me to serve my community when they need it the most. And so I accepted the role cause I wanted to be impactful and I wanted to help people and I wanted to make a difference.”

That being said, when the orders came down from the county and state governor’s office for nonessential businesses to start closing their doors and stay-at-home orders were put in place, Falappino said it was rough going. 

“I think the first couple of weeks was just pandemonium,” she said. “There were so many questions, and everyone was reacting quickly and adapting quickly.”

Falappino said people reacted quickly to a dangerous situation for a lot of businesses. 

“There’s something interesting about that,” she said. “When you’re in that response mode, you almost have this adrenaline rush. Everything is new for the first time, which in some sense has, more engagement and excitement to it. That’s not to say that it was positive; it was chaotic, crazy and terrifying. But what is interesting is we have phased out of, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s happening?’”

Falappino said people in the business world are finding their footing. 

“Now we’re settling into a new phase of people finding a new norm in the midst of this,” she said. “We know that it won’t be permanent, but now that we have time to sit and dwell in this new norm, there’s a different mindset and I think there’s a different mentality. 

“If you’re an entrepreneur or a professional, this is the time to start being an entrepreneur again and ask yourself, ‘What can I do to create revenue?’” she said.

Falappino said it can be difficult for some businesses to pivot in those ways. 

“Before this a lot of people, just by habit, we’re human beings and we get really stuck on what we get stuck on,” she said. “And we have the luxury sometimes of not being open-minded. When you think about, do we have to work in a big corporate building? Do we have to report to work in this way? I mean it was very easy for many, many of us or as societal even to say, yes, this is just how we do it and there’s a purpose for it. And now we’ve proven that you can still be productive. You can still work in a completely opposite realm. That is one of the takeaways as we come out of that can be, ‘Well, now I’ve experienced and been open-minded to both.’ But when you do so you also see the pros and cons of both.”

Falappino thinks this period of time can become an opportunity for businesses and business-centric organizations. 

“The thing that continues to run through my mind is a local supply chain, not just products and goods, but human capital,” she said. “We’re a community that’s now in lockdown and all of us as individuals have resources and needs and on the enterprise level or on an economic level. We all have businesses that have resources, but also that have means and now is the time more than ever to look locally for, ‘How do I optimize my business by finding local connections to supply my need?’”

Falappino said the chamber is actively working with businesses to connect those dots. 

“We’re checking in and asking, ‘What are your needs, what are your resources?’” she said. “We’re trying to create the new local supply chain and make these business to business connections on the health care side and the manufacturing side. It’s been absolutely staggering and phenomenal. I see so many sparks of goodness, kindness and new connections every day. Now is a great time for us to make those connections that hopefully will last beyond that.”

Falappino said the biggest challenge in front of the business community is absorbing all the information that is out there, separating it by who needs what, and being a resource for local businesses. 

“It’s overwhelming and so people just get very stuck with more questions than they have answers,” she said. “That’s where the role of our city government, our economic development agencies and our chambers of commerce, probably have the most utility. Personally, I stay up every night reading legislation, watching the IRS, watching our department of labor, watching our state governor’s office, watching anything that’s coming through like the House and Senate. 

“I’m trying to digest all of that information and then break it down in small bite-size and practical pieces and trying to give people the simplest form of information,” Falappino said.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com