By Adam Stone
From the outside looking in, from the view on the sidelines, just living your daily life in your hometown community, it can sometimes feel like the endearing aspects of the local business community exist and endure just because, well, they always have. And, if you’re a business owner yourself, you might take for granted some of the resources that exist for you when questions arise, and just the general feeling of connectedness within the region’s business community.
The truth is none of that happens by itself. Every great orchestra has a conductor, and Deb Milone, president of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber, has been leading a beautiful symphony in good times and in bad for more than a decade.
With her boundless energy, dynamic personality and mastery of networking, Milone injects the Hudson Valley business community with a jolt of adrenaline when crisis strikes. And boy has it struck as we navigate the coronavirus and its devastating short-term economic consequences.
“The communities our chamber serves are mostly small businesses,” Milone told me when I asked for a comment.
“These small businesses are the backbone of our local economy,” added Milone, who, since becoming chamber president in 2010, has significantly enlarged membership rolls, lifting the total to 525 from 324.
“These are the businesses that support our quality of life through their contributions to nonprofit groups, youth sports, festivals, community events, shelters and food kitchens, etc.,” Milone also said. “I am proud to call many of these business owners my friend. They are good, hardworking people. They are there for us and now we need to be there for them. We must support them in any and all ways we can.”
Milone, along with her fantastic sidekick, Lauren Brady, have operated as a virtual Batman and Robin duo, accept their nemesis has been the revenue freeze wreaking havoc on business owners large and small across the area during the shutdown. (Although they’d also be able to take down the Joker given their vivaciousness and ample toughness).
Brady has been tirelessly publishing to the HVGC website (https://www.hvgatewaychamber.com) and the organization’s social media accounts. But it’s not just the incredibly valuable Facebook posts and tweets. They organized a live stream for Friday on how to fill out the arduous emergency loan application with the Small Business Administration: https://www.facebook.com/hvgatewaychamber/videos/2588793284731130/ They communicate information from all businesses, not just chamber members. They sent out a survey to more than 700 businesses to obtain instructive data on how the pandemic has impacted various sectors. They created a special page on the chamber website with daily updates from restaurants, municipalities, as well as guidance on financial assistant packages.
Milone is also making personal phone calls to all members checking on their needs, serving as the de facto communication link between businesses. A related example of Milone’s successful efforts: the chamber was able to obtain information on where businesses can order sanitary supplies which the organization then forwarded to the area’s public health institutions.
In addition, the chamber chief is engaging with the political class, from Assemblywoman Sandra Galef to Representative Nita Lowey, to forge an even stronger relationship between the public and private sectors during this emergency period. Area municipalities have also benefited from Milone’s outreach, as HVGC sends out Zoom links and other relevant information from local governments.
The consummate relationship builder, Milone remains in consistent communication with northern Westchester chambers, from Ossining, Yorktown, Somers, and Katonah to Chappaqua and beyond, sharing critical information and resources.
Milone is certainly not by herself in championing the cause of suffering small businesses across Westchester and Putnam counties.
In fact, she’s in great company among other business group leaders from across the area who have been amping up efforts to support their members, and who each deserve individual praise in the weeks and months ahead, as we all fight through and eventually emerge from this muck, injured but stronger.
From Dr. Marsha Gordon of the Business Council of Westchester to Rose Zucker Aglieco of the Brewster Chamber of Commerce, from Michael Celestino of the Mahopac-Carmel Chamber of Commerce to Sergio Esposito, Nancy Stingone and Margaret Primavera of the Yorktown Chamber of Commerce, from Bill Flooks and Evelyn Latella of the Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce to Tom Milliot and Latella again of the Mt. Pleasant Chamber of the Commerce, from Loretta Brooks and Beth Vetare Civitello of the Mt. Kisco Chamber to Dawn Danker-Rosen of the Chappaqua-Millwood Chamber of Commerce, from Alison Malecot of the Business Improvement District down in White Plains all the way to Bill Powers of the Business Improvement District up in Peekskill, these are just a small sampling of business group leaders across the area who are summoning their very best during the very worst.
Powers, one of these many skilled conductors, noted how he applauds “the tireless efforts of Deb Milone who is actively engaged with the Business Council of Westchester and the Westchester County Office of Economic Development to keep us informed of every opportunity that can help our Downtown businesses in their time of need.”
“In addition to official government directives and vital information, the Peekskill BID and the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce have been providing official information about loans, grants and other programs being offered to help small business,” also stated Powers, executive director of the Peekskill BID. “We are also doing everything we can to promote individual and collective businesses on a daily basis, especially through social and digital media.”
The reality is this: running a chamber requires tons of hard work, high-energy leadership and a charismatic personality behind the scenes rallying the troops and making the trains run on time. For that reason, and so many more, Deb Milone is not just perfect for the job, but also receives our most enthusiastic applause and thank you.
– Adam Stone is the publisher of Examiner Media