LunchChat Archive

Responding to the current needs of hospitality and travel industry partners, the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB) is pleased to produce LunchChat as a free webinar series. During each webinar, RACVB facilitates conversations that provide current information, ideas, and inspiration for organizations, businesses and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transform Rockford Virtual Community Conversation - Quality Places and Spaces

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Learn what's next for rail connectivity, streetscapes and the region's infrastructure to support people and businesses working hard to do more, be more and become more.

Federal Coronavirus Relief Bill – What’s In It for You?

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Recently, a new aid package extending access to COVID-19 relief funding was approved in Washington. This new relief bill will provide much needed federal funding for hospitality and tourism industry partners in need amidst the pandemic. This new round of relief funding includes updates and adjustments to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program, a new Live Venue Grant Program, Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), and more. Featured panelists included Bridgett Coleman, CPA, Coleman CPA & Consulting Inc.; Bob Esquivel, supervisory lender relations specialist, Small Business Administration Illinois District; Karl Franzen, director, Community & Economic Development, City of Rockford; and Robyn Guilliams, co-founder, GG Arts Law - Legal Services and Strategic Support for the Performing Arts.

Planning for the Unknown

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As organizations, we have moved into a new norm of the unknown. The ability to adapt, remain agile, and prepare for shifts due to COVID-19 are essential to the plans for an organization's success. This LunchChat focused on suggested approaches in planning for the unknown in four key areas of finance, event risk management, sponsorship, and attraction re-opening. Guests panelists included Peter Ashwin (Principal, Event Risk Management Solutions), Cathy McDermott (Rock River Development Partnership executive director), Ellen Poppen (EKP Solutions Source founder, Gigi's Playhouse treasurer), and Denise Noe (Rockford University, Assistant Vice President of Development).

Rebounding Rockford: Updates on Rebounding with Rockford’s COVID-19 Working Groups

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In April of 2020, Rockford Rebounding working groups were established to help rebuild our city following the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past several weeks these groups have been working diligently behind the scenes to help establish next steps to help ensure a recovery following the stay-at-home orders. As we move into Phase 4 of Restore Illinois, RACVB moderated a discussion to hear updates from the working groups as we strive to help the region rebound. Guest panelists included Mary McNamara Bernsten, Rockford Rebounding arts & culture chair, Sarah-Eva Marchese, Rockford Rebounding small business chair, Pamela Clark Reidenbach, Rockford Rebounding human services chair, Anne Weerda, Rockford Rebound tourism & hospitality chair, and Wester Wuori, City of Rockford chief of staff.

Working to Ensure Diversity for Arts, Culture & Events

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In this LunchChat, RACVB explored how diversity contributes to the vibrancy of communities and regions across the United States. As such, there is a need to ensure an intentional approach to hearing, highlighting and showcasing the voices of the minority community in ways that demonstrate genuine respect and appreciation for diversity of perspectives. At this time, each organization and person should review what they can do to play a role in developing a society that is more inclusive and representative of the community they serve. Guest panelists included Mary McNamara Bernsten, executive director of the Rockford Area Arts Council; Ricardo Montoya-Picazo, member of the City of Rockford Community Relations Commission; Tiana McCall, RACVB Board Member, VP of Community Outreach and Strategic Partnerships at Rock Valley College; and Martesha Brown, director of advancement at the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Restoring Consumer Confidence: Clean Hands, Open Doors
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Embracing the importance of a shared commitment to public health and desiring to see the local economy re-open in a safe, responsible and sustainable way is key to the comeback of our local economy. In this LunchChat, RACVB moderated a discussion that highlighted the Clean Hands Open Doors Pledge and effectively marketing to transition through reopening. Guest panelists included Dr. Sandra Martell, public health administrator at the Winnebago County Health Department, Andra Taylor, CEO of TaylorMade Global, and Anne Weerda, executive director at the Burpee Museum of Natural History and co-chair of the City of Rockford’s Tourism & Hospitality Recovery Task Force.

THURSDAY, MAY 28, 2020
Sports Tourism Readies for a Responsible Return
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RACVB was joined by national and local industry experts for a discussion about preventative measures being taken that will help us rebuild consumer confidence and reopen our venues responsibly as we progress toward a new sports tourism norm. Guest panelists included Stacey Lambert, assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association, Louis Mateus, general manager of Mercyhealth Sportscore Complexes, and Jon Schmieder, founder/CEO of Huddle Up Group.

THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2020
Marketing Partnerships for the Win!
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Even as we maintain social distance, some of our community’s top marketing minds continue to come together to create winning partnerships for our region. RACVB moderated a discussion about curating an informational infrastructure to support our small business community, leveraging retail locally for good, and highlighting the arts as a primary vehicle that keeps us connected. Guest panelists included Lauren V. Davis of Lauren Davis Creative, Jarrod Hennis, CEO of Rockford Art Deli and founder of Allmade Apparel, and Pablo Korona, director/producer of Our City Our Story.

THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2020
Strategic Re-Planning
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In navigating COVID-19, strategic plans may now be obsolete. In this LunchChat, RACVB moderated a discussion about strategic planning best practices as we prepare for the new business norm. Guest panelists included Roberto Carmona, principal consultant of Carmona Strategic Solutions, Jeff Fahrenwald, vice president of strategy development and execution of Supplycore, and Angie Schmidt, Ph.d, board certified coach & CEO of Potentialocity

THURSDAY, MAY 14, 2020
Prepping to Open: Retail Business Solutions

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On May 4, Governor J.B. Pritzker communicated a phased approach for re-opening businesses in Illinois. As part of this LunchChat, RACVB explored best practices of local retailers and small businesses currently open or planning to open soon to serve customers. Guest panelists included Edward Caceres, consultant at Small Business Development Center of Rockford, Frank Haney, board chairman of Winnebago County, and Nicholas Meyer, legal director with the City of Rockford.

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2020
Effective Organizational Management from a Distance
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Amidst COVID-19, working from home has become the norm. As we adapt to a new way of organizational operations, it is essential that managers, business owners, and CEOs work towards creating flexible and results-focused work environments. In this edition of LunchChat, RACVB, in partnership with NICNE, featured the best ways to operate from a distance alongside guest panelists including Julie Bosma, executive director of RAMP, Shurice Hunter, director of human resources at the City of Rockford, and Ginnie Weckerly, human resources director at Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois.

Tourism as a Catalyst for Community and Destination Recovery
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As the destination management organization for Winnebago County, the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau brought together a team of international and local expert tourism and hospitality panelists to discuss how agencies and businesses can and should prepare for tourism’s recovery, and how the industry will revitalize our broader local economy. RACVB president/CEO John Groh was joined by David Holder, vice president of tourism at JLL, John Lambeth, president & CEO of Civitas Advisors, Tom McNamara, mayor of the City of Rockford, and Don Welsh, president & CEO of Destinations International.

TUESDAY, MAY 5, 2020
Tourism Ties: Partnering to Enhance Our Region's Quality of Place
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The RACVB is proud to partner on many transformative community initiatives that increase quality of place and help our region grow as a destination for residents and visitors. RACVB staff talked creative destination management during this National Travel & Tourism Week-oriented webinar, which outlined ways to partner together as a community for tourism. RACVB panelists included Lindsay Arellano, vice president of sales & service, Martesha Brown, director of advancement, John Groh, president & CEO, Kristen Paul, director of destination development, Nick Povalitis, vice president of marketing & sports development, and Austin Taylor, group & event services manager.

The Importance of Inclusivity in Communicating With Diverse Audiences
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COVID-19 impacts those of all backgrounds. In partnership with the Coalition of Latino Leaders, NAACP, Community Advocates, City of Rockford and NICNE, RACVB led a panel discussion about the importance of and approaches in communicating with diverse audiences during an epidemic and moving forward. Guest panelists included Mustafa Abdall, educator at RPS205 and community advocate, Rhonda Greer, president at NAACP Rockford Chapter, Anqunette Parham, executive director of human services at City of Rockford, and Cesar Sanchez, community development relationship manager at Midland States Bank and Coalition of Latino Leaders committee member.

The Role of Your Board During a Crisis

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As a board member or someone reporting to a board, how do you determine and facilitate the role of your board members during the COVID-19 pandemic? In partnership with the Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence (NICNE), RACVB president/CEO John Groh led a discussion on what role you board should play during the crisis. Guest panelists included Pamela Clark Reidenbach, executive director of NICNE, Jessica Koltz, board president of RAMP, and Dan Loescher, board president of NICNE.

Local Artists Get CRE8IV

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On April 23, 2019, RACVB unveiled CRE8IV: transformational ART as a community-wide mural festival. One year later during this LunchChat, viewers learned about how CRE8IV came to be, as well as how our region’s artists are getting creative during the COVID-19 pandemic. RACVB president/CEO John Groh was joined on the panel by Mary McNamara Bernsten, executive director of the Rockford Area Arts Council, Jenny Mathews, visual artist and owner of Rockford Illustrating, and Kristen Paul, director of destination development at RACVB.

Event Planning Amidst COVID-19

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As organizations adapt to the event postponements caused by the pandemic, the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, in partnership with the Rockford Chamber of Commerce, moderated a panel conversation about event planning during this time of uncertainty. RACVB director of destination development Kristen Paul was joined by: Peter Ashwin, principal & founder of Event Risk Management Solutions (ERMS) and director of the world board with the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA); Becky Genoways, president of Genoways Event Management; and Caitlin Pusateri, vice president of leadership development at the Rockford Chamber of Commerce.

Frontline Storytellers

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Alongside three local media partners, RACVB discussed the collective, tireless effort to communicate proactively to the region during this unprecedented time. By many accounts, the COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest story of our lifetime, and the inherent responsibility that comes along with it is what drives destination marketers and the media to be there 24/7 for the community. RACVB president/CEO John Groh was joined by Mark Baldwin, executive editor of the Rockford Register Star, Jenna Dooley, news director of WNIJ Northern Public Radio, Tim Myers, general manager at WIFR, and Maggie Hradecky, news director at WIFR.

Mental Wellness -- Reducing Stress for Yourself and Others

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The outbreak of COVID-19 can result in increased levels of anxiety and stress for adults and children. This webinar provided ways to cope with this new stress during the pandemic. RACVB president/CEO John Groh was joined on the panel by Tammy Blount-Canavan, executive vice president & principal of Fired Up Culture, Sarra Reichwald, director of education and staff development at Rosecrance Health Network, and Jami Ditto, community relations coordinator at Rosecrance.

Rallying Community Non-Profits for Collaborative Solutions
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To foster collaborative solutions in combating the impact of COVID-19 on our community, RACVB moderated a discussion alongside three local non-profits to discuss best practices as well as resources available for the community, non-profit organizations, and residents looking to help. Guest panelists included: Pam Clark Reidenbach, executive director, Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence; Linda Sandquist, vice president, United Way of Rock River Valley; and Jennifer Smith, engagement director, Community Foundation of Northern Illinois.

Communicating and Marketing Through Challenging Times

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Industry experts discussed best practices for marketing and communications during challenging times--and how to plan now for recovery. RACVB president/CEO John Groh was joined on the panel by Jay Graham of GrahamSpencer, Katryna Kirby of Social Kat Co., and Pam Maher of KMK Media. 

Financing and Grants Available to Tourism-Impacted Businesses

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John Groh, RACVB president/CEO, facilitated a conversation about the local, state and federal grant and loan opportunities available to small businesses and nonprofits during COVID-19. Guest panelists included Karl Franzen from the City of Rockford, and Mike Mastroianni and Edward Caceres from the Illinois Small Business Development Center.

Navigating Unemployment Resources & Laws for You and Your Employees

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John Groh, RACVB president/CEO, facilitated a conversation centered on the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (effective April 2), helping employees apply for unemployment benefits, and available local employment opportunities. Guest panelists included Bobbie Holzwarth, attorney at law with HolmstromKennedyPC, and Dr. Lisa M. Bly-Jones, executive director of The Workforce Connection.

MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2020
SportsChat with Rockford Native Sports Experts

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Three sports icons were guests, including Rockton native Corey Anderson, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight contender, Roscoe native Nicole Briscoe, ESPN SportsCenter anchor, and Darin Monroe, Rock Valley College Athletic Director. The three panelists touched on overcoming uncertainty by sharing personal experiences and how they are dealing with the pandemic in their adopted hometowns, the importance of diversifying outside of sports, and their thoughts on the importance of giving back to the Rockford area.