Sierra Martin | Managing Editor
SAN MARCOS – The annual San Marcos Chamber of Commerce luncheon took place on Thursday, March 25 at the Embassy Suites Conference Center. A panel of San Marcos business leaders discussed economic COVID-19 recovery, future growth of the city and how they can assist small businesses.
A panel was led by Chamber President Jason Mock and comprised of Greater San Marcos Partnership President Jason Guilietti, Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area CEO Paul Fletcher, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital-San Marcos President Thomas McKinney, Corridor Title Account Executive Keely Sonlitner, Gumby’s Pizza Owner Forrest Higdon and Schertz Bank and Trust VP David Case.
Members of the Chamber of Commerce, city council members and local business owners were among both virtual and in-person attendees. The luncheon began with opening statements from San Marcos Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Jason Mock, and Immediate Past Chair and Vice President of Commercial Banking at Shertz Bank and Trust, David Case.
2021 San Marcos Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Keely Sonlitner presented David Case with the Gavel Award for his dedication and leadership as the 2019-2020 Chair of the board.
Sonlitner said that due to the economic hardships many businesses had to face in 2020 due to COVID-19, she set the goal to reevaluate the chamber and the direction they take to assist the community in the future.
“The staff has started working to provide tools to our business community to navigate and grow their business plans today,” Sonlitner said. “We will host monthly meetings and speakers about topics that are relevant to business owners. We are partnering with organizations like Greater San Marcos Partnership (GSMP) and Mainstreet to truly connect with the business community and understand their needs and issues to help create a diversified, vibrant, sustainable economy through the support of the local businesses.”
Sonlitner discussed how members of the Chamber’s Government Affairs Advisory Council spoke with San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson and City Council members during a work session about five priorities for the city to focus on including community investment, housing market diversity, transportation and infrastructure, jobs and opportunities and open communication.
According to Case, the Chamber of Commerce is the largest business organization in San Marcos with over 500 investors and over 34,000 employees. Case spoke about how 2019 was a year of prosperity and 2020 was forecasted to be a year of exceptional growth prior to COVID-19.
Case discussed the efforts taken by the Chamber of Commerce to support San Marcos businesses as soon as the first shelter-on-place order was announced due to COVID-19.
“Revive SMTX was established as a collaboration between your chamber and the City of San Marcos to reimburse local businesses for personal protective equipment (PPE) purchases early on in the pandemic,” Case said. “I participated first-hand in this program, and I’m proud to announce our first round of applications are approved and we have checks ready to go out.”
According to Fletcher, the current unemployment rate has dropped from 12% (about 58,000 people) at the start of the pandemic to 5.3% (about 8,000 people) throughout the nine-county area serviced by the Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area.
“People were laid off,” Fletcher said. “People were having to go back and find other types of employment that may not have come back as quickly like the hospitality industry.
As the owner of Gumby’s Pizza, a local small business, Higdon said the Paycheck Protection Program loans helped support small businesses, and the pandemic caused them to be adaptive to how to keep their doors open and support their employees.
“We pivoted a lot of different things in terms of offerings that we didn’t traditionally offer, from grocery boxes to at-home dinners with pizza in your home oven,” Higdon said. “So, it was just one of those things where we needed to keep our employees busy and we needed to keep them employed.”
When discussing what the future of San Marcos holds, Sonlitner discussed how she believes that growth is inevitable in San Marcos, and by local leaders collaborating and anticipating the growth, it can create a positive future for the city.
“I really think the sky is the limit in San Marcos,” Sonlitner said. “I really think the only thing that will stand in our way is ourselves. As everyone else has talked about, the growth is going to come, there is nothing we will be able to do to stop it. But we can be proactive and help direct it instead of being reactive and not prepared for it.”
The meeting was originally scheduled to take place in November 2020 but was rescheduled due to the pandemic.
More information about the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce, upcoming events or how to get involved can be found on their website.