NRI Chamber celebrates 30 years with optimism

NRI Chamber celebrates 30 years with optimism

WOONSOCKET – Live-streamed from The Stadium Theatre, the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce held its 30th annual celebration last Wednesday with a look back through the last year of the pandemic and messages of hope and excitement for the future.

Typically a sit-down dinner with Chamber members and sponsors at Twin River, the event was held virtually, with some members speaking at The Stadium joining over Zoom.

The keynote speaker, the country’s 2020 CEO of the Year Brian Moynihan, of Bank of America, was interviewed over Zoom by Immediate Past Chairman Kevin Tracy, of Bank of America in Rhode Island.

“The number one issue for the United States and the world is to win the war on the health care crisis,” Moynihan said. “We are all on the same side of this war. If we win that, then everything else falls into place.”

Moynihan has some connections to Rhode Island, including being on the Brown University Board of Fellows. He leads a team of more than 200,000 employees and participates in several organizations that focus on economic and market trends, said Northern Rhode Island Chamber President Liz Catucci when she introduced him.

“The good news is, we’re at the light at the end of the tunnel,” Moynihan said. “Our economists at Bank of America have us growing to 6 percent GDP growth in 2021. It’s a pretty strong growth rate, as the economy is the same aggregate size as 2018. With the stimulus packages, they will help make sure that the 6 percent growth comes true along with the Fed and monetary policy.”

While Moynihan and many other businesses had to cut back and do things differently in 2020, so too did the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. Catucci was serving her first term as president and said that last year started off amazing. She said that in the first quarter they had their highest new member rate ever and were able to launch the Women’s Business Council.

“Like many of our local business, your Chamber team quickly pivoted,” she said. “We hosted educational seminars on PPE loans, HR issues, and yes, even a how-to on making your favorite cocktail at home, all virtually. We offered individualized assistance with the numerous grant programs that were launched, handed out thousands of PPE supplies to our members and participated in the ‘Take it Outside’ initiative.”

Tracy commented on all of the innovative programs the Chamber still put on this past year. He noted that the organization held about 40 to 50 events, some in-person, some virtually and some both ways. Maintaining that connection with businesses was vital, he said.

Incoming Chairman Peter Marino, president and CEO of Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, said he was thrilled with how the Chamber responded to the pandemic last year as well as its ongoing response.

“Having a chamber that rolls up its sleeves and works with businesses to make sure we can all be successful is why we’re all here,” Marino said. “I also want to thank everyone who serves on the Chamber Board and all the new board members.”

As part of the annual celebration, the Chamber gave out awards. Catucci said that they needed to come up with an award this year to recognize their Northern Rhode Island Community Heroes, as 2020 was so challenging. This year’s inaugural winners were the health care professionals at Landmark Medical Center. The award was accepted by Landmark CEO Mike Souza, who said that he has witnessed countless heroic acts at his hospital.

Also presented was the Ben Mondor Award, given to honor a Chamber member who exhibits the same philanthropic spirit that Ben Mondor had. This year’s winner was John J. Partridge, senior counsel at Partridge Snow & Hahn.

Partridge was born in Central Falls and grew up in Pawtucket. He thanked his parents for this award, as he said they were the ones who showed him how to be involved in the community and to be philanthropic.

The Barbara C. Burlingame Public Service Award honors an elected official who has made outstanding contributions to the business community.

Catucci said it is given to someone who has shown commitment to the business community and also to community as a whole. The director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott, was this year’s recipient. She was not able to attend.

“We look at the lessons of 2020, how it strengthened our resolve, and we look forward to 2021 with positivity,” Catucci said. “We will continue our efforts at the Statehouse, working with the new administration. We will continue our greater focus on workforce development and education as well as continually making connections and networking opportunities available for all of our members.

She added, “With the vaccine here and warmer weather on the horizon, we hope to be able to do all of this in-person very soon.”