The first known cases of COVID-19 in Europe were confirmed in France on January 24. Since then, the virus has spread rapidly across Europe, with particularly high cases and deaths in France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. As the situation has escalated, governments have closed down public areas including schools, universities, restaurants, libraries, theaters, and sporting events to prevent crowds from gathering. Most retail stores, with the exception of essential stores including food and pharmacy suppliers, have closed in addition to non-essential factories and workplaces.
Currently, the economic impact in Europe is escalating and will have consequences for long after the pandemic subsides. Three major problems currently face the economy: disruption of supply chains, lower consumer demand and the negative impact of uncertainty of investments, and the result of companies’ liquidity constraints. According to the European Commission website (1), to help combat the potential extent of this issue, Europe, as a region, has adopted a comprehensive economic response of €3,390 billion to fight the pandemic and economic recession at both an EU and national level.
In the midst of this crisis, the WTCA European Members are working remotely, tapping into their networks to help their members, regions, and communities. In doing so, they are showing the world that WTCs are still operating and ready to help, fighting both the pandemic and the economic impacts. Examples include:
- French WTCs, such as WTC Brest and WTC Rennes Bretagne, which are connected to their Chambers of Commerce, are working as the link between government and companies. They are calling as many SMEs as possible to offer individual support. Additionally, they are planning to help smaller retailers with a kit, including face masks and hand sanitizer, for protection in the re-opening phase.
- WTC Cyprus is communicating daily to circulate relevant government notices and steps to all employees and SMEs.
- WTC Nantes Atlantique has communicated that the entire Nantes Saint-Nazaire port is still operating, supporting exporters, and sharing customs information for the importation of face masks.
- WTC Pescara has used its network and established contacts to find medical ventilators, and, through long-lasting partnerships, has received donations of more than 100,000 face masks from sister cities in China.
- WTC Växjö is working together with tenants and members, helping them to improve liquidity and setting up individual payment plans for the rent.
- Many of the European WTCs are also helping their governments and companies by posting information on the pandemic and best practices on handling its economic impact on their websites or on their social media channels.
As a result of the lockdowns, the European WTCs have moved to a virtual environment. Communication between the European Members has increased on their social media group to share ideas, information, and best practices in order to connect and stand united during this critical time. European WTCs have been creative in their quest to find new digital and virtual solutions for conducting business from afar. For example:
- WTC Eindhoven is looking at platforms for virtual business matchmaking.
- WTC Lisbon is working on a project with a platform for virtual matchmaking, hosting an exhibition with 1,500 participants in the healthcare sector.
- WTC Rotterdam, in association with the city of Rotterdam, held a webinar on April 23 on international trade which included 1,300 remote participants and five US-based WTCs, showing the strength of the WTCA network.
- WTC Trieste is evaluating a digital B2B platform for members.
Separately, Europe is starting to see a flattening of the curve – with the number of casualties and cases slowing. As this decrease continues, more countries will talk about easing their restrictions and opening up partially in order to give the economy the opportunity to recover. While the business landscape may not look the same after the pandemic, European WTCs remain committed to help their local economies and will do what they can for their regions and members.
(1) European Commission, “Jobs and Economy,” Accessed May 1, 2020. https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/health/coronavirus-response/jobs-and-economy-during-coronavirus-pandemic_en.