The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Michele Smith
the Times 

The Port of Columbia and the Dayton Chamber are teaming up to help business owners and workers during the COVID-19 challenge


April 30, 2020

Michele Smith

DAYTON-National Guardsmen from throughout eastern Washington were on hand at the Columbia County fairgrounds last Tuesday to distribute food to those struggling with food insecurity. Eric Mora, Assistant Warehouse Operator for the Blue Mountain Action Council, which oversees the regional food bank, said business has been brisk. 153 households in Columbia County were served the week following Easter Sunday. Mora said this drive-through food bank will continue to operate at the fairgrounds on Tuesdays, from 2-4 p.m. $99,000 was designated for the regional food bank through funds from the Blue Mountain Community Foundation's COVID-19 Emergency Fund.

DAYTON-Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Port of Columbia and Dayton Chamber officials have been working to gather, distill, and impart information that will help the business community as well as sidelined workers weather the COVID-19 storm.

Part of this information gathering includes trying to decipher the programs they are looking into so they can help answer questions, reaching out to local foundations that have emergency funds, and then getting that money into the community.

"That is how we got the $25,000 from Blue Mountain Community Foundation and $20,000 from Innovia for Project Timothy, $99,000 for the Food Bank from Blue Mountain Community Foundation, and $12,500 from Innovia for The Club, to pay their staff for providing childcare for the first responders," said Jennie Dickinson, the Port's Executive Director.

Dickinson said while social services isn't usually part of the Port's domain, providing dedicated funds to help displaced workers with rent, utilities, food, and anything else that will help bridge the gap, is an important part of her recent efforts.

For instance, she participates in an advisory group which helped to direct funds from the Blue Mountain Community Foundation's COVID-19 Emergency Fund, to the regional food bank.

Dickinson has also been sitting in on state Department of Commerce calls to stay updated on programs.

She is facilitating the Washington Works Small Business Emergency Grant program for Columbia County, which will allow the Port to contract with businesses and disperse funds, once the state selects the recipients.

The Port has also been hosting additional Economic Development Steering Committee (EDSC) meetings so that challenges can be discussed by local government, businesses, and nonprofit agencies, and needs of the community can be identified.

Twenty-three stakeholders, including Victor Valerio from U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' Walla Walla office attended an EDSC meeting, last week.

Valerio said McMorris Rodgers is favoring additional funding for the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, more funding for hospitals, and more funding for local governments, before all else.

The Port followed the EDSC meeting with a conversation with Judy Jones from the Walla Walla Small Business Development Center, who talked about the Paycheck Protection Program, and provided tips to business owners on how to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 situation.

Dayton Chamber Manager Mollie Weatherill-Tate said the Chamber has been supporting the Washington Works Small Business Emergency Grant, as well.

As a member of the Washington Main Street program, through the Dayton Development Task Force, the Chamber is supporting a request from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Federation of Independent Business to raise the amount of the WWSB Emergency Grant from $5 million to $50 million.

As part of her involvement with the Main Street group, Weatherill-Tate is also sitting in on regular calls with other Main Street members to share best practices for how to help small businesses through this crisis and develop a recovery action plan that can be used to guide Dayton businesses beyond the next twelve months.

She is also sharing small business posts on social media to get the word out about restaurant hours, specials, and other items.

The Chamber has been running a Shop Local! Share the Love! social media campaign for the last several weeks. The goal is to encourage the public to shop local, post a photo or comment about their purchase, on Facebook or Instagram, and be given a chance to win $25 in Dayton Dollars each Monday.

Weatherill-Tate and Dickinson are encouraging people to contact state legislators and governors with their concerns. They would like people to reach out to them for help, as well.

Molly Weatherill-Tate can be reached at the Dayton Chamber office at: (509) 382-4825, or online at:

Contact Jennie Dickinson at the Port office at: (509) 382-2577, or directly by phone at: (509) 520-4341.


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