The past year has presented unprecedented challenges, and among those who stepped up to help was the Freeport Chamber of Commerce, which worked around the clock to promote local businesses and connected them with resources that helped them stay afloat amid the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, more than a year after the crisis shut down the local economy, the chamber is looking to move forward and grow. At its annual installation luncheon on April 22, it named its new president, Ben Jackson, as well as a new board of directors and opened its new offices at 11 Richmond St.
“I plan to do what I can to help our business community succeed through the pandemic,” said Jackson, of Ben’s General Contracting Corporation.
“Ben has always been involved in the community, and he’s got great ideas to push the chamber forward,” added outgoing President Jenny Jorge.
Jackson, a lifelong Freeporter and a Freeport High School alumnus, has been in business in the village for about 40 years. He joined the chamber 20 years ago, and previously served as 1st vice president.
Jackson credited the chamber’s work with helping him connect with local businesses and understanding the importance of networking. The organization also made him aware of the joys of philanthropic work through its charity fundraisers, he said.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated Freeport in 2012, Jackson volunteered with the Friends of Freeport nonprofit to use his contracting skills and connections to help repair houses and schools damaged in the storm.
Greg Ingino, the chamber’s 2nd vice president and the director of the Woodward Children’s Center, said he was excited about working with someone as dedicated to Freeport as Jackson.
“You can always count on him when you need to,” Ingino said. “Ben actually did the front facade of the school for us, and it shows his skills as a contractor whose always out there to help Freeport. I look forward to working together to help the chamber grow and prosper after the difficult year we’ve endured.”
As a local business owner, Jackson said he understands the impacts of the pandemic first-hand as his contracting business continues to see only a third of the customers it saw before Covid-19.
Freeport has been the third-hardest-hit community in Nassau County by the pandemic, with nearly 6,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of last Sunday, according to the county Department of Health.
Despite the hardships, Jackson said he hoped Freeport could come out stronger in the end as the state continues to scale back the limits placed on businesses’ capacity and hours of operation. He also plans to spend his time as president expanding the chamber’s reach.
Jackson commented that Freeport has long been divided in two, between north and south, with long-time residents living in the south and newer, mostly Latino, residents living in the north. He said there has always been a disconnect between these two groups, and he wants to reach out and welcome new residents and businesses to the chamber.
“It’s time we reach out and build ties for a united Freeport,” Jackson said. “Freeport is a diverse community, and we’re stronger when we work together.”
Jackson, who sits on the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals, also hopes to strengthen the bond between the chamber and Village Hall, as the two worked together throughout the pandemic to deliver PPE to local businesses.
“After such a challenging year, which brought upon us Covid-19 and pandemic-related economic hardship for many businesses and residents, the Freeport chamber became all the more critical to fostering economic development and supporting commerce in our village,” said Mayor Robert Kennedy. “We congratulate Ben and all of the board of directors, and look forward to working side by side in the years to come as we champion the needs of businesses small and large within our great village.”
Both Kennedy and Jackson also thanked Jorge for her leadership through the worst of the pandemic. Jorge said that while many businesses suffered due to Covid-19, the summer season should help bolster the local economy as more and more residents get vaccinated and the risk of spreading the virus fades.
“It’s been an honor serving as president for the last two years,” Jorge said, “and I look forward to seeing how the chamber evolves under Ben and the rest of the board.”