In March 2020, while many businesses were beginning to reel from the pandemic, Earl Bell, president of the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, sat down with chamber executive director Kelly Coughlin to discuss how they could best serve the community.
The two decided that the best way to help was by providing a space for connection, hosting a weekly Zoom meeting, and allowing businesses to explain their challenges to one another.
“I distinctly remember saying this is a time when the chamber can hide or acknowledge the fire in front of us,” Bell said. “We thought the best way to serve was to listen.”
For his work leading the community through the last year and half, the City of Snoqualmie recognized Bell with a community service award at its city council meeting on Aug. 9.
At the meeting, Mayor Matt Larson praised Bell for stepping up at a time when many community leaders were unsure how to proceed, noting that all the work he did was on a volunteer basis.
“We thought, how in the world are we going to lead the community through this challenge,” Larson said. “Earl had the courage, temperament and exuberant optimism to take hold.”
During the pandemic, the meetings held by Bell and Coughlin quickly became critical in allowing valley businesses and nonprofits to innovate, collaborate and get advice. The meetings even provided services to help businesses navigate the complicated process of receiving federal funding and grants though the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program.
The meetings also provided a space for politicians to speak directly to residents in the community. State Sen. Mark Mullet, and Reps. Bill Ramos and Lisa Callan showed up to the meetings on a regular basis. King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert showed up to nearly every meeting.
“Earl is the kind of person you could celebrate on an everyday basis. He invites you in all kinds of ways,” Lambert said. “[He] has done so much for everyone in this area, and has been a real pillar in this community.”
Larson said the discussion at these meetings helped influence legislation at the local and state level. Bell said he felt the meetings were helpful in showing politicians what the pain was like at a street level.
“It was a crazy year, obviously. It sucked in a number of ways, but it warmed my heart,” Bell said.
Bell said he was honored to receive the award from the city, but said it was silly for just him to receive it, given how many people in the community showed up during the pandemic. Bell particularly praised Coughlin.
“I feel privileged to work with her,” he said. “She’s a tireless advocate and the community is lucky to have her.”
After five years at the chamber, including three as its president, Bell and his family will be moving to Arizona. However, Bell, who works as a strategic advisor and business coach, will continue to support business in the valley. During the pandemic, he learned how to perform his job remotely.
“During my first year, I was happy just to be at the table,” he said. “At the end of five years, I’m just grateful for having the opportunity to work with amazing people, and call many of them friends, and to know that the work we did positively impact the lives of our community.”