Where were you when you got the order to shut down? I ask because, for the week, everywhere I turn I'm faced with "milestone" memories regarding COVID. People are talking about the COVID 19 and attributing to it one of the most comprehensive public health orders I've ever experienced.

I remember when the discussions started, last March, about this virus and how it was wreaking havoc on our country. I had already had a busy week at the Grant County Veteran's Memorial & Conference Center with meetings and activities and the busy part of the month hadn't even started yet. Like everyone else, I thought this was going to be a temporary closure. Oh, how I wish we had been right!

To say where I was when I got the news is simply to say, I was in my office going about my business. I didn't expect to get the order to shut down the conference center and I definitely wasn't expecting to cancel all the events which had been scheduled for months. April was looking to be a busy month and May was taking shape. The months of June and July were going to be busy which meant that my staff was excited. Then the call came, and the clock started ticking.

When we closed for business on March 13, 2020, we had let everyone know that their events were postponed until further notice. Most were understanding, many were skeptical and one or two were downright angry, but we understood each of their mindsets. Looking back from a year since that day we are thankful for each of their responses because they all helped us grow and learn from this experience.

Over the past year, in many ways, we did more than chambers of commerce typically do in that we shifted our thinking from a member only mindset to a community mindset. Understand that while we still focus on our members and the needs that they have to grow and develop their businesses we also know that our entire community needs help to survive. We immediately began sharing information about loans, grants and other assistance programs that were available to small businesses which were intended to help them get a leg up, so to speak. We began working with other community partners to share resources that local community members needed to know about.

To say that I have a supportive board of directors is to state the biggest understatement of the century! My board is supportive of the work that my staff, and I, do here every day. They are supremely more connected across the region than I am which helps make my job easier. When we are looking for ways to help our community or increase the focus of our commitments, I'm always met with reassurance from a board who has their finger on the pulse of our community.

In 2020 we worked to form a task force that would help us to emerge from COVID stronger than we went in. The "Next Steps Task Force" helped us to gather community leaders, business owners, non-profit executives and local community supporters in a format which we would come to use with regularity. Zoom was introduced to us as a platform to keep that face-to-face, or f2f, contact with our colleagues that was vital during this critical period. Between April and December of 2020, we spoke to nearly 70 business owners about COVID 19, their businesses, our community and what we need to do to emerge successfully from the effects of the Public Health Order. The clock is still ticking while we wait for the order to re-open fully and we are all on Zoom meeting overload!

This week, as we look back on one year with COVID and try to determine how the next year will look for us, I want to say, with hope, that we will emerge from this. We will be stronger than before if we continue to work together and do what is necessary to succeed. We have watched lots of small businesses get started during this pandemic and we have helped many existing businesses get what they need to keep going.

Hopefully, St. Patrick's Day, is the last holiday to be associated with the "super spreader" moniker. Since we won't be running green water down the Big Ditch in celebration of St. Paddy's Day or having a big Corned Beef Hash picnic in the park, we should be okay. Keep wearing your masks, get vaccinated and soon we will be able to gather together as a community. I will wear my green bowtie for my zoom meetings on Wednesday, March 17 because, nobody can take that away from me! I look forward to seeing you f2f as soon as possible!

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