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As I write these words, I keep thinking back over the previous 365 days. While many of us have lost loved ones, family and friends to COVID-19, there are indications that both our local community and the United States are moving slowly toward a “near normal” environment that we have not seen in a year.

While this slow movement to fewer guidelines and more human interaction is good news for our country, our region received the proverbial “one-two punch” of a debilitating ice storm that was followed by rampant power outages in Cabell and Wayne counties. Combined with the gloom that comes with a global pandemic and winter in Appalachia, these recent events did nothing to improve overall morale and made the prospect of warm weather seem even more far off.

That said, I was encouraged recently to see Marshall University announce in a news release that plans for the upcoming fall semester are being designed with a “near normal” perspective regarding their response to COVID-19 and its necessary guidelines. Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert was quoted in the release saying, “I am confident we are seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel and I’m ready, like all of us, to return to a level of normalcy in the fall.”

As I read this news release, I thought about the history of West Virginia. As a state that has seen more than its share of challenges over the years, I believe that we have become a group of people that can withstand hardship better than most and still find time to help our neighbors. During the ice storm and power outage, I heard countless stories of neighbors helping neighbors and sharing resources whenever possible. Not unlike our residents, area businesses did their best to meet the needs of their customers as well as the many utility workers who traveled to our part of West Virginia from across the United States to help restore our electricity.

No businessperson likes uncertainty. It makes everything more difficult in offering your products or services. These recent adversities have shown me that our businesses find a way to succeed, no matter what adversity is thrown their way. Most of us understand the risk of owning your own business where you turn on the lights and unlock the doors every day, but no one can know what future challenges might make those morning tasks much more difficult.

I am excited to see us return to a “near normal” life and hope that it comes sooner than later. While I place my trust in our health professionals and first responders, their role during the pandemic and these recent calamities has made their jobs even more essential and likely more difficult. They deserve our thanks and support.

We also need to make every effort to support our local businesses that weathered this economic storm with us. It is my hope that the new “near normal” environment will make it easier for our local businesses to survive and grow. Whether they are providing goods and services, paychecks or paying taxes that provide necessary services, our local business community is a major factor in making this part of the United States a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Bill Bissett is president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 550 employers in Cabell and Wayne counties.

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