by Dean Hybl, Executive Director, Ten at the Top
I am sure you are familiar with the old saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Given how much in our personal and professional lives has changed in the last 12 months, that may seem like an odd statement to include in a column reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the start of the global pandemic, but I do believe it fits.
Certainly, parts of our day-to-day lives are quite different than they were a year ago. My daughter and I were watching the rebroadcast of a sporting event from 2019, and she commented about how odd it looked that people were hugging and standing close together, with no one wearing a mask.
Yet while some elements are quite different, we have found through many of our efforts with Ten at the Top that though some of the delivery methods and specific components have changed, the key issues that most businesses, communities and organizations within our region are dealing with are basically the same as what they faced pre-pandemic.
Last summer, TATT did a Virtual Listening Tour, during which we asked leaders from the seven non-urban counties in the region what issues they were focusing on in relation to the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis.
It was only mildly surprising that the issues they mentioned — access to transportation, education and skill training, rural broadband, affordable housing and other employment barriers — were basically the same issues they had been grappling with prior to the pandemic.
In our more urban counties, growth has continued despite the pandemic, and they are feeling even greater pressure to make good decisions today as it relates to housing, land use, natural resources and transportation, because it is clear that those issues will just grow in significance in the coming years.
The same could be said for two other areas that were TATT focuses prior to the pandemic and have seen a heightened spotlight during the crisis: support for small businesses and entrepreneurs and access and availability of resources and services for our growing senior population.
What this reality has necessitated for TATT and other organizations that work on these issues in the Upstate is that instead of totally changing our focus, we have needed to gain greater understanding of how the pandemic, emphasis on economic inequality and other recent developments have impacted core issues. We also have been forced to change our approach in how to gather and create opportunities for collaboration.
As an organization that was known for holding nearly 100 in-person meetings annually, we had to quickly adjust to a reality in which we still needed to engage key stakeholders from across the region, but instead of doing it in-person, we had to quickly adapt to the virtual platform. Through regular TATT CHATs and issue-based virtual workshops, we have been able to connect people and resources in a similar (but clearly also different) way to what we did pre-pandemic.
In reality, this adjustment has created a very positive outcome as we have seen more participation among stakeholders who often were unable to give up multiple hours to drive in for a meeting and then drive home. Instead of having to travel, the virtual platform has made it easier for them to be engaged and participate.
The same has been true when it comes to regional information. While we have utilized our website and social media since the beginning, those tools became significantly more important as we looked to share information and resources related to the crisis with Upstate stakeholders and residents. As a result, we have significantly increased our social media presence while also sharing updates from nearly 100 Upstate leaders through our electronic newsletters.
And TATT is not alone in making that adjustment. Many organizations, businesses and local governments have also recognized the necessity of using technology to share information and convene stakeholders. We might all be tired of Zoom, but there is no question that Zoom and other similar technologies have played a critical role in helping us move forward and stay connected during these challenging times.
As we reach the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, it is clear that while we may now be using different methods for execution and doing it while wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart, the commitment of the Upstate community to working collaboratively to make this region stronger and a great place for all residents to live, learn, do business and raise a family has not changed and is actually probably stronger now than ever before.
Ten at the Top is a regional nonprofit focused on encouraging collaboration and partnerships on issues that support economic vitality and quality of life in the Upstate. You can learn more and become engaged by visiting their web site at www.tenatthetop.org.