Challenging Times Need Perspective – and Action

OblingerUncertainty can be a debilitating force. It can create hesitation and apprehension in people’s personal and professional lives. It can stall local, regional and world economies and blunt a community’s progress.

It’s certainly not a stretch to call these uncertain times. A volatile global economy, a state mired in a public health crisis in one of its largest cities, an unprecedented and unpredictable election year and other factors add to the uneasiness. Even our own community is not immune, as its struggles to balance its growing appeal against forces committed to maintaining the status quo.

Inaction is often a byproduct of uncertainty. That’s not hard to understand. It’s human nature to hunker down and ride things out during difficult times, fearing a wrong move or decision could makes things worse. But at what point does inaction foster more uncertainty? When do caution and restraint transition from prudence to paralysis – a self-fulfilling prophecy where no time is right to be bold and decisive?

That’s when perspective is needed – an awareness outside of today’s here and now to look at things through a historic lens when taking on issues and challenges deemed as overly daunting in the moment.

There are several periods in the Chamber’s 100-year history when the local business community stepped up during uncertain times to move the region forward – times when it certainly would have been understandable to do nothing while waiting for conditions to improve.

As the first Great War in Europe raged in 1915, the newly-organized Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce took an a major infrastructure project to build a downtown bridge at Cass Street over the Boardman River to create a direct link from the city to the bay. The Chamber also helped attract several new businesses to the community during World War I.

After the war, the Chamber quickly shifted gears to diversify the local wartime economy to make the region “…the Mecca of tourists and resorters from the whole of the Middle West” according to Chamber records. That was a bold move that’s worked out pretty well over the past century.

As the nation plunged into the Great Recession a few years later, the Chamber accelerated its efforts to improve the city’s sewage treatment, reduce fire hazards and clean-up the bayfront. As the nation’s economy teetered on the brink of oblivion in 1930, the Chamber launched the region’s first “buy local” effort called “Neighborhood Week” which encouraged residents and businesses to trade within a 45-mile radius.

The trend of pushing forward in uncertain times continued through World War II, during the region’s significant growth in the 1950s, through the tumultuous ‘60s and ‘70s and into what most of know as the Grand Traverse region of today. Some of most-challenging eras were marked by some of the community’s most-enduring and impactful accomplishments.

Similar parallels can often be drawn to our personal lives. Difficult circumstances can sometimes force someone to dig deeper and reach higher than he or she ever thought possible. I know in my own life, some of my greatest personal growth was achieved through trying times, whether it dealt with family struggles, financial hardships or professional challenges.

So how will we as a community move forward in today’s uncertain times? Will we take on the challenges of modernizing our infrastructure and public institutions to keep our economic engine running? Will we welcome and nurture our next generation of residents and families needed to sustain our region? Will we strive to reach our full potential, or settle for what’s been done so far?

History says we know the answer – if we’re not afraid to ask the questions.

Laura Oblinger is Executive Director of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at laura@tcchamber.org.

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