One year ago, after months of preparation and planning, the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce — a Traverse City institution — merged with Traverse Connect. The merger was the next step in a multi-year planning effort led by stakeholders from across the community to modernize economic development in the Grand Traverse area and make our region an economic destination of choice by 2030.

The new Traverse Connect is focused on our clear mission: to increase the region’s economic vitality through the growth of family-sustaining careers. This mission guides everything we’ve accomplished this year: supporting the growth of our investor companies, the Scale Up North Awards, Economic Strategy Sessions with national leaders, Leadership Roundtables, a new community-wide Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion effort, a revamped Leadership Grand Traverse program, and the launch of our region’s talent attraction website under a new regional brand: Michigan’s Creative Coast.

Our investor businesses and partner organizations outlined these strategic priorities and had high hopes for what Traverse Connect could accomplish in 2020 and beyond. At the beginning of the year, we embraced our new mission in an environment of economic prosperity, low unemployment, and optimistic prospects. The future looked bright.

We all know what came next. Our small businesses — employers of our family, friends, and neighbors — faced an unimaginable threat of economic collapse caused by the pandemic.

Traverse Connect immediately transitioned to help these companies navigate the economic crisis brought on by the most significant health crisis we’ve seen in more than 100 years. To fulfill our mission of growing family-sustaining careers, we needed to protect the backbone of regional employment — our small businesses.

Our government advocacy work brought the voice of struggling businesses to policymakers and led to a safe regional reopening in May. Our webinars and virtual forums covered everything from applying for PPP loans to industry-specific reopening procedures — and were viewed by thousands of people. We worked with community partners to develop the “Stay Safe to Stay Open” messaging and administered recovery grants and loans. Our organization shifted to helping our region’s businesses through the pandemic to protect long-term economic growth prospects.

Northern Michigan relies on small businesses to keep our economy running, and our small businesses can depend on Traverse Connect. We remain committed to helping our community’s employers and workers through the next 12 months of pandemic eradication and economic recovery. We will continue to advocate for federal aid, common-sense regulations, and public health protections to ensure a sustainable economic recovery.

Along with these recovery and resiliency efforts, Traverse Connect will continue to pursue our strategic priorities to move our region forward as a destination for talented professionals, remote workers, technology entrepreneurs, and a place to find an unparalleled quality of life with the career to match.

While 2020 wasn’t the year we hoped for, Traverse Connect is committed to supporting our businesses and community, regaining regional economic momentum in 2021, and ensuring our future remains very bright.

Warren Call is president and CEO of Traverse Connect.

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