Have you ever heard “these unprecedented times” or “what a year” so many times before?

Looking back, I can’t believe it’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic forced our businesses to shut their doors. I remember standing at the doorway in the chamber office, looking outside, while myself and my team watched. Watching what, I am not sure, just waiting for some “sign” things were suddenly closed.

Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined chamber life would be filled with meetings on public health and supporting local businesses whose doors were closed to their customers.

But we also watched with admiration as our businesses persevered. We watched as our community adapted and evolved. If the COVID-19 pandemic showed us anything, it was a true test — and testament — to the never-ending innovation and resiliency of businesses and communities of Union County and Northeastern Oregon.

Make-your-own-pizza to go? Check. Thanks to Local Harvest.

Curbside delivery of all your outdoor gear for the next socially distanced hike at MERA? Check. Thanks to Blue Mountain Outfitters.

Virtual showings and galleries? Check. Thanks to Art Center East.

Things might not have looked like they ‘normally’ do, but there was plenty of creativity to keep us motivated.

Now, we’re starting to see a few more open signs. We’re starting to see a few more people. We’re starting to feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

What’s felt the weirdest is not having the opportunity for the in-person outreach to our members. Not holding our banquets to celebrate and honor community members and our strong ties to agriculture. Not having the ribbon cuttings or the Business After Hours to meet and catch up with ambassadors and community members. But we never stopped working on our end — it might have just been a little quieter. The chamber is rested up and revving to go, and our plans and projects have certainly done nothing but grow.

Get ready, because 2021 is going to be our boom year. Not only do we have new events and programming up our sleeves, but we’ve also recharged and revamped our vision and plans so we are prepped and ready to best serve our community and elevate our business environment. What’s our theme? Who knows? All we know is we’re getting after it — maybe that’s our theme. Walks, runs, hops, learning, growing and sharing — nothing but action.

I’m looking forward to sharing what we have planned. And I’m really looking forward to launching new things and watching the chamber blossom and thrive. We have a strong, dedicated board of directors, wonderful and enthusiastic ambassadors and a great team at the office.

We revamped our look (check out the new website, www.VisitUnionCounty.org, if you haven’t already) and updated our strategies to do what we do best — serve our members and our community. I can’t wait to dive back into our “Road Rally,” paused early in 2020, to get out and meet each and every one of our members to learn what drives them. This will culminate in a new “Chamber Connect” podcast and in a partnership with the city of La Grande Ignite Center and Eastern Oregon University’s Small Business Development Center, where we’ll be launching a video series, “Spotlighting Local.” The series aims to connect the community and showcase the wonderful businesses we are so lucky to have in Union County.

These two projects will allow us to host businesses to learn about their goals, their backgrounds and what makes them so special. The chamber is also pleased to announce the launch of a morning educational series coming later in the fall, where we’ll have industry and subject experts presenting a variety of information to help our businesses: everything from human resources and bookkeeping to strategic planning and organizational change.

We partnered with La Grande Main Street Downtown to host a series of Shop Hop events and look forward to continuing this program and partnership with even more events and business promotional opportunities.

Our 2021 Official Adventure Guide is here and will be distributed throughout Union County — and beyond — along with the Union County map, with an expanded MERA section and trail descriptions. They’re filled with gorgeous imagery, thanks to great local photographers like Clay Berthelsen, James Stolen and many others. Stop by the office to grab a copy and see for yourself.

Things have been weird, for sure. But we are so proud to work and live in Union County, because it never stopped being a great place to be. We’re getting there, Union County, where we’ll soon be back in full swing. Thanks for hanging in there.

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Suzannah Moore-Hemann is the executive director of the Union County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Information Center

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