Staying Afloat

The following column from Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Bill Russell salutes the patience, perseverance, and promise of our regional business community as we face the pandemic of 2020.

Staying Afloat

Last month, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony opening the newly renovated Lake Norman YMCA. That day, as leaders of the YMCA talked about the hardship and challenges of a capital campaign during the wake of COVID-19, the most devastating physical and economic threat of our generation, each person referenced the hard work and commitment of volunteers, donors and staff.

In my comments to those who gathered to celebrate the accomplishment, I shared how the local YMCA was essentially my second home during the summers when I was a young boy. Even today, I vividly recall the pickup basketball games, practicing my hoops, and the hot summer days out by the pool.  Looking back, it is hard to believe I did that each day, Monday thru Friday, 9 to 5 until my dad picked me up after work.

Today, the debate rages about whether our schools will have virtual or in class learning.  Governor Cooper has ordered a new restrictive stay at home order going into effect this Friday for the hours of 10 pm until 5 am, which will largely impact our hospitality businesses. While I am most concerned about the impact this virus has had on the health of our families and friends, I also am reminded daily about the economic toll it has had on business and commerce. 

Perhaps no market segment has been hit harder than our hospitality, tourism, and fitness industries. When many could have just folded up – I am aware how our Lake Norman businesses stepped up to the plate. I was impressed last May as Vinay Patel from SREE Hospitality talked about how his hotels worked to keep his employees on board in the face of a dramatic downturn in occupancy.  Chef Wes Choplin with Choplin’s Restaurant created meals for kids in need of a hot lunch.  While his business and other local restaurants suffered under the pandemic, he took care of 700 area children each week. Simply spectacular!

Our Lake Norman YMCA had planned a massive capital campaign and major renovation to begin February 1, just weeks before we realized the devastation of this virus. The leadership of the YMCA rolled the dice, took a risk, and plunged head on into the renovations gambling that the facility would be ready for the start of camps this past summer. The generosity of Lake Norman residents and stakeholders was amazing as the YMCA raised $2 million dollars over the course of three years. Even more amazing was the fact they also served 437 campers this summer – all with appropriate COVID 19 guidelines being met from June 15 to August 14th.

While COVID is seeing spikes statewide, relief is just around the corner as vaccines have now been approved and front-line healthcare workers and the elderly may see distribution within the next week as Operation Warp Speed begins implementation. COVID 19 has been an insidious threat to our nation but it has brought out the best in our people – working together to help each other stay afloat during a rough and turbulent storm.  We have stared down a disease which knows no partisanship, religion, or race.

But one, which at the end of the day, will be beaten back.  The storm has not yet passed but the ravaging winds are subsiding and just over the horizon the sun waits to kiss the gentle waters and make calm the new day. I can see that day.  It’s just ahead.

Wishing health and happiness to you all.

Bill Russell

Author: Bill Russell

I am the President & CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Conmmerce and the 73rd President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees).

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