By Rob Riley, Center President
The Center’s board and staff met for our third virtual board meeting at the end of June, and while we can take care of business this way, we are itching to get back to meeting face-to-face in the Northern Forest region. We’re eager to walk through the woods, communities, and businesses to hear directly from those we serve – entrepreneurs, community leaders, and other stakeholders – who are working for a New Forest Future.
Though we couldn’t be physically out in the region, we brought a sampling of voices and perspectives to our meeting, albeit virtually, through partners who shared the challenges and opportunities the global pandemic has created for them. We heard about concern of the unknown, the loss of daily community connections, and heart-wrenching decisions business owners have had to make to enable their businesses to survive long term, even at the near-term cost of people’s livelihoods.
We learned about entrepreneurial spirit from Andrew Pearce, owner of Andrew Pearce Bowls, a Hartland, Vermont-based wood products company, who immediately shifted his emphasis from wholesale and retail-store sales to web-based sales and promotion, realizing a dramatic increase in revenue for this May compared to May 2019.
We heard radical optimism from Travis Ferland, owner of the Rangeley Inn, who saw an opportunity for the Rangeley Lakes community to come together, take care of itself and invest in the amenities that would make for a better consumer experience, even while grappling with the complete closure of tourism in March and the subsequent uneven roll-out of visitor guidelines.
And we heard about resilience from Emma Hansen, Wood Energy Coordinator for the State of Vermont, who supports businesses in the wood heat sector. She’s thinking about how to build capacity now to help sustain these businesses and increase awareness of this low carbon renewable energy through public education and promotion.
It was great to hear their stories, and we know they’re not alone in challenging old norms, testing new ways of doing business and rallying their communities to build a stronger Northern Forest.
While the region’s businesses and communities are adapting to the ever-changing realities of Covid-19, they are also being challenged to have honest and difficult discussions about race relations. Earlier this week, the Center helped to design and facilitate the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance’s annual forum (held online this year), at which issues of racial justice and attracting new residents were a focus. Residents are asking, how welcoming is our community? What kind of community do we want to live in? Whose voices are necessary to make change? How do these issues influence our efforts to attract new residents?
We applaud these and other discussions happening in communities across the region, and we’re learning about the work we all must take on to create more inclusive places and an economy that delivers widely shared opportunity.
Hearing directly from those we serve inspires us. The Center team is all in and eager to be as helpful as we can as a partner for positive change across the Northern Forest. If you’re looking for your own dose of inspiration, check out the new video series we co-produced with Northern Woodlands magazine – North Country Calling – and I guarantee you’ll feel good as a result!