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Charleston Business

Focus on the Future

Oct 13, 2021 12:04PM ● By Dean Hybels

As I reflect on all that has transpired over the last 18 months, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed and tired. The pandemic, economic challenges, social reconning and global uncertainty have all touched each of us in our own different way. As others have said, we have all been in the same storm, but we each have been in our own boat (or life raft).

It would be very easy to get bogged down by the enormity of the changes, challenges and obstacles, but I believe the people, communities and businesses that will be successful in the days and years to come are the ones who are learning from the past while also focusing on the future.

Here in the Upstate, I have been part of many recent conversations where the primary topic is how we take the new realities from the last 18 months and use them to help develop strategies and plans for moving forward in a way that acknowledges and learns from the past, but is focused on creating a path to the future that is even greater and more inclusive than the one we were on before the start of the pandemic.

Since last November, Ten at the Top has been asking leaders from across the region to regularly share with us their thoughts and ideas for how the Upstate will move forward. I am pleased that Greenville Business Magazine is joining us on this journey. 

Between now and May 2022, when Ten at the Top will hold our next Upstate Regional Summit, each issue of Greenville Business Magazine will include op-eds and articles looking at key topics that play a part in shaping the future of the Upstate region. We will read insights from leaders across the region while also analyzing some of the changes happening (or that must happen) to ensure that the Upstate continues on a path towards long-term success.

As I look back at the past year and a half and ahead to the future, one thing that is striking is how much my definition of an “essential worker” has changed.

In fact, prior to March 2020, I am not sure I (or likely most others across the country) really gave much of a thought to who was really an “essential worker.”

Sure, in a natural disaster we know it is utility workers, health care professionals and others who immediately respond to an emergency, but on a daily basis we really never talked about which jobs were “essential” to meeting basic needs.

However, during the global pandemic we realized that those who stock our shelves, haul goods across the country, fix toilets and broken water pipes and provide meals for people are quite essential. 

Often, we tend to equate the level of importance of a person or position with their salary, but during the pandemic, multi-million-dollar athletes, entertainers and company executives sat at home while people making barely a living wage were going to work every day to keep our economy and society running.

We also learned the real value of our schoolteachers as many of us suddenly had home schools happening within our walls. After living with a teacher who worked tirelessly to make sure her students stayed engaged and didn’t fall too far behind and also a student who struggled with being accountable in a system that was challenged to create accountability, I have an even greater appreciation for just how critical all elements of education are within our families and society.

As we look toward the future, I am hopeful that we will remember the lessons from the last 18 months and appreciate that there are many jobs and professions that play a vital role in a successful society.

Even before the pandemic we were facing a future shortage in workers within skilled trades like carpentry, plumbing, electrical, welding and other similar skill areas. Promoting these “essential” professions as a viable and noble way for a young person to make a living is critical as we look to fill the gaps moving forward.

The same is true for teachers. TATT and Public Education Partners were already working on a teacher recruitment strategy before the pandemic, but the need has increased over the last year. We must continue to promote the value of teachers as an essential part of our society and make sure we are doing all we can to support and enhance their ability to succeed.

I feel very fortunate to live in a region where we are not afraid to admit our shortcomings and identify how we can work collaboratively to make this a better place for all residents. 

During our journey over the next eight months, we will discuss some of our warts and areas where improvement is needed, but we also will look at how organizations and businesses across our region are already working to move things in a positive direction.

I hope you will stay with us on the journey and please feel free to let us know of any areas of concern or success that you see as important components of our future. 

Because it is when we work together that we can ensure that the Upstate will remain a leading place to live, learn, do business and raise a family for generations to come.

Dean Hybels is executive director of Ten at the Top, a Greenville-based nonprofit organization with the mission to foster regional collaboration and cooperation in the Upstate Region of South Carolina.