In the year 1016 there was a great Danish prince who united the thrones of Denmark, Norway and England. His name has been lost in the midst of time but it could have been either King Knute the Great or King Herbert the Carpenter. The prince was known to be wise, successful and great at everything he did but he was also humble and introspective. He knew his limitations and he did not like false flattery.
And so, one day the king decided to teach his courtiers and subjects a lesson about his limitations. He commanded his servants to pick up his throne and bring it to the beach, telling them he would stop the tide. He knew he couldn’t really stop the tide but the lesson he wanted to teach them was, “I’m not so great. I’m just a man and there are limitations on all men and women on what they can do. It is important to understand what we can do and what we all cannot do.”
The lesson of that story is there are things we cannot stop, and that is important to remember given where we are today. What matters is how we deal with the circumstances that confront us.
Now imagine a great unexpected event has fallen upon our community. It seems cataclysmic in many ways. Stunning! It seems to be irreversible. People cry out, “What is going to happen? How are we going to deal with this? We will never recover! There will be tumbleweeds blowing through the streets one day because of this. Nothing is ever going to be the same.”
No, I am not describing 2020. I’m remembering 1993 and the part Herbert Carpenter played in response to the events of that time. It’s always a pleasure to remind folks of the role he played back then and continues to play in our community. We couldn’t stop a rogue BRAC Commission from closing Plattsburgh Air Force Base. We couldn’t stop that seemingly cataclysmic event. What we had to do was quickly figure out how we would adjust, how we would recover, how we would manage the situation while we worked our way through the tunnel we were in and out the other end.
Now, jump to 2020. Another unexpected tsunami has fallen upon us. The lessons we learned and the inward-looking assessments we made back in 1993 have made us stronger than we would otherwise be today. The word you often hear to describe our area is resilience. We showed great resilience in 1993, 1995 and onwards, and I suggest we are showing great resilience once again.
The great American philosopher, Vince Lombardi, tells us, “Excellence is achieved by the mastery of the fundamentals.” And the fundamentals that we took away from 1993 and have continued to nurture, update and build upon include regionalism. They include the power of partnership. They include the power of optimism that our economic fundamentals are just as solid now as they were in February. Our connection with Canada, and particularly with Quebec, hasn’t changed. The remarkable diversity and strength of our manufacturing base – particularly our transportation equipment and aerospace cluster and its growth — hasn’t changed. This beautiful part of the world that more people want to come to and perhaps live and invest in hasn’t changed.
And so, our ethos today is, has been since the middle of March and will continue to be as we work our way through this challenge, “Leave no business behind!” We’re not fools. We know we have lost some of our businesses and we know, tragically, we’re going to lose some more but together we are minimizing the losses. We can and will pull as many of our fellow business people and organizations through this challenge as possible. We’re doing it already, but we will have to stay with it for many more months. It’s going to take time to come out the other end.
At the Chamber we are committed to a complex but determined mission of information, guidance, assistance, and advocacy and it’s having an impact! We are hearing feedback from our member businesses and organizations across the region that it is working!
I pledge to all of you that we will continue to stand fast in our commitment to leave no business behind. But to do that in the months ahead we need all of you to join with us. We all need to tap into those fundamentals — the power of optimism even in the face of great challenge, the power of partnership, the power of regionalism, and the power of a strong Chamber that you can turn to for assistance and support.
I want to close with the words of Maya Angelou who said, “I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse to be reduced by it.” Let those be our words as we go into 2021. We will get back to a normalcy at some point but, in the meantime, we will undergo changes. But whatever those changes are, we will refuse to be reduced by them. We will use the lessons of our past and build on our sense of resilience as we to go forward.
Let me conclude by thanking Herb, Mary and Mike Carpenter and Betsy Vicencio for coming up with a virtual way to bring us together for another great Strictly Business Forum.
Garry Douglas is president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.