Enterprise Winter 2023

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RIDING THE REAL ESTATE WAVES, P. 4 ENTERPRISE THE BUSINESS MAGA ZINE OF THE UPPER VALLEY Winter 2023 FREE BUSINESS OUTLOOK 2023, P. 14 Regular customers Upper Valley restaurants mostly back to normal

4HOUSING MARKE T

Trends suggest that low inventory of single-family homes will keep prices high.

RE TURNING TO NORMAL

While customers have returned to eating out, restaurants struggle with staffing, costs.

CH ANGING INDUS TRY

Enfield bed and breakfast owner discusses how hospitalit y business has evolved.

LOOK ING AHE AD

Many industries are seeing a return to ‘normal’ but supply chain and staffing issues remain.

: RIDING THE WAVES OF REAL ESTATE

Real

SEE PAGE 4

to be robust.

2Enterprise, January2023
CONTENT S
estate agent Doreen Wyman, of Granite Northland Associates, prepares a listing with Shelli Vanier, co-owner of Upper Valley Home Sales, in Canaan. Home buyers should expect the 2023 market
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WINTER 2023 d ENTERPRISE ●
COVER PHOTOGRAPH: Three Tomatoes Trattoria server Kesia LaBreck takes a lunch order for David Boskello and Sally Brash of on Jan. 11, 2023, in Lebanon. Like many restaurants, Brash, who works in the retail grocery business, said her employer has trouble finding staff. PHOTOGRAPH BY JENNIFER HAUCK PHOTOGRAPH BY JAMES M. PATTERSON

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Market slows down, but remains strong

The area’s residential housing market has slowed after a pandemicfueled buying surge that sent home prices soaring —but area real estate agents don’t foresee a slump in the year ahead.

Realtors and others who follow market trends of single-family home sales generally agree that the low inventory in the Upper Valley —and thus far a good economy —will keep prices strong in the coming year. But with increases in interest rates for a

30-year mortgage, buyers will not be as aggressive and there likely will be fewer of them.

Peter Tucker, director of advocacy and public policy for the Vermont Association of Realtors, said the ramp up in prices the last two years looks the same as it did before the housing market crash of 2007-08. But that is where the comparison ends.

“It does not feel the same now,” Tucker said. “Average house prices could diminish some, but there is not that financial pressure that will crater the market and people have to sell.”

Tucker and others are looking for a more stable market in 2023, rather than the one of the past few years when it was not uncommon for a home to sell for 20% or more above the asking price. But it will also be one where sellers remain in control because of a continuing housing shortage that will keep home values elevated.

“Our region is going to continue to be sought after and that is what is keeping those home values up there,”said Ben Cushing, regional manager of the Four Season Sothbey ’s International Realty in Hanover. “The unfortunate piece is

with higher prices staying strong, it is knocking a lot of buyers out of the game.”

Doreen Wyman, who owns Granite Northland Associates in Enfield and Canaan, and has been selling real estate in the area for about 40 years, said the outlook for the next 12 months, despite slower sales, does not concern her.

“It is still a good healthy market,” Wyman, a member of the Upper Valley Board of Realtors, said. “In our office it has been pretty steady the last six months. Sales are still com-

4Enterprise, January2023
2023 landscape
Upper Valley real estate agents discuss
VALLEY NEWS –JAMES M. PATTERSON
SEE MARKE T 6
UpperValleyBoardofRealtorspastpresidentSheniaCovey,left, presentsa donation from the organization to Heather Grohbrugge, interim executive director of Good Neighbor Health Clinic and Red Logan Dental Clinic in White River Junction, Vt.
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Housing market slows down, but remains robust

ing in and so are listings but slower than before. Inventory is low so anything that does come in has a great deal of interest. So I think we will come back to pre-COVID, a more normal market.”

The most recent data from the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, which has a membership of about 300, reflects a residential home market that is catching its breath since the COVID buying frenzy that drove up prices well beyond the asking price when there were sometimes as many as 15 offers on a property in a week.

In Grafton County, closed sales for the 12 months period ending Nov. 30, 2022, fell by nearly 20% when compared to the 12 months ending November 2021. When comparing November 2021 to this past November, sales were off about 11%.

Pending sales in Grafton County for both comparable periods were down 18% and 10.5% respectively, according to the NHAR report. However, low inventory contributed to increases in the sales price of homes in the county. The median sales price rose 16.5% to $361,000 for the 12 months ending November 2022 compared to the 12 months period ending November 2021. The median sales price for this November was up 15.5% to $335,000.

Alan Croteau, who is based in New London in Merrimack County but sells real estate in Sullivan County, agrees that 2023 will see slower sales.

“We are going to see an adjustment to a more reasonable market,” Croteau said. “Selling will continue but nothing like it was. It is definitely not going to be the market we saw the last three years.”

Sullivan County also experienced an increase in the median sales price of 12% to nearly $300,000 for the 12 months ending Nov. 30 compared to the 12 months ending Nov. 30, 2021. In Claremont, the median price jumped from $189,000 for the 12 months ending Nov. 2021 to $230,000 for the period ending this November. But like Grafton County, the closed sales and pending sales numbers have declined.

Statistics in Orange and Windsor counties are not unlike Grafton and Sullivan.

In Windsor County, sales for November dropped 29% compared to November 2021 and listings were down almost 18%. Meanwhile the median sales price rose 18% percent. Orange County appears to have been an outlier with sales rising 16% compared to November last year, but listings fell 21% with the

are going to see an adjustment to a more reasonable market. Selling will continue but nothing like it was. It is definitely not going to be the market we saw the last three years.”

median price up almost 10% from November 2021.

Tucker said statewide, December sales of single family home in Vermont were down 22% from December 2021.

“Because the average and median prices stayed high, the change in dollars is not that great,”Tucker said.

Wyman and Croteau said they also are seeing more cash sales in this market. It was estimated by one Vermont Realtor that cash sales constitute about a third of the market whereas 30 years ago, nearly all home sales were with a mortgage.

“I get asked whether things are slower for me because of interest rates but that is not true,”Wyman said in December. “I had three properties under agreement last week and they are all cash.”

Croteau said cash offers that last two years in his office have also become more prevalent.

Cushing believes the year ahead will look much like the second half of 2022 because of the low inventory

and home values that show no signs of declining.

“What the forecasting I am seeing from some of our economists here in the U.S. as far as the National Association of Realtors go, is what we are anticipating is a lot of the same as we saw in 2022,”Cushing said.

Buyers are still out there because they are saying “we need a place to live.”

Interest rates are higher now, Cushing added, but they are still “historically low”at about 6.5% for a 30-year fixed mortgage

“We are spoiled with interest rates at 2 and 3% so five and six is still good,”Cushing said. “And they may be able to refinance in a few years if rates come back down.”

Croteau agrees that the Federal Reserve kept its borrowing rate at zero for so long that people got used to it.

“It was to the point that people expected to always be like that and it’s not,”he said.

In the Sullivan County area, Croteau believes interest rate in-

creases have reduced the pool of potential buyers.

“Many buyers are sitting back right now,”Croteau said. “The average person is being priced out of the market because of interest rates and the listing price.”

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, mortgage application volume hit its lowest level in more than 20 years in the last week of December as rates have roughly doubled since the end of 2020.

Cushing noted one other factor he said applies to the Upper Valley housing market and that is “desirability.”Dave Cummings, the communications director of the New Hampshire Realtors Association, said buyers are not nearly aggressive as they were during the height of the pandemic.

“What I am hearing is buyers are less likely to stick around if they think a seller is overpricing a home,” Cummings said. “Buyers seem less desperate these days.”With the ability to work from home becoming more prevalent, Cushing said people are eager to get out of the big city.

“We are kind of insulated up here compared to the national scene,”he said. “New Hampshire and Vermont are highly sought after places for the recreation, open space and four seasons. People love to come here.”

Patrick O’Gradycan bereached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

6Enterprise, January2023
MARKE T FROM 4
“We
VALLEY NEWS –JAMES M. PATTERSON Real estate agent Doreen Wyman, of Granite Northland Associates, left, visits a Canaan, N.H., property with Shelli Vanier, co-owner of Upper Valley Home Sales, where she plans to site a modular home.

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BACK TO THAT PRE-COVID PACE’

During the height of the pandemic, restaurants were ordered to shut down indoor dining and when they were allowed to reopen, seating was limited and there had to be adequate space between tables with barriers between booths.

Many establishments improved or added takeout and started using more delivery services to keep business operating. While those days appear to be finally behind the dining industry for good —and the public is again filling restaurants without restrictions there are still challenges ahead.

“I would caution those who say ‘it is over ’because it is not really over it is just different and really hard,”said

Mike Somers, president of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association in Concord.

Somers said labor costs, if workers can even be found, and food and other expenses have increased dramatically in the past year.

“What we have seen (are) wage increases across the board in hospitality the last two years and I think the real challenge is they can’t find staff because of the scarcity of labor,”Somers said. “Restaurants also use a lot of energy and those costs have gone up. You

start putting all the pieces together and yes, a lot are doing better but a lot of businesses are really struggling to make ends meet.”

Jennifer Packard, general manager of Molly ’s Restaurant in downtown Hanover, one of four eating establishments owned by the Blue Sky Group, has experienced much of what Somers described.

“Labor is difficult,”Packard said in a phone interview just before lunch at Molly ’s. “We are in the drought a lot of restaurants are going through trying to hire team members when a lot of businesses are trying to hire. There is a lot of competition.”

On the positive side, Packard said the customer flow is improving.

“I think that we definitely are seeing us getting back to that pre-COVID pace,”Packard said, adding that the restaurant has experienced a significant increase in takeout orders compared to before the pandemic.

COVID’s impact on the restaurant industry, perhaps the hardest hit of all industries in the state, is revealed in some statistics compiled by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, which conducted a survey about a year ago.

Close to 60% of restaurants in the state said they took on more debt and

8, S u n d a y,January22,2023
9, S u n d a y,January22,2023
‘GETTING
While customers have returned to eating out in the Upper Valley, restaurants struggle with staffing, cost increases
RIGHT: Three Tomatoes Trattoria server Autumn Moore works during the lunch shift in Lebanon, N.H. Moore has worked at the restaurant for two years. VALLEY NEWS - JENNIFER HAUCK PHOTOS
SEE RESTAUR ANTS 10
Pauline Wasick brings an order to a table during the lunch shift at Three Tomatoes Trattoria on Jan. 11, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. Wasick has worked at the restaurant for a number of years.

Restaurant owners discuss 2023 outlook

worst of it.”

fell behind in expenses after COVID19 first hit the region in March 2020. More than 50% reported reducing hours of operation and increasing the number of days closed while 31% said they reduced seating capacity. Other survey results showed a large percentage of restaurants had not been able to recover their pre-COVID sales volume of 2019 and close to 80% said customer traffic was down.

The industry ’s salvation was provided by state and federal programs that offered a much needed infusion of cash to help restaurants carry on. Somers said in New Hampshire, the state acted quickly to release CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) money, which was an important lifeline. Initially, when restaurants were ordered to close, there was a concern that many would end up having to close their doors for good.

“We saw some of that but not nearly as much as we heard it might be,”Somers said. “The CARES Act got money to restaurants and other small business and you (had) the Paycheck Protection Program. I think that helped a lot of small businesses, particularly in the hospitality and service industries survive the

At the Upper Valley Business Alliance in West Lebanon, Executive Director Tracy Hutchins said quite a few area restaurants applied for and received COVID relief money, including the Paycheck Protection Program.

“I think it was effective,”Hutchins said. “At the time it first came on, it was a lifeline and those funds helped many stay in business.”

Robert Meyers, owner of Three Tomatoes in downtown Lebanon, said the restaurant took advantage of the money available from the state and federal government during the forced shutdown.

“We got the financial help and used it exactly as it was designed for, to keep people employed,”Meyers said, adding that they have rebounded well from COVID but are paying higher prices for a lot of goods.

Ver mont’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund was also credited with saving businesses and jobs. According to the state Chamber of Commerce, the overwhelming majority said the fund would likely help them stay in business and retain or hire back employees.

Hutchins said the expectation is that the New Year for restaurants

will present the same challenges that they experienced in 2022.

“There are still some supply chain issues but not as severe as they were earlier,”Hutchins said.

A union issue at one supplier put a stop to deliveries to a local restaurant while another had problems getting takeout boxes, she said.

“There has been a lot of pivoting,” Hutchins said. “They have to be flexible.”

Packard said some regular liquor items, which must come through the state, are simply not available.

“We use to have no problem at all getting these,”he said.

In another example, Packard said they are now paying three or four times what they use to pay for a box of chicken wings and also must pay the same price for eggs that consumers do, which is approaching $6 a dozen.

Somers is upbeat that the year ahead can bring some relief on higher costs.

“We hope inflation eases and energy prices come down,”he said. “If those come to pass, we will be in a much better place toward the end of the year.”

The labor issues also tie into the lack of housing in the Upper Valley and the high cost of either buying or

renting. Hutchins heard from one UVBA member who was interviewing a potential new chef.

“They were worried they would not be able to pay enough to have them move here and find a place to live,”Hutchins said. “Staffing is going to continue to be an issue. It is still really difficult for restaurants to remain fully staffed.”

Most restaurants have raised wages significantly. Somers said his “barometer ”for how well a place pays is based on the wage for a dishwasher. He has heard from members around the state who pay $16 or $17 an hour for that job. Hutchins said she knows of one restaurant in the area paying $25 an hour for a dishwasher.

At Molly ’s Packard credits the Blue Sky Group’s“team approach” that views all employees as important stakeholders in the company for being a reason a “very high percentage”of their employees returned after the COVID lockdown.

“We were very lucky there,”she said. “We are in a good, strong staffing position right now. But we are constantly hiring. It used to be we would hire during certain phases but that is a thing of the past.”

Patrick O’Grady canbereached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

10 Enterprise, January2023
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‘The very best part of the business is the people’

Enfield bed and breakfast owner discusses how business has changed

Nancy Smith is the sole proprietor of the Shaker Hill Inn Bed and Breakfast in Enfield. She has been in the hospitality business since coming to the Upper Valley in the late 1990s from Virginia. While the COVID-19 pandemic and Airbnb have impacted the business, Smith maintains an optimistic outlook. She finds the people she meets

at her B&B to be the best part of running the business.

Question: In what ways did the pandemicaffect yourbusiness?Do youthinkyou andotherswhowere forced toshut downhave recovered to pre-COVID bookings?

Answer: The pandemiccaused everything tocome toa stop.As far asI knowthatistrue ofmostother like-sized properties in the area. Whatitdid formeisto givemea taste of “freedom.”Even though

there wasno place togo, Ifelt good about it. I have been a “one-man show ”since losingmy husband10 years ago.Trying tohandle allof the cooking,cleaning, shopping,gardeninghad beena realstretch. OneI loved,but ittookitstoll. Idobelieve that bookingshave returnedto preCOVID levels.

Q: You saidyoudecided tobegin bookingsthrough Airbnb.Canyou explainwhy andhow doesthat change your business, if at all?

A: After things started to open up I realized that I missed both the businessand thecompanyof theguests. My answerwas totake astab atlistingwith Airbnb.Itseemsto bethe way ofthe future and itprovided exposure that I needed.

Q: Inwhat ways doyou think Airbnb and Vrbo willaffect the local lodging industry in the long term? Willit helporhurtthe lodgingbusi-

12 Enterprise, January2023
HOSPITALIT Y
SEE BED AND BREAKFAST 13
VALLEY NEWS –JENNIFER HAUCK Nancy Smith opened the Shaker Hill Inn Bed and Breakfast in 1998 in Enfield, N.H. Smith was home with her two dogs Bo and Marley.

Enfield inn owner discusses pandemic impact on business

ness?

A : Airbnb hadnegativelyimpacted my businessbefore the pandemic. Theproperties didn’tneed to followthe samerules Ididas anindependentB&B (healthdepartment, zoning, fire regulations, taxes, etc.). They didn’t need todeliver a cooked breakfast. Many of them are unattended,withfood availableforcookingbreakfast yourself,ifanything; verydifferentbusiness thanIhad beenin. Althoughitis notgenerally expected, I have continued to serve a full breakfast—but I don’thave the pressureofneeding tobakeevery day —I purchase muffins, etc.

Q: What isyourviewof theUpper Valley lodging outlookfor 2023 and what challenges do lodging facilities face this year?

A : My takeis thatthe UpperValley is invery good shape aswe enter 2023. Weare closeenough to metropolitan areas andoffer a chance toreally get awaywithout incurringexpensesof alongtrip.We have wonderfulevents andplaces to visit throughout both states.

Q: Whatare someof thethings that drawpeople tothe areaand has that changed at all the last 10 or even 20 years?

A : Theregular drawstothearea —(Dartmouth)College, Dartmouth Health, private schools, are still here anddrawing significantnumbers.I have seenan increase offolks who arebikingthe NorthernRailTrail and visitingthe EnfieldShaker Museum. Ithink that theUpper Valley has really been discovered. I have an

extra “draw ”in that my daughter has started a verysuccessful, bi-weekly seasonal dinnerevent, (“las vive”) which has given the B&B some extra exposure.

Q: What makes running a small bedandbreakfast enjoyabletoyou andwhat arethechallenges tokeep it running smoothly?

A : The verybestpartof thebusinessis thepeople —Ihave metincredible people andam delighted whentheyreturn. Ihavehadguests sendme Dungenesscrab fromthe West Coast andsausages from Wisconsin. What a wonderful business. The challenge for me is getting everything doneso thatI canmaintain my standards.

Q: Whatare someof thethings you do totry to make yourbed and breakfast stand out?

A : I am probablybest known for my breakfasts.Further, thehouse has a huge wrap-around porch where people enjoyrelaxing. Ideliver personalized service that bigger places often can’t.

Q: Whatadvice wouldyougive someone who may be thinking of buying andrunning a bedand breakfast, even thoughit would be anew experience for them?

A : Look for a property that you love —ina locationthatiswelltrafficked. Ifyou need to earna living (i.e., no outside employment or retirement), be sure that your property can supportyou withenough rooms. Above all, keep a sense of humor. It is a great ride if you have the correct attitude.

Patrick O’Gradycan bereached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

13 Enterprise January2023
VALLEY NEWS –JENNIFER HAUCK
BED AND BREAKFAST FROM 12
NancySmith, ownerofthe ShakerHillInn BedandBreakfast, looksat photographs a guest sent her after a stay at her inn.
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A BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE FOR THE UPPER VALLEY

What’s ahead for 2023

Happy New Year, Upper Valley! Do you make New Year’s resolutions? For the last couple years, everything seemed too unsettled to make plans, but this year I feel hopeful. Sure, we have much to work on but given where we have been in the last two years, doesn’t 2023 feel ripe with possibilities? That is my resolution for this year —to focus on the positive!

At this time of year, I am often asked to look into my crystal ball and try to predict what 2023 will bring for our business community: 2022 was a bit of a rollercoaster for Upper Valley businesses depending on the type of business. We were able to take off face masks and get back to “nor mal”in many ways.

However, many of our businesses continued to have issues with their supply chains, making obtaining products or goods necessary for their businesses difficult. The good news is that many of the supply-side issues are starting to resolve.

One notable industry that has had supply issues all year has been the automotive industry. If you have tried to buy a new car in the last 12 months, you may still be waiting for the vehicle you ordered several months ago. However, I am hearing from several local dealers that new cars are finally arriving —just in time for pothole season.

The other pervasive issue facing our Upper Valley businesses (and those elsewhere) is the shortage of workers. I am often asked, “where did all the workers go?”Although it seems that this is a pandemic-related problem —and certainly the pandemic exacerbated the worker shortage in many fields —the issue has actually been growing for sev-

eral years.

The reasons are many. Population growth has been declining in the United States with people having fewer children. Overall, our population —particularly in the northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, has been aging. Our average age in Vermont and New Hampshire is 43 with close to 20% of our population over age 65. This means that many of residents have left the workforce or plan to retire. During the pandemic, many in the close-to-retirement age bracket did retire and, given concerns over COVID, did not return to work.

In early 2022, we heard much about the “Great Resignation,”a term coined to describe the mass exodus of workers from their current jobs. The Great Resignation was really more of a reshuffling. Certainly, many people chose to leave the employment they had prior to the pandemic. In some cases, they opted for new career paths. Several

fields considered on the “frontline” of the pandemic —health care, hospitality, education and child care — saw workers leaving for other types of work. The Upper Valley suffered these same losses in those fields, as did the rest of the country.

However, besides those who have retired, the largest age group to not fully return to pre-pandemic employment is the 20 to 39 group. Brian Gottlob, director of the NH Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, attributes the extended break of this age group to a few factors. First, the rise of the gig economy where people work several short-term jobs for themselves as contracted labor rather than as an employee. Also, when delving further into the statistics, women in this age group have disproportionally left full-time employment —often due to a lack of available child care. In the Upper Valley, several child care facilities closed during the pandemic making a resource already in scarce supply even scarcer.

As 2022 began winding down, inflation and energy costs began to rise. Just as you have seen prices rising in the grocery market, many of our businesses have seen their costs for materials and wholesale goods rise as well. Many of our Upper Valley restaurants have tried to absorb rising food costs when they could so as to not pass along to the customer. The cost of heat and electricity has risen for residents and businesses.

So why am I hopeful for 2023 with all these issues that continue to ripple through our local economy?

Because despite all, the economy of the Upper Valley remains strong. Our businesses are busy and our residents continue to support them. We saw many new businesses open in 2022 and more are planned for 2023. We saw the expansion of some

businesses in 2022. The unemployment rate is still incredibly low — 2.5% in Vermont and 2.6% in New Hampshire. There are new housing units in the pipeline that will help address another major issue in our region.

Although experts disagree whether there will be a recession in 2023, many factors still indicate that if there is a recession, the Upper Valley will be resilient.

I also am hopeful in the way the Upper Valley and our Twin States have responded to some of the aforementioned issues. This year, the New Hampshire Legislature will have two special committees dedicated to housing and child care, two very important issues affecting our economy. Vermont’s Legislature also is focusing on shoring up the infrastructure of the economy —primarily housing and broadband.

None of these issues will be resolved in 2023 —in fact, it may take 10 years to truly resolve —but both states are putting resources into seeking solutions. The Upper Valley Business Alliance will be watching as the various bills evolve during the upcoming legislative session and weighing in to make sure our Upper Valley businesses are represented.

Inclusion has become a special focus over the last couple of years. While we could say that this focus is long overdue, the fact that many of our local and state policies are now more focused on promoting and fostering diversity, creating environments of belonging for all residents regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender and sexual self-identification is encouraging. In 2022, the Upper Valley Business Alliance launched the Upper Valley BIPOC Network and we plan to work toward supporting entrepreneur-

Because despite all, the economy of the Upper Valley remains strong. Our businesses are busy and our residents continue to support them.

We saw many new businesses open in 2022 and more are planned for 2023. We saw the expansion of some businesses in 2022.

The unemployment rate is still incredibly low —2.5% in Vermont and 2.6% in New Hampshire. There are new housing units in the pipeline that will help address another major issue in our region.

14 Enterprise, January2023
COURTESY Tracy Hutchins
SEE BUSINESS OUTLOOK 15

ship for BIPOC-owned businesses in 2023.

Tourism in the Upper Valley during the autumn was at pre-pandemic levels. Visitors from nearby states flocked to our region to take in the foliage. Our hotels, restaurants and shops were busy.

With all these reasons for cautious optimism, you may think, “L et’s forget the pandemic ever happened. Everything has returned to nor mal.”However, I would humbly ask that we don’t try to put the last few years out of mind. Why? Because we learned so much about resiliency, working together, compassion, and how everything is connected in our communities. We learned how important all our workers are —whether they are stocking shelves in grocery stores, taking our order at restaurants, teaching our children, fixing our roads or helping us to feel better when ill.

We saw firsthand what happens when the world shuts down. We learned how dependent we have become on goods shipped from long distances, whether across the country or overseas. We supported our lo-

cal businesses as suddenly their survival came into question, and often they pivoted and supplied us with items we needed. We watched as local businesses struggled, but many did the near impossible stayed open and stepped up to serve their communities.

In 2020, the slogan was “Stronger Together.”L et’s not forget that sentiment in 2023 now that the crisis is over. Because, we are stronger together now and every year.

15 Enterprise January2023
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