CEO Message: The national season of gratitude and hopefulness

2020 is a year that is likely to be remembered with infamy. Infamy is a bit like being famous – but for bad reasons. This year has been replete with bad things to remember: the coronavirus pandemic, political division, racial tensions, economic downturn, and persistently high levels of unemployment, just to name a few. Certainly 2020 fits the bill to “live in infamy” when compared to other years in our history.

While Round Rock has been in some ways insulated from much of these distressing national tides, our community has experienced its own measure of the pain and uncertainty of the year. Our small business community has been rocked by the lasting impacts of shutdowns and many are still experience uncertainty for their employment. In so many ways, 2020 has been a difficult year for our families, children, colleagues, and coworkers.

This week of Thanksgiving everyone is assured to see pictures of Pilgrims and Native Americans. Families will tell the story of “the first Thanksgiving”, historians will again try to correct that account, and still others will try to draw contemporary conclusions about today’s issues from it. I leave the 17th century founding of the holiday to them.

I have been thinking back to a different story of Thanksgiving in, another divisive year in our history – one far, far worse than 2020. That year is 1863 at the height of the Civil War. The nation had literally divided into separate, warring nations over the founding cornerstone principles of the country. In the center of all this strife, suffering, and uncertainty about the future – in 1863 President Lincoln called for a day of Thanksgiving. This did not mark the first national Thanksgiving called by a president (Washington did so in 1789).

Yet, it was the Thanksgiving of 1863 that became the founding of the modern holiday in many ways. Every president following Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving. Prior to this time, Thanksgiving had been practiced at different times in different states or ignored entirely in others. Here is a link to a Washington Post article that summarizes this history.

Much of President Lincoln’s proclamation itself recognizes the benefits provided to the country through its primary economic drivers at the time, including: farming, mining, and manufacturing. The Union had achieved major milestones in 1863: the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, the victories of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, and the Gettysburg address. In retrospect, the momentum of the war turned to the favor of the Union in 1863. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see this now, but nobody knew that in 1863. In the middle of the most destructive war in our nation’s history, the President called for a time to spend a day in prayerful meditation and thanks. One that would be repeated with regularity thereafter.

Even in a year like 2020, Round Rock still has so much to be grateful for. While many businesses are hurting, the economy overall continues to grow. The Chamber has worked with seven businesses to create another 1,100 jobs in Round Rock and more good news is on the way. The housing market continues to expand to match our growing community. Kalahari Resorts & Conventions opened this month. Regional companies like Tesla, Apple, and BAE have invested and created jobs, which will bolster the entire region including Round Rock. All of this means that, once the community can get back to normal, businesses investment will increase, and unemployment will go down.

We have the kind of community and leaders that have made partnership and collaboration part of our culture. The reason Round Rock has made big things happen for several decades is that culture of collaboration. Nothing can illustrate that spirit better than the success of Round Rock Cares which was such an important support to community businesses. We are thankful for all who supported that effort.

All Americans can be thankful for the progress made by scientists toward vaccine development this year, which is nothing short of spectacular. At the time of this writing, two vaccines have been developed that report greater than 95% efficacy. While the deployment of both will still take months, this is a light at the end of the tunnel. The previous record for vaccine development was four years!

This week of Thanksgiving we also have much to be thankful for, even if we need to look a bit harder to find it. This week I wish you all a break from the challenges and negativity of the year. I hope you all can enjoy a time of peace, recovery, and renewal. If it is safe for you to do so, I hope you can be with at least some family while still observing safety recommendations. Perhaps above all of this, I wish you and your family good health.

This year I’m thankful for the hope we can have in the future for Round Rock. I believe it is a bright future.

#TomorrowTogether

Jason