Leaders of the Susquehanna Valley shared their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday in an hour-long webinar.

The Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted the "Crushing COVID — Champions in the Valley" event via Zoom. The meeting was designed to highlight the positive responses in the Valley and featured multiple speakers on business growth, tourism, nonprofits and reopening schools.

"When I think about the last seven months of activity, the biggest win is we have all been able to seamlessly collaborate and in a way we haven't before," said Joanne Troutman, the president/CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way. "We have had so much success because all those relationships were established ahead of time. We were working together with organizations like the chamber, the CSIU, the school districts, all our regional nonprofits, the hospitals, the health systems."

COVID forced the organizations to work together more closely, she said.

Troutman highlighted setting up Wi-Fi hotspots around the Valley. She also highlighted five mass giveaways of masks and one giveaway of milk to the public and responding to organizations that need personal protective equipment.

"It's been tough," said Troutman.

Art Thomas, president of Meck-Tech, Inc. and vice president of Diversified Construction, Inc., shared that business for his companies has been increasing, noting how he "feels very lucky." His companies returned to business on June 1.

"The phone has been ringing ever since," said Thomas. "I can't explain this. People are spending money they don't have."

Residents are requesting boundary surveys and business owners looking to expand are requesting sub-divisions and land development plans, he said.

"Things are good," said Thomas. "Things are not great, don't misunderstand me. Things are good and we're getting through this."

John Kurelja, the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) assistant executive director, said students continued to be fed when schools shut down in March. He praised all educators and food service workers for their dedication, as well as superintendents who committed to meeting over 50 times in the last seven to eight months to develop plans for online learning.

"Our educators were at their finest during this pandemic," he said.

Kurelja said the local districts found it in the best interest of students to return to in-person classes despite recommendations for full virtual from the state.

"They opened up schools," he said. "They have been working non-stop to make this happen and it's extremely stressful."

Andrew Miller, Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau (SRVVB) executive director, said the bureau created lists for what was open and what services were available; they built a webpage for stories of compassion and hope; they reached out to businesses that were hit the hardest; they offered tips for gardening; and they promoted outdoor recreation.

"We are uniquely positioned to bring back tourism to help economic recovery in the area," said Miller. "We have plenty of room for responsible social distancing. We're an easy destination to get into. We have opportunities for all budgets."

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