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COVID-19: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

By: John Sampson on May 6th, 2020

On the first day of Indiana’s stage 2 commerce opening, I set out to make an intentional early-morning excursion for some iced tea, stopped to fill up for gas, and bought several bags of water softener salt.

None of this needed to be done today. I did it just because it was liberating to do something I wanted to do, for no good reason. Yes, it was about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We are in a war against COVID-19. This war has two battlefronts: health and economic. On one hand, we are aggressively fighting to stem the spread of the virus. On the other hand, we are fighting to rebuild a national economy as a cornerstone for a global marketplace. 

Indiana has been “hunkered down,” as Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb characterizes the necessary, but restrictive, stay-at-home orders for Hoosiers. Certainly, these executive orders have been essential to slowing the spread of the virus, saving lives and getting us back to living freely as quickly as possible. 

And yet, we all know, despite our assimilation of remote work, we have also severely restricted economic activity and business pursuits. Clear evidence of the abrupt and severe economic impacts is the over 168,000 unemployment claims statewide, with over 30,000 from our region alone as of March 27. Undoubtedly, we will benefit and learn from new approaches to business practices but there is no overlooking the severity of the pandemic economic impacts.

We will most certainly benefit in countless ways from these challenging times forcing us out of our naturally complacent tendencies. But, let’s admit that “hunkering down” is not a long-term strategy or “new normal.” If we intend to fuel future economic growth fundamental to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we need to beat COVID-19 and get back to work as safely as possible, as soon as possible.

We cannot overlook that executive orders issued by state governors across the country have included “enabling” guidance to allow the conduct of limited commerce, the trading of goods and services for the purposes of supporting daily living. Notably, banks, manufacturing, logistics, grocery stores, auto shops, hardware outlets, many retail locations and internet sales are essential to providing necessary goods and services to support a modest semblance of “normal” life. We have all endeavored to work from home, support e-learning, minimize travel, refrain from entertainment and faith-based gatherings, and in general, stay away from family, friends and any other humans encroaching on our expanded personal boundaries.

I don’t like it and refuse to accept that this is the definition of our new future normal. This is a war for the protection of life which we must fight and win. But, let us not forget this war has a critical economic front. Let us not forget that we are also engaged in a global war for good jobs. Let us not forget that Northeast Indiana business and community leaders, economic developers and elected officials have fully committed to being a winner in this global war through our regional Vision 2030 process and goals. That war for good jobs remains before us and will for years to come.

Not everyone will see this the same as I do. Some will say we are not ready to lift restrictions, and we are incurring unnecessary health risks. I agree we cannot overwhelm our healthcare systems and must do everything that we can to minimize the spread of the virus to save lives. We also must get back to “living” and creating a powerful demand to fulfill both the necessities and desires inherent to liberty and happiness. 

I want to get back to worship with others, and I want to enjoy “pizza night” with our friends. We missed meeting our new son-in-law who married our daughter with only five people present at their wedding. I want the simple joy of hugging my Mom on Mother's Day, who has not seen a family member for two months. I miss reading to second graders at Fairfield Elementary School. I know that I am not alone in these wants and likely suffered the least of all.

What liberties have you sacrificed in your pursuit of life and happiness as we have committed, together, to fight COVID-19? You may have sadly suffered the loss of a family member or friends in this battle.

Last week was my birthday, and the Regional Partnership team hopped in their cars and paraded past our home. It brought tears to my eyes when I realized how much I miss them, their faces and the sounds of their voices not cloaked through video or mask. This war is now necessary, but it cannot replace the intimacy and connection to the five senses rooted in direct human interactions.

I am intently looking forward to watching the number of new unemployment claims each week dramatically decline across our state. You see, for economic development professionals, the manufacturing, service, logistics, agriculture, food processing, construction and commerce industries are all critical elements of an economic system competing for a place to provide goods and services in a global marketplace.

At the heart of this are people working, endeavoring to provide for their families and create a future with hope and purpose to fulfill dreams. People at work, together, committed to a way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

So, my brief trip for iced tea and gas that morning was much more than my self-interests for refreshment and fuel. It was me doing my small part to win the battle for economic freedom against COVID-19. I know this is not over by any stretch but I have hope for a future not designed by fear of a virus or contact with my fellow human beings.

Let’s all do our part. Support our Governor’s plan to open Indiana for business and getting all Hoosiers back to work safely.

Onward!

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