I recently had a Zoom conversation with a good friend who told me how hard it was to visit her mom in a nursing home. Her mom suffers from Alzheimer’s. She spoke about the pain of remembering all the things they used to do together that they can no longer do. What she learned, however, is a new way to interact. For her mom, every day is a new day filled with joy for the discoveries that lie ahead. For my friend, she now finds herself forging ahead into a new normal.

We’ve all had the experience of having to adjust and redo our plans, hopes, and dreams. Today, we are all living a new normal.  As we grieve for things that can no longer be, we find ourselves learning how to discover and adapt to find our equilibrium, to find our path forward and, hopefully, find joy along the way.

Managing this new reality at West Center is a daunting task. With recessions, wildfires, drought, and Covid, we are at times afraid to ask the question “What’s next?”  Yet our mission is to help rural small businesses be successful, so we constantly look for how this can be accomplished. Because we believe there is always a path forward for our community, we find ourselves going beyond the practicalities of business principles to befriend and guide owners as they transition into their new normal.

For this reason, West Center has started this column to offer insights and updates on what might lie ahead for you, the business owner. To help you be ready for the next leap into the future and begin your own business evolution and to do so in a way that also helps our community thrive.

The devastating and indiscriminate impact of the Covid pandemic highlighted our vulnerabilities in ways we did not expect. But it also provided opportunities for rural regional organizations to bolster their investments in forestry, agriculture, and the blue ocean economy, which are the building blocks of a resilient local economy of the future. Direct cash in hand helps one small business at a time but does little to raise the bar for the broader economy and the economic transformation that our county needs to flourish in the new normal. A future vibrant economy for Mendocino County requires the big infrastructure changes we are all familiar with: housing, broadband access, and business expansion. The Economic Development Administration (EDA) has introduced a series of grants that total three billion dollars to bolster our infrastructure. These competitive grants are within reach for our rural community but only if there is leadership willing to build coalitions, follow a singular vision, and ensure that outcomes and benefits are equitable. We need an economic reimagining that is centered around the concepts of collaboration, diversity, and growth. Scary words for some; the new normal for others.

The recent Mendocino County Economic Analysis Report tells us that Mendocino County is undergoing significant demographic changes at rates that outpace the state overall. Outbound migration and age dynamics are leading to stagnation and, more recently, depopulation, which exacerbates the shortage of workers needed for our businesses. Yet, at the same time, a huge wave of travelers has discovered the majestic beauty of our county. Unfortunately, this wealth of visitors has left us flat-footed and short staffed in most business sectors.

Mourning for the way things were should not derail us from our quest to adapt so we can find our equilibrium and, ultimately, joy with how things are. West Center has been a partner with the Mendocino small business community for more than 30 years. We provide free business counseling and training programs in English and Spanish. Through the years we have witnessed times of growth and times of despair and through it all we help business owners create a path forward. If you find yourself needing to navigate a new path we can provide insights that smooth the transition for your business as we all adapt to a new normal.