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As cases of COVID-19 continue to dwindle, the Walker County Chamber of Commerce is resuming in-person One Walker meetings and supporting the local business community in its "new normal."

The One Walker meetings, started around a decade ago, are meant to help residents get to know more specific details about and network with those from other cities and locations within the county.

"We all lived in the same community and we interacted but we really didn't have a thorough understanding of each municipality and the unique challenges and how they're structured," said Chamber President Lacey Wilson, regarding the impetus for One Walker. "I think it's important for community leaders in Rossville and Chickamauga and Rock Spring to be able to go to LaFayette and learn more about their area.

"A rising tide raises all ships. So if LaFayette is doing well, that's good for Chickamauga; if Chickamauga is doing well, it's good for Rock Spring — just bringing more people to Walker County and highlighting the businesses and opportunities that are here."

But when COVID-19 hit, the in-person meetings were put on hold. As people are now regaining some sense of normalcy, the meetings will be held in June, August, September and October, each featuring a different city within the county.

"I wanted to be mindful of our customer base and what they were dealing with," Wilson said of the decision to put the meetings on hold. "But now that things are on the upswing, we feel better about it. We've had a lot of people asking, 'Hey, you know, I want to get back to face-to-face networking.' We want to allow them that opportunity and to afford them the opportunity to connect with other businesses through the Chamber."

One Walker schedule

June 29: One Walker LaFayette

* At LaFayette Golf Course Banquet Room. Lunch served at 11:30 a.m., program begins at noon. Register at tinyurl.com/OneWalkerLaF21.

Aug. 31: One Walker Lookout Mountain

Sept. 28: One Walker Chickamauga

Oct. 26: One Walker Rossville

Even though they didn't meet in exceptionally large groups over the last year, the Chamber sought to still provide support throughout the worst of the pandemic, she said. The nonprofit even opened up a new office with a shared workspace for area businesses, after being located at the local civic center for the last 30 years.

That support will continue and grow even as COVID-19 cases decline, said Wilson. After a year of forced closures and stagnant sales, many Chamber members are now facing a lack of workers.

"It's almost like our small businesses have had kind of a double whammy," she said.

But she is optimistic about the summer as the state updates its unemployment policies and more students will be home and seeking jobs.

The Chamber is also set to resume its leadership program, which gives members a look into the inner workings of local government, nonprofits and the health care system.

"We're really excited just to get back to some sense of normalcy with that program because it is probably one of the strongest things that we do here. [We] put people through this leadership program so that they can have a better understanding of their community as they're trying to grow their networks," Wilson said.

Contact Tierra Hayes at thayes@timesfreepress.com

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