This past year left us with unhealed wounds, still-drying tears, and a degree of stress and anxiety we did not know existed. It also left us with something else: a deep sense of gratitude and an opportunity for a fresh start.

Finding gratitude during acute moments of stress and anxiety is by no means easy. Yet, over the past year, there has been an indisputable level of support for our employers and employees in Canal Park and more broadly in Duluth.

This spring, when businesses were dialed back to slow the spread of COVID-19, representatives from City Hall immediately reached out and asked, “What can we do to help?” They meant it. They worked hand-in-hand with the business community to ensure businesses could be reopened safely and creatively. They sped up permitting and reduced fees. They listened and acted, and we are forever grateful.

All summer long, community members and visitors came to our area, both in person and virtually, to spend their hard-earned money and support our small businesses. Many in our community left generous tips for employees and kind words of compassion and solidarity. Messages such as, “We feel for you,” and, “We are in this together,” were uttered countless times. Furthermore, businesses which were able to, stepped up and supported other businesses through programs that purchased gift cards and catered meals. Every little bit helps and is appreciated.

We are grateful for the many membership organizations in our area that continued to provide leadership while dealing with stressful situations of their own. The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce stepped up for the business community and provided a COVID-19 toolkit with resources that helped guide the small businesses in Canal Park when they needed it most.

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Yet, the biggest and most important message of gratitude from Canal Park businesses is to our health care and front-line workers. We thank them for keeping our community healthy and safe.

None of these silver linings would have been possible without sacrifice, compassion, collaboration, and a spirit of togetherness. We must remember this spirit of gratitude as life starts to shift back to normal. This spirit can be the foundational building block in the opportunity for our fresh start on the other side of this pandemic.

There is a complex, unique, and yet undeniably interconnected relationship that communities, businesses, schools, and local politics share. Let us be reminded of this as we forge ahead into 2021. We can accomplish far more working together than we can working alone.

The pandemic and societal issues that we have experienced together over the past year taught us many lessons. Among the most important is the understanding that we all need each other. Municipalities need tax revenues, residents need tax-funded services, employers pay taxes, employers need employees to generate taxes, employees need employers, and employers need municipal support. You get the picture.

The most successful communities lift every person, have vibrant business cultures, educate their children, and have forward-thinking politics. We are fortunate to have many of the characteristics necessary for community success: natural beauty and a connection to the outdoors, a diverse economy built for resilience and the future, a population that leans into challenging social issues, and employers which pour their hearts into their businesses. Let us collaborate to harness these characteristics with new energy and optimism.

This is our opportunity for a fresh start! Let us approach each situation with solutions and ideas rather than with blame and complaints. Let us harness the power of collaborative leadership just as we did this spring and summer when a global pandemic forced us to rethink what was possible.

In Canal Park, we are grateful and optimistic because we are in this together.

Matt Baumgartner is president of the Canal Park Business Association. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the invitation of the Opinion page.