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Opinion: Event business returning, cautiously

Eyes & Ears

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Events are back. At Springfield Business Journal, we have turned the corner and begun to hold in-person events again.

The first event back in person, indoors and without social distancing and occupancy limits, was the Dynamic Dozen awards on May 27, recognizing the fastest growing companies in southwest Missouri. Crowd size is typically on SBJ’s smaller end for this event, and this year brought together 195 people at The Barley House at Moon Crossing.

It’s been well over a year, of course, since we’ve been face to face like that. The return was both energizing and refreshing, while at the same time trepidatious. Outwardly, there were some awkward moments in first-time greetings – no handshaking, but are you going to fist bump or elbow tap or the easy hand wave? You figure it out. Yet others went straight for the hug. Inwardly, that was nice to see. It was even better to hear the buzz of a crowd again. Familiar, yes, but for some I know social anxiety was present. Since appetizers and beverages were available at the event – served in individually encased to-go boxes by Simply Delicious Catering – most sat at their company tables without wearing masks.

Event emcee Greg Burris remarked, tongue in cheek, that tomorrow all of this would be legal. It was one of his dry-humor jokes sprinkled throughout the night. Of course, he was referencing the mask mandate being removed on May 28.

So, here we are.

I feel like this is the point to say: Don’t burn all your masks just yet. But do bring on business done in person again. I know for some, it has been business as usual in the office for a while.

But as the large-gathering event business is renewed, we can do so responsibly, knowing that not all attendees have been vaccinated. A simple way about that is whether you’ve been fully vaccinated or never plan to, we can wear masks as we’re personally comfortable. Just like you would in your work setting or at the grocery store or restaurant.

At the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, organizers have managed their events in a hybrid manner for months now – with limited in-person attendance and virtual viewing options. Feedback in the business community is it’s worked well for them. The June edition of Good Morning, Springfield! at Evangel University represents a return to the pre-pandemic structure, though a livestream was available through the city since Mayor Ken McClure delivered the annual State of the City address. Also, a to-go meal was offered rather than the typical breakfast buffet.

At SBJ, our most successful event during the pandemic was arguably the 40 Under 40 Awards in March. We held it drive-in cinema style, so the honorees could still be together but safely in their own cars with family and friends. Honorees tuned in to the event audio through their car radios as a roving cameraman projected the delivery of the awards at each vehicle onto the “cinema” screen up front. People honked their horns and flashed their lights as applause. It was fun and lively, and in my mind a great example of making lemons out of lemonade during a pandemic.

Next on the SBJ event calendar is the 12 People You Need to Know live interview with Craig McCoy, president of Mercy Springfield Communities. Timely, right? We’re returning to Hilton Garden Inn for the first in-person, ticketed breakfast event since February 2020.

The last live interview I did in person was with Toni Robinson of the NAACP back in March last year – and that was just a handful of us in the SBJ office to produce the video livestreamed on Facebook. From there, the interviews were all on Zoom and Facebook through last month’s livestream with Samuel Knox of Unite Publication and former director of Minorities in Business.

For planning, I asked the remaining 12 People interview guests and not one has indicated they are uncomfortable with an in-person interview.

I look forward to seeing your faces again – at the 12 People breakfast first, then the launch of our annual Economic Growth Survey forums beginning in July.

With all these plans, we’re not taking our eyes off the pandemic realities. Yes, the health stats are improved. But the latest numbers from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department still give caution. Officials made a civic alert June 1 that the seven-day COVID-19 case rate was up 37% on successive days of 63 new positive cases.

We’ll continue watching these trends and adjust our events as necessary. We expect the business community to do the same.

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Vice President Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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