Each year, members of the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce gather to pay tribute to the work of the previous year -- and to recharge their batteries in anticipation of the opportunities that lie ahead.
On Thursday, the chamber welcomed in the new year with brimming optimism -- a buzz at least partly fueled by the enthusiasm of its executive director, Tammy Wellbrock.
It's rare to see Wellbrock without exclamation points when she discusses the chamber's work -- whether typed in an email, signed on a note or accentuating sentences in person.
While it's easy for the malcontent in each of us to scoff at what could be seen as cheerleading, in Wellbrock's case, there is every reason to be excited.
To paraphrase an imminent quote from the president, the state of the Hays-area business community is strong.
Challenges remain, especially considering the uncertainty in which Gov. Sam Brownback's budget will affect the most influential of tax rates -- local property taxes. Most businesses still are working to adapt to the new reality of a post-recession model. In the face of rapidly changing technology, many workers struggle to keep skills relevant -- while searching for their place in an economy that often values efficiency over growth.
But while the nation struggles around us to stave off a recession that won't seem to go away, the biggest concern of Hays employers remains finding enough workers to fill jobs.
While home prices across the United States have plunged, leaving many property owners underwater, the biggest concern we hear about home values locally is that they keep going up.
While communities, especially in rural America, fight to keep their most educated from fleeing to the urban life, more than a third of Ellis County residents boast a college degree -- a rate well above state and national averages.
But the facts and figures are symptoms -- the people of the Hays area are the cause.
"When you have a passion for the community in which you live and you're able work with other people who are passionate about the same community, it becomes far more than a rewarding job ... it becomes a lifelong mission that's been fulfilled," Wellbrock said.
Wellbrock did the passing out of awards Thursday -- but it doesn't take long talking with her to guess the nameplate on her desk might be all the trophy she needs.
"This job is the most impactful, meaningful, rewarding work I've ever had the opportunity to do," she said. "It is a thrill to be a part of a bigger purpose -- promoting and helping Hays."
And it's true: The work of the Hays chamber, as well its sister entities housed at the Hays Welcome Center, has a positive effect on everyone -- whether member or nonmember, employer or employee.
So let's all raise a coffee cup this fine Sunday morning in Hays, America.
Here's to another year of success. Here's to another year of working with folks who truly understand that a rising tide lifts all boats. Here's to the folks who sign and earn paychecks with an unparalleled western Kansas work ethic. Here's to another year of being able to tell cohorts across the country how good we have it here. Here's to another year of being able to say honestly Hays is different than the rest of the world.
Here's to you.
Editorial by Ron Fields