By Tara Bitzan, executive director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce

Better Together is the 2021 Chamber theme, chosen by Board President Lynn Jenc, Community Education Director for Alexandria Public Schools.

With the Chamber’s mission in mind, I automatically think of how this relates in the business world. A perfect example is a retail business on Broadway. One could think that if the other retail businesses along Broadway would go out of business, the one remaining would gain more business. Of course that isn’t true. Having many flourishing businesses along Broadway is a draw to more visitors, more shoppers, and even more residents.

Many people travel to Alexandria because they can spend hours shopping, dining and enjoying entertainment in a variety of establishments. It’s a perfect example of how competitors are helping each other be more successful.

But the theme Better Together encompasses so much more, including how our community is better when new residents move in.

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Lynn and her family moved to Alexandria five years ago. Their experience was a positive one, and Lynn noted they felt “surrounded by positive, friendly souls wherever we went, whether it was school, medical facilities, retail establishments, religious activities and so forth.”

That isn’t always the case for new residents. Sometimes people struggle to make connections, to get involved and to gain the sense of “home” in a new community. People who moved to the Alexandria area in 2020 had major challenges in trying to gain those connections and get involved because a pandemic forced closures and cancellations and caused many groups to stop meeting.

Inviting a new coworker out for lunch, meeting someone new at church, or scheduling a group outing with other newcomers were all things that fell to the wayside.

We heard numerous times throughout the year that new residents of all ages were feeling lost in their new community because of the lack of opportunities to connect.

That is concerning, because studies show that if a person doesn’t get engaged and make connections in a new community within the first year, they will likely leave if they have the resources to do so.

Those of us who haven’t experienced a major move to a new community often fail to understand the struggle, and aren’t as thoughtful as we should be about extending invitations, making introductions, and playing a role in helping new people settle in.

Like so many things in life, our actions – or lack of them – can easily be misconstrued. Our “clueless” attitude may come across as indifference, disinterest, or on a broader scope, a feeling of a person simply not being welcome here.

Yikes. That’s a tough pill to swallow. I have lived in this area all my life. I don’t know what it is like to move to a new community and try to find new circles and get engaged. Perhaps I am one of those people that comes across as indifferent.

Fortunately, but in some ways unfortunately, new residents don’t wear name tags saying, “I’m new.” If they did, I’d like to think the majority of us would walk right up, introduce ourselves and say, “So happy to meet you! Tell me your story! Let’s go have coffee – I am excited to get to know you.”

As with so many things in life, lack of knowledge gets in the way and often sends things spiraling out of control. Lack of knowledge is interpreted as disinterest. Disinterest may cause a person to isolate further making engagement in the community even more difficult, and before you know it, they leave.

We don’t want that. A growing, thriving, healthy community needs new people to constantly be moving in. Yes, people will always be moving out as well, but our hope should be that anyone leaving the community is doing so with nothing but positive things to say about this place. And we need to realize that every new person moving here has something to offer and we need to welcome that, knowing that we are all Better Together!

Tara Bitzan is executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.