FOREST CITY—Rutherford County economic leaders say despite the devastating impact of COVID-19, they are confident an economic rebound will take place in 2021.

“This past year we were all forced to learn new ways to connect,” said Birgit Dilgert, executive director of Rutherford County Economic Development (RCED).

Dilgert says her team found ways to connect virtually with business and industry via Zoom calls, emails, and telephone to offer support.

“They also needed to find ways to think outside the box to connect with their customers and clients,” Dilgert said. “Our office served as a resource for the business community as they navigated programs and funding opportunities.”

In dealing with prospective clients considering buildings and sites in Rutherford County, RCED relied heavily on data and photos previously collected to try to accurately represent the properties.

“On occasions when clients were in town, we met wearing face masks and remained socially distanced throughout the meeting,” Dilgert said. “In an industry that is relational, we tried to remain warm, welcoming, and friendly despite having to wear a mask.”

Dilgert said Rutherford County’s resiliency enabled people to recreate the way they do business and think in non-traditional ways. This, she believes, will be helpful in the future.

“I believe this same resilience is what will propel our local business and industry to grow and expand moving forward in this new year,” Dilgert added. “It is with great expectation that we welcome 2021.”

Clark Poole, executive director of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, is hopeful, but says 2020 was economically devastating.

“The pandemic was the most devastating blow to a remarkable free market, that I have ever seen,” Poole said. “Businesses were forced to shut down through no fault of their own. This pandemic was something we had never experienced.”

Throughout 2020, Poole said he observed things that give him hope.

“I saw so many people supporting one another in their businesses. I saw people who cared deeply about their employees,” Poole said. “It is so encouraging to see so many people pulling together, working together to try to survive.”

As people are now receiving vaccines, a process that has proven to be slow and cumbersome, Poole said “We still have to listen to the health experts. It kills me to not be able to reach out and shake hands. We can’t do that yet, but we can reach out with our hearts. And that is what I’ve seen people do.”

Poole believes in 2021, the local economy will get past the pandemic.

“We were prepared before the pandemic to receive a lot of people seeking to explore and experience the natural beauty of Rutherford County,” he said. “This year, I believe the growth will be tremendous. We will eventually be rocking and rolling.

“Many businesses have found ways to survive,” Poole continued. “Existing manufacturing is growing, they are expanding and adding employees. Rutherford County’s economic future is bright.”