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True to form, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance (CRMEA) celebrated a host of successes during their annual meeting Jan. 24 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. But the group heard an extra exhortation from Hugh Ekberg, president and CEO of CRST, during his remarks to the 900-plus attendees at the CRMEA luncheon event. “We really want to focus on where we are going, and where the Economic Alliance is going to create the most value for the community,” said Mr. Ekberg, who chairs the CRMEA’s Policy Committee. “We want to check in plans and innovation that sets our community apart, that leverage our unique capabilities and also deal with our unique challenges. “We need to be thinking about how we can make this community even greater,” he added. “Make sure there's some sizzles and big dreams that can be articulated, and more importantly executed, to make this a place where young talent and future leaders want to stay, and also make it a place where visiting family and visiting companies come here and (find opportunity).” Several initiatives were discussed during the CRMEA annual meeting that leaders hope will continue to foster business recruitment, development and expansion. One initiative discussed during the meeting is a “3-19” effort, set to be unveiled March 19, that encourages local businesses to consider purchasing more of their needed materials and supplies from local vendors. Another involves considering options to encourage those age 55 and older to rejoin the workforce in some capacity. Data shows that members of that demographic group left the workforce in large numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic and never returned, and CRMEA executive director Doug Neumann said finding a role for these experienced potential workers could help ease employment shortages in many segments. Attendees also heard comments from Tim Charles, the recipient of the CRMEA’s 2022 Howard Hall Excellence in Business Award. Mr. Charles, who recently retired as president and CEO of Mercy Medical Center, said he was “incredibly humbled” to be honored with the award named after the legendary Cedar Rapids entrepreneur and philanthropist. “I think it's so important that through the Economic Alliance, we take a moment to retell the narrative of Howard Hall,” Mr. Charles said, sharing a quote from French philosopher Simone Weil: “Becoming rooted in one's community is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” “She went on to define rootedness not as lineage or birthplace, but participation in the life of a community that preserves the treasures of the past and expectations for the future," Mr. Charles added. “So what is it that Cedar Rapids has that other communities don't? I would suggest, it is all the rooted, civic-minded people that live (here). And that is all of you. That is us.” Mr. Neumann also noted the passing of former Cedar Rapids and Marion area chamber of commerce president Larry Waller, who died in June 2022 at age 82 at a hospital near his home of Cumming, Ga. Many of the economic development efforts still in use in Cedar Rapids were originally established by Mr. Waller, Mr. Neumann noted. The meeting also included a keynote panel discussion moderated by The Gazette’s Quinn Pettifer and featuring Steve Ginsberg of GInsberg Jewelers, Darryl High of High Properties, Ted Kepros of Kepros Physical Therapy, Jaymie McGrath of the McGrath Family of Dealerships, and Paul Phelan of Phelan’s interiors, who discussed topics ranging from philanthropy and innovation to family legacies. “As we take our annual look back at the year just ended, we are again humbled by the amazing support of the business community,” Mr. Neumann said. “Through times good, bad and uncertain, businesses have invested in us to be the steadfast advocate for growing the economy and helping businesses succeed.”