The COVID gauntlet has been a brutal one— particularly for local economies like those in the Berkshires that rely on the tourism and cultural sectors.

As we advance the fight on the pandemic one vaccination at a time, we can’t get to the “new normal” soon enough — but the path there is still uncharted for many local businesses.

Fortunately for Berkshire County, the dynamism and diversity of the region’s business and civic leaders gives good reason for optimism. All of that is on display in a special publication in this weekend’s Eagle, thanks to 14 of those leaders who contributed to the annual Berkshire Business Outlook. Their voices offer a plethora of perspectives on enduring the COVID downturn and the Berkshires’ slow but steady road to economic recovery.

Restaurateurs, shop-owners, hotel managers, theater directors, nonprofit heads — these are the people who had a front-row seat for the economic havoc wrought by the pandemic and its crushing effects on their offices, kitchens, stages and bottom lines. From the harsh lessons of survival and adaptability, the wisdom they’ve synthesized is worth a read as we seek a way forward for our communities and local economies.

This year promises a return for many of the rich, life-giving Berkshire summer experiences that we took for granted until they had to be sacrificed last year. While the seasons will be shortened for Tanglewood and some theater groups, even their limited summer presence will be music to the ears of arts lovers everywhere — and to those who benefit from the sizable downstream economic boost. Nevertheless, the pandemic put a pointed exclamation mark on the sentence faced by ex-industrial regions like the Berkshires whose modern economies run largely through the services and creative sectors. To be sure, hospitality and the cultural economy have served Berkshire County extremely well — but the pandemic was a painful lesson in the precariousness of a less-diversified regional economic picture.

After the injection of a $1.9 trillion dollar federal relief package, the nation is poised for recovery — and so are the Berkshires. There’s still uncertainty ahead, though. As Allen Harris of Berkshire Money Management notes in his contribution to the Outlook, while we’d like to jump right to the post-pandemic swing of things, we’re likely looking at a “pre-post-pandemic” phase, and the Berkshires might recover slower than the rest of the country in this interval.

Nevertheless, it is possible for the Berkshires economy to emerge from the ashes of COVID stronger than it was before. That could certainly be helped along if the Biden administration’s ambitious infrastructure package ekes through Congress and gives the region’s development prospects a boost by increasing broadband and rail access.

Regardless of what happens in D.C., though, we are fortunate in the Berkshires to have the diverse array of business and civic leaders who have done an admirable job articulating what is, what could be and how to get there for small businesses and the regional economic picture.

Take a look at this year’s Berkshire Business Outlook — the voices in it are the ones likely to lead the Berkshires into the future.