You’re going to notice something a little different tomorrow, with the paper’s first premium day of the year. It means a one-day price increase for single sales, but we think the bonus product inside is well worth it.

Wednesday’s paper will include the annual Vision publication, a look back at the progress made over the past year and plans for what area residents will see in the coming months. The cover itself is a reference to some of the most visible progress, with the ‘i” in Vision composed of one of the large cranes downtown.

The construction work is one of the most obvious examples of how the Chippewa Valley continues to move forward, but it’s far from the only one. Efforts continue to improve the quality of life in the region, from additions like the crokicurl ice sheets to the realization that area waterways are an immense resource of their own. Communities in the region are putting real resources into their parks, trails and aesthetics, and those efforts are paying off.

Transportation hopes are as high as they’ve been in a long time, with real optimism about the possibility of passenger rail returning to the area. We’ve heard the pitch before, but this time seems to have a level of federal interest previous initiatives lacked. That, combined with the continuing rebound in air travel, means that it’s easier than ever to get to the area. And, once people are here, we know we make a good impression.

The region’s housing boom continued in 2021, and all signs show there’s still room for growth. But limited housing stock is tapping the brakes in many areas. People from the housing industry don’t expect a quick return to pre-pandemic conditions, but developments like the new Eau Claire subdivisions that could add a collective 657 new homes are steps in the right direction.

Entertainment is coming back, though perhaps not at the speed some would hope. Movies have shown the ability to post big numbers, with some threatening records set well before anyone had ever heard of COVID. The challenge in 2022 will be seeing whether other forms of live entertainment come back, too. But there’s optimism here as well. Jason Jon Anderson, executive director of the Pablo Center, said the key is balancing opportunities with responsibility, as well as making good financial decisions.

Growth in the Chippewa Valley means the region isn’t aging as quickly as some other parts of the state, but there’s still a substantial senior population looking forward to being able to return to some of the activities they enjoyed in past years. Cautious steps to return to sites like the Eau Claire Senior Center are, in the words of one person we spoke with, returning a sense of joy that was often missing during the pandemic’s early months.

Area schools have already had numerous articles about their plans and adaptations, but it’s still worth taking a step back and looking at the broader trends. Law enforcement has major changes coming with donations that will fund body cameras and recording equipment. And we also talk a bit about our own successes over the past year. Times continue to change for local media, but we’re not going anywhere.

It’s easy sometimes to look around and be discouraged. The pandemic we all thought would be waning by now is coming off of new records. Challenges remain on innumerable fronts, from crime to inflation rates the likes of which haven’t been seen in a couple generations. Those concerns are real.

What gets lost sometimes is that the reasons for optimism about the Chippewa Valley are equally real. This region has a vibrancy to it and a relentless drive that make it special. There’s a reason this part of Wisconsin outpaced most of the state’s growth over the past decade, and there’s every reason to think the growth will continue.

There’s a difference between what we see and the potential 2022 holds and groundless optimism. We’re not channeling Pollyanna. There are real issues and challenges. But those worries should be assessed alongside the equally clear reasons for optimism.

We hope you’ll spend some time with tomorrow’s edition and the special section it contains. There was a lot going on in the area last year, and there’s even more coming in 2022.