SPECIAL REPORT: Laws, Regulations Crunching Businesses Trying to Survive

(Editor’s Note: First in a series detailing the issues business owners face as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis.)

As states around the country have begun to relax stay-at-home orders put in place to battle the spread of COVID-19, businesses and their employees are chomping at the bit to reopen and get back to work.

Or are they?

Of course they are, but owners know that, in the new post-COVID era, things aren’t going to be business-as-usual. Most states are going to add new requirements for the safety and health of workers and customers, and experts say a general fear about coming back too soon is likely to cause fear in workers returning to their jobs.

According to Timothy Williams, Vice Chairman of Pinkerton, a global provider of corporate risk management services and solutions, it’s largely a fear of the unknown.

“There’s a great deal of anxiety,” Williams said. “There’s so much we don’t know. We have generally accepted protocols to deal with other crises. We understand how to deal with an earthquake or a tornado. But there are still so many unknowns and so many variables with (COVID) that we’re going to have to be exceptionally patient as we reopen the economy.”

The anxiety is coming in waves from several different directions. Employers are concerned, for instance, about being able to comply with new safety standards that are almost certain to be imposed when they’re allowed to reopen.

Workplace safety the biggest concern
Having workers report back to a safe environment is going to be one of the paramount obligations for employers. Businesses will likely have to have adequate personal protective equipment in place, as well as policies about cleanliness and sanitization.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are certainly going to affect how companies do business. According to information on the OSHA website (www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/standards.html), some of the more relevant requirements include:

  • OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards, which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection when job hazards warrant it.
  • When respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard.
  • The General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Denise Navarro, President/CEO of Houston, Texas-based Logical Innovations, Inc., said the requirements will likely vary by industry, but will still likely be, at a minimum, a financial stressor.

“For instance, I have noted that some businesses are restructuring and redesigning office layouts to accommodate continued social distancing,” Navarro said. “This could lead to additional costs and limited space.”

Workplace safety standards are going to be a focus. According to information provided by the Michigan OSHA, more than 300 workplace complaints were received March 30-31 alone.

What will new standards look like?
Steve Girard, a labor attorney with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Clark Hill PLC, said OSHA inspectors will look at employers who had COVID-19-positive employees and ask if the company “did everything they could do” to protect employees. If OSHA determines such wasn’t the case, Girard warned, companies could face citations.

The problem with that, he said, is it’ll be an after-the-fact determination of whether companies did everything they could against a virus nobody has ever seen.

“You’re going have investigators after the fact doing some Monday morning quarterbacking and saying ‘you could have done more,’” Girard said.

What safety standards may be required is still a bit of an unknown, and most businesses are already setting up to meet projected requirements as best they can.

For instance, Mid-West Instrument – which develops proprietary designs manufactured for Original Equipment Manufacturers – is already, among other actions, voluntarily testing employees for temperatures at the start of shifts; locking visitors out of the building; requiring staffers to clean their own work areas; placing hand sanitizer throughout the building; offering cloth masks to every employee; and suspended all work-related travel.

Can business keep up with evolving standards?
Because Mid-West Instrument was identified as an “essential” business, the company has remained open during the stay-at-home order, and has only laid off two of its 40 employees. But business is down, and the company is waiting to hear about its loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

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Meanwhile, company officials worry about what the requirements will look like when the stay-at-home order is finally eased.

“As this is rapidly changing we do not know what new requirements may be implemented,” said Mid-West Instrument President Mike Lueck. “We are concerned that impractical safety requirements may be imposed which far exceed CDC recommendations.”

Workplace rules changed to benefit the employee could be problematic for employers, as well. For instance, Whitmer signed an executive order last month saying businesses can’t punish workers who stay home when either they or their close contacts are sick.

And Clark Hill’s Girard said worker’s compensation will likely be another big issue for essential employers operating now and non-essential employers when they reopen. Rules were changed last month, Girard said, that employers of first responders and healthcare providers who contract COVID-19 must prove by what Girard called “objective evidence” that the worker didn’t get it on the job before denying a claim.

Legal and political challenges are popping up over how states and individual companies are handling the pandemic. For instance, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was sued by a couple of business groups and by a state legislator for establishing a stay-at-home order (a judge ruled in favor of the legislator and issued a stay in that legislator’s favor).

An employee of a Tuscon, Arizona electrical company was recently awarded $1,600 because the company denied him paid sick leave after he was told by a doctor to self-quarantine.

And there was a lawsuit filed by a director of Eastern Airlines who was fired just days after requesting time off to tend to an 11-year-old child.

Lois M. Kosch, a partner in the employment law practice group for California-based Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP whose practice emphasizes the litigation of harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, and wage and hour matters, said that, while the DOL wasn’t doing much enforcement at first, they are now.

“Enforcement actions are happening, whether from the government or private attorneys, so (businesses) should keep those obligations in mind,” Kosch said.

She said some 187 new labor laws have been passed as a result of COVID-19. For instance, the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act mandates paid sick leave and paid time off to take care of children.

There are also obligations under the Family Medical Leave Act to accommodate employees who have child care challenges. That law, Kosch said, entitles employees up to two-thirds of their regular pay, up to $200 per day.

That’s not going to help businesses already looking at balance sheets that aren’t exactly balanced.

“These additional costs in benefits and required payroll additives add to the already-stressed bottom line for some businesses that have been ‘on hold’ during this crisis,” said Logial Innvoations’ Navarro.

To pay unemployment or not to pay, that is the question
Unemployment assistance is turning out to be a double-edged sword. While it provides compensation for workers who lose their jobs, the additional $600 provided by the federal CARES Act can also make it easier for workers to stay off the job because the compensation is often better, particularly in some retail and restaurant businesses.

If the employer tries to bring them back, and they refuse because the money is less, the employee then loses the right to unemployment.

Kosch said recently updated guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor determined workers in that situation are not authorized to collect unemployment, including the $600 federal supplement.

But Dan West, president of the Livonia, Mich., Chamber of Commerce, said he’s still hearing from business owners there are “a lot of concerns” about workers coming back, particularly among restaurant owners.

“Restaurants had to lay off all their wait staff, so a lot of them have taken jobs at Amazon, Walmart, what have you, and may not come back,” West said. “I’m hearing owners are looking for means of bringing people back part-time so they can still get unemployment. There’s really no incentive to come back if they’re making more (on unemployment).”

Kosch pointed out that they won’t be, at least not for long.

“Without (the $600 federal incentive) they wouldn’t be making more than if they were working,” Kosch said. “I think letting people know if they decide not to come back to work when work has been offered to them they’re going to lose that federal supplement … might be a powerful motivator.”

The other thing about which business owners have expressed concern is a question of what the rules will look like when they are finally allowed to reopen. Governors in states like Georgia, Tennessee and Texas have already issued guidelines for re-engagement.

That’s a good thing, according to West.

“The uncertainty is the biggest thing … business people are planners,” he said. “Right now, that uncertainty makes it hard for them to plan. And they can’t work right now, and that makes it even more frustrating for them.”

New requirements could slow productivity
But it’s not just the state rules that trouble some business owners. Ted Barker, the president of Livonia, Mich.-based Shaw Construction and Management Company that employs some 20 workers, said he received a list of 20 requirements the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council wants him to follow when reopening.

Among them are requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), a specified COVID-19 site supervisor, asking employees to self-identify if they have symptoms, and having running water – “A lot of our sites don’t have running water,” Barker said — and soap on job sites.

“They feel this is a good baseline for future work in this environment and that it will provide the governor with assurance that the Michigan construction industry has the infrastructure, culture and training resources to safely return to work beyond the critical infrastructure projects currently underway,” Barker said. “The (COVID requirements) will cost dollars and has the strong possibility of slowing down productivity, which again will cost dollars to all involved. But I don’t know how we can get clearance to work without trying to inforce a new set of guidelines, either.”

Crisis could crush morale
What owners should really be concerned about, according to Pinkerton’s Williams, is the culture that will exist once restrictions are eased. Morale could be a problem, and business leaders are going to have to be acutely aware of the emotional states of their employees.

“There’s a lot of anxiety around the world, let alone in the United States, about ‘do I have a job,’ ‘do I want to go back to work when I can get paid a little more in the interim?’

“Some have lost coworkers and relatives and haven’t had the chance to grieve,” Williams added. “You’ve got a lot of emotions coming into this, and a lot of fear, because it’s a scenario where we don’t have complete information and may never have.”

Mid-West Instrument’s Lueck agrees about the morale, and says Michigan officials, including Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, haven’t helped the situation with what he calls “aggressive statements.”

“This has been a real issue due to … their total lack of recognition of critical manufacturers supplying to medical gas industry, oil and gas, power generation, military and safe distribution of drinking water,” Lueck said. “This has raised the stress level of many employees who question if we should remain open even though almost all of our products support industries listed (as) essential critical infrastructure workers.”

Fear will also play a role as workers return with concerns about contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. Sonya Bielecki, owner of HR Professional Support Services and a consultant for Express Employment Professionals, doesn’t believe there’s any way to completely reduce an employee’s fear of COVID-19 or the chance they’ll contract it in the workplace.

She said company leadership, “regardless of their personal opinions on COVID-19,” must present a coordinated message to the staff. The other idea she suggests is for employers to prepare a formal communication to workers outlining all of the safety steps they’ve taken.

“If you can prove to an employee that you’ve made CDC and OSHA requirements happen and you’re taking all the steps to keep them safe, that’ll reduce a lot of fears,” Bielecki said. “But the communication has to go out before their return.”

Pinkerton’s Williams agreed communication is the key when there are so many of what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns,” things we don’t know that we don’t know.

“That’s perfect for how we are today … It’s not going to be easy,” Williams said. “Communicating with employees several times a day routinely with current information about what we know and what we don’t know would help a great deal with morale.

“If we can be extraordinarily patient in these times with ourselves, with our customers … I think that will keep the security issues at a minimum, and it’s really going to pay off in morale issues,” he added. “People are on edge, anxious. We’re in uncharted territory for our generation. That’s why that ‘high-touch’ (by telephone and conference calls) and very frequent communications that are forthright is going to be very important.”

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Study Outlines Projects to Attract Business, Visitors to Grand Rapids Area

What a difference four years can make.

In 2016, an economic development organization that helped create some Grand Rapids’ largest projects, commissioned a study to investigate current assets and infrastructure and find opportunities in multiple sectors for projects and investments that could elevate the region as a top-tier visitor destination.

A year-long evaluation determined projects in that study weren’t “developed” to the point where Grand Action’s “leadership and skill sets were needed.”

Grand Action shut down in 2018, but re-emerged as Grand Action 2.0 earlier this year when leaders determined the opportunities outlined in the 2016 study had gained some traction.

“Community leaders believed many (projects) were not only viable, but critical to our forward momentum,” said Carol Van Andel, a co-chair of Grand Action 2.0. “Our mission to foster public-private collaborations on transformational projects that benefit health, science, the arts, education, economic vitality and the residents of the region became more relevant when the pandemic hit.

With that in mind, Van Andel said, Grand Action 2.0 reengaged with Convention, Sport, and Leisure, International, to dig more deeply into three opportunities identified in the original study:

  • Expansion of DeVos Place Convention Center
  • Development of a new soccer and entertainment event stadium
  • Development of a new outdoor concert/entertainment amphitheater.

“We knew our region had to be prepared to hit the ground running when the health crisis subsides,” Van Andel said. “Unless we plan now we know it will be much more difficult to recover from the devastating impact of this pandemic on our local economy, our businesses, our workers and residents.

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“Our community’s economic recovery will be dependent in large part on the public and private sectors readiness to initiate new economic development activities that stimulate growth, investment and employment,” she added.

Grand Action 2.0 presented findings from its Venue & Attraction Development for Grand Rapids study at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids program Monday.

The study  will assist the business-based nonprofit and community partners in evaluating, prioritizing and planning development aimed at elevating the region as a top-tier visitor destination.

“This study serves as a foundation to assess needs and identify potential next steps and project sequencing,” said Grand Action 2.0 co-chair Tom Welch, regional president of Fifth Third Bank. “By elevating our position as a visitor destination, we will ultimately enhance the region as a place to live, work and do business. That’s the goal, and we’re well-positioned to achieve it.”

The study builds on Grand Action’s 2016 Grand Rapids Destination Asset Study, also conducted by CSL. That study investigated current assets and infrastructure and found opportunities in multiple sectors for projects and investments that could elevate the region as a top-tier visitor destination.

“At that time, we were looking back at 20 years of investment in our arena and convention center, the MSU College of Human Medicine, the Civic Theater and Downtown Market and asked, ‘what is the next transformative project?’,” said Grand Action 2.0 co-chair Dick DeVos. “How could we build on the past two decades and ensure we’re not only protecting those assets, but we’re making sound investments in our future.”

The current study took a comprehensive look at three of the projects identified in 2016:

  • Investment in enhancements and future expansion of DeVos Place Convention Center and convention hotel inventory to enhance the area’s competitive position in the industry.
  • Development of a new soccer and entertainment event stadium designed to host a higher level of professional soccer.
  • Development of a new concert and entertainment event amphitheater, designed with surrounding assets and configured to allow for year-round community activity.

Given the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on the convention and entertainment event sectors, the study also presents an overview of potential implications of the pandemic for future venue development in Grand Rapids.

While the pandemic has had an immediate and devastating impact on our regional economy, the study takes a long-term view.

As a first step coming out of the 2020 study, Grand Action 2.0 has retained the international urban design and planning firm Populous joined by Progressive AE. The firms are soliciting a broad spectrum of community input to help create a vision for future development along the Market corridor from Wealthy Street to Fulton.

The study will consider two available sites – the privately-owned property at Market and Fulton and the City of Grand Rapids’ property at 201 Market – as a single development opportunity. They have been charged with presenting designs for a dramatic riverfront that could include an amphitheater, greenspace and other year-round community-based amenities and attractions. Their work is slated for completion in January 2021.

One thing that hasn’t changed since 2016 is the cost. The original study identified projects with a projected cost of some $420 million, Welch said Monday, with about $130 million of that coming from private philanthropy.

He sees no reason to change that financing model this time around,

“It’s an entirely collaborative approach where we involve public entities and private entities to achieve the desired outcome,” Welch said. “We plan to continue to galvanize public support and work with public and private parties to identify viable funding sources. That’s the course we’re going to take going forward.”

John Kaatz

John Kaatz, principal at CSL who authored the study, thinks Grand Rapids will be a great destination with what he says is “a great downtown” and assets like Meijer Garden and the John Ball Zoo.

“You have the opportunity … as a riverfront destination to finally recapture that,” Kaatz said. “Being a city that embraces a downtown river and creates an experience around it, both for visitors and residents but also for commercial opportunities, is a real big idea. This whole project … is a big leap forward in embracing that.”

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National Retail Federation Expects Holiday Sales Will Grow As Consumers Feel Safe at Stores and Online

A month later than usual, the National Retail Federation announced Monday its sales estimate in this environment affected by social unrest, a heated Presidential election and a pandemic, consumers are feeling safe to spend, boosting its industry forecast up over 2019.

With retail sales rebounding strongly due to continued consumer resilience, the well-known industry group’s CEO and chief economist say they believe holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion.

The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compare with a 4 percent increase to $729.1 billion last year and an average holiday sales increase of 3.5 percent over the past five years.

“We know we have momentum heading into this season,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a Monday call with media to go over the holiday-sales forcast.

“Retailers have responded since the start of the pandemic. … They’ve seen firsthand what works and what doesn’t work,” Shay added during the call. This work to protect customers and continuing to serve their communities are why people feel safe going both into stores as possible as well as shopping online across the board.

A better holiday
The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association and is based in Washington, D.C. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $3.9 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs or an estimated 52 million working Americans.

For hiring, NRF expects retailers to hire between 475,000 and 575,000 seasonal workers to help accommodate additional demand during the holiday season. That compares with 562,000 in 2019. Some of the hiring may have been pulled forward into October as many retailers have implemented holiday sales campaigns earlier than in the past.

NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20 percent and 30 percent to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year.

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Consumers also want to give their friends and families a “better” holiday and will spend more as a result, noted NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. These shoppers have more discretionary income across the board, are seeing good economic signs in general and feel strongly that gifts and experiences can improve 2020 as it winds down.

“After all they’ve been through, we think there’s going to be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to have a better-than-normal holiday,” Kleinhenz said. “There are risks to the economy if the virus continues to spread, but as long as consumers remain confident and upbeat, they will spend for the holiday season.”

However, he warns that unpredictability in the economy as well as consumer concerns about the lack of further stimulus from the federal government for individuals and businesses could hamper these sales forecasts.

“The forecast is part science, part judgement and part luck,” Kleinhenz said on the media call.

Slower rebound?
As a result of store shutdowns and stay-at-home orders last spring, not all retailers and categories have rebounded as quickly, including small and mid-sized retailers. However, in the aggregate retail sales have seen a V-shaped recovery, growing both month-over-month and year-over-year each month since June. As calculated by NRF, sales were up 10.6 percent in October versus October 2019, likely driven in part by early holiday shopping. For the first 10 months of this year, retail sales were up 6.4 percent versus the first 10 months of 2019.

With ecommerce sales up 36.7 percent year-over-year during the third quarter, many households are expected to depend on digital shopping to make many of their holiday purchases, just as they have for much of their everyday spending this year. The online spending includes websites operated by bricks-and-mortar retailers, which have become major players in the online market as retail channels have merged.

Weather traditionally plays a role in holiday sales, and while details vary by region, the National Weather Service is forecasting cooler and wetter weather in the north and warmer and drier weather in the south. Kleinhenz said that combination has correlated with stronger retail holiday spending in the past and could be a factor this year.

The NRF forecast is based on an economic model that takes into consideration a variety of indicators including employment, wages, consumer confidence, disposable income, consumer credit, previous retail sales and weather. NRF defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31. Numbers forecast by NRF may differ from other organizations that define the holiday season as a longer period or include retail sectors not included by NRF, such as automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

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Treasury: Unforgiven PPP Loan Expenses Not Deductible

Businesses hoping to benefit from tax deductions for expenses related to a Paycheck Protection Program loan are going to be disappointed.

The Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Treasury Department released guidance Wednesday clarifying the tax treatment of expenses when a PPP loan has not yet been forgiven by the end of the year.

And the news isn’t good for business owners: Since businesses are not taxed on the proceeds of a forgiven PPP loan, the expenses are not deductible, the treasury department said in a release.

Laura Arens, tax director of DKSS CPAs + Advisors, with offices in Troy and St. Clair Shores, Mich., was disappointed in the guidance.

“While the IRS has issued its clarification, CPAs and other industry associations have been pushing Congress for relief,” Arens said. “We need to pressure Congress into passing legislation so businesses can deduct these expenses. There is still hope that will happen.”

Treasury’s release also says that, if a business reasonably believes that a PPP loan will be forgiven in the future, expenses related to the loan are not deductible, whether the business has filed for forgiveness or not. 

Treasury officials are encouraging businesses to file for forgiveness as soon as possible.

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In the case where a PPP loan was expected to be forgiven, and it is not, businesses will be able to deduct those expenses. 

“Today’s guidance provides taxpayers with greater clarity and flexibility,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.  “These provisions ensure that all small businesses receiving PPP loans are treated fairly, and we continue to encourage borrowers to file for loan forgiveness as quickly as possible.”

The revenue ruling, Rev. Rul. 2020-27, provides guidance on whether a business that has received a PPP loan who has paid or incurred certain otherwise deductible expenses can deduct those expenses if there’s a reasonable expectation  of forgiveness of the covered loan, treasury officials said in the release.

The IRS and the Treasury also recently released guidance in Notice 2020-32 about deducting expenses for PPP loans. The notice clarifies that no deduction is allowed under the Tax Code for an expense that is otherwise deductible if the payment of the expense results in forgiveness of the loan under the CARES Act, and the income associated with the forgiveness is excluded from gross income.

The guidance didn’t make the leaders of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee happy, either. Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, who recently announced he tested positive for COVID-19, and ranking member Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, objected to the Treasury Department guidance.

“Since the CARES Act, we’ve stressed that our intent was for small businesses receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans to receive the benefit of their deductions for ordinary and necessary business expenses,” they said in a joint statement Thursday. “We explicitly included language in the CARES Act to ensure that PPP loan recipients whose loans are forgiven are not required to treat the loan proceeds as taxable income.

“As we’ve stated previously, Treasury’s approach in Notice 2020-32 effectively renders that provision meaningless. Regrettably, Treasury has now doubled down on its position in new guidance that increases the tax burden on small businesses by accelerating their tax liability, all at a time when many businesses continue to struggle and some are again beginning to close. Small businesses need help maintaining their cash flow, not more strains on it.”

According to The Hill, Grassley and Wyden indicated they’d continue their efforts to clarify in any end-of-year legislation the intended relief in the CARES Act to help small businesses at this critical time.

“We encourage Treasury to reconsider its position on the deductibility of these expenses, and the timing of those deductions, to provide relief to the small businesses that need it most,” they said.

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First-Time Unemployment Claims Rise as Virus Surges

The coronavirus continues to rise sharply across the United States, causing governors around the country to impose new restrictions on business and residents.

Whether coincidence or not, there was also a significant increase in first-time unemployment claims during the week ending Nov. 14.

For the first time in five weeks, the number of claims rose, jumping by 31,000 to a total of some 742,000. For perspective, that’s more than triple the number filed weekly in early 2020; that number is also down sharply from where it was at the peak, nearly 7 million at the end of March. Even so, initial unemployment claims are at levels higher than in any other recession period.

“Momentum in the economy, all else equal, should continue, but the virus might cause a rise for a few weeks,” Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at BofA Global Research, told the Wall Street Journal.

According to data put together by Johns Hopkins University, there were nearly 162,000 new coronavirus cases reported Tuesday, continuing a string of 11 days when records were set. More than 250,000 Americans have died from it.

In the midst of all of that, first-time requests for unemployment assistance are rising.

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According to stastistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor, such claims rose – by varying degrees – in 30 states.

Some of the numbers:

  • California, naturally, continues to lead the country in first-time claims. The state was up 1,216 to a total of 158,989.
  • Massachusetts was up 9,300 claims, to a total of 52,103.
  • Illinois had 46,526 first-time claims, but actually fell by some 20,000, the largest drop in the country.
  • New York had 43,299 claims, down 577.
  • Louisiana surged into the top five in first-time claims, at 42,724. That’s a hike of 32,000 claims, the largest rise in the nation.

In addition to Illinois, there were other states with significant drops in first-time claims:

  • Florida fell by 9,865 claims
  • New Jersey was down by 8,689 claims.
  • Washington fell by 8,516.

The total number of workers continuing to claim unemployment benefits fell to 6.3 million. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for people whose benefits have run their course has risen, with 4.3 million worker claiming it.

State leaders around the country are pushing Congress to act on another coronavirus stimulus package, including extension of unemployment benefits, which are set to expire at the end of the year.

Forbes reported that some 12 million Americans will be hurt when both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program expire the day after Christmas.

“Congressional failure to act would be an extraordinary blow to unemployed Americans,” Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao told Forbes. “The summer’s steady recovery is now well in the distance as health experts raise the alarm about a tough pandemic winter. Spiking cases and expired benefits are ingredients for a vicious cycle where Americans are pushed back into the workforce when the virus is already widespread.”

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Rehmann’s Chris Sing Appointed Board Director of Ann Arbor SPARK

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Malls, Event Spaces Change Santa Activities, Parades to Reflect 2020 Health Realities

Metro Detroit shopping centers, downtown retail districts and entertainment venues that traditionally offer Santa Clause parades or events are changing, updating or canceling those activities altogether, another annual ritual affected by the coronavirus.

Events that include an in-person component are finding it hard to create a balance between keeping people safe from the virus while combatting the challenges of people trying to watch these parades and activities.

One annual tradition, Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade, is set to occur on Thursday. But this year, organizer The Parade Co. asked people to stay home and watch the event on television. Similarly, the Downtown Detroit Partnership also is asking people to watch the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony via TV rather than showing up in person.

“We’ve gone way, way, way beyond the guidelines because this is so important to bring to the people of Detroit, the region and the state,” Tony Michaels, president and CEO of The Parade Co., told the Detroit Free Press.

On Sunday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new health order that limits attendance at public events. The order, which went into effect Wednesday, says only 20 people per 1,000 square feet can attend an outdoor event.

The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House decided to switch from its in-person Santa events to a Zoom-based activity, organizers said. The event is already sold out, said Clare Pfeiffer, Director of Communication and Engagement for the Grosse Pointe Shores-based historical home and event space.

“We went to a virtual Santa experience because we wanted to keep the beloved Ford House Santa visit alive, but we knew we couldn’t safely accommodate an in-person experience,” Pfeiffer said. “He usually visits families inside Josephine Ford’s Playhouse, which is built to 2/3 scale and really meant for small people. It’s a great place for children to visit Santa, but not a great place for social distancing.”

Pfeiffer added that the Ford House staff wanted to keep its events going, especially for children and kids of all ages who look forward to seeing Kris Kringle.

“We have families who have been coming to Ford House for multiple generations to see Santa, so this is a way we can keep a little bit of that tradition and holiday magic in an otherwise uncertain time,”

In Novi, Twelve Oaks Mall will celebrate the start of the holiday season on Friday and host Santa’s Drive-In, which organizers are calling “a socially distanced holiday experience.” Sponsored by LaFontaine Subaru of Commerce, LaFontaine Volvo Cars of Farmington Hills, and LaFontaine Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Walled Lake, the event will feature performances by Santa’s Super Troopers, Sing-along and Story-Time with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and other holiday-themed activities and giveaways.

In conjunction with its photo partner, Cherry Hill Programs, Twelve Oaks Mall has reimagined Santa’s Flight Academy into a socially distanced, non-contact holiday experience. All photo sessions are by reservation only and require pre-payment. Masks required at all times, including the photoshoot, for guests ages 2 and up. Santa will maintain a six-food distance from guests at all times. Plus, there will be heightened cleaning protocols and hand sanitizer provided.

“Santa will wear a mask, at all times, regardless of state or local mandate. The Academy’s snowfall and high-touch, interactive elements have been temporarily removed,” said Kelsey Kiefer, Marketing Specialist for Twelve Oaks Mall.

Cancellations are plentiful
Other communities have decided to cancel plans entirely because of the pandemic. Last week, the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce announced via email that its Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade, scheduled for November 27, was cancelled. “A parade committee … unanimously agreed upon to cancel this year’s event,” the Chamber said.

The Henry Ford, the Dearborn museum, also said the new statewide restrictions made it decided to cancel a variety of events, including its Ford Rouge Factory Tour, Plum Market Kitchen and Supper with Santa, scheduled for Dec. 4-6. These events will be suspended through Dec. 8, the museum said in an email.

Retail impact
Zenreach CEO John Kelly said retail foot traffic had been increasing, but an increase in coronavirus concerns and infections has pushed that back down in recent weeks.

“We observed a slow but steady increase from mid-April through June as we climbed back up to 50% of last year’s numbers. However, since July, we have seen a flattening of retail traffic, and we have remained around the 50% mark for the past four months or so,” Kelly said. “There’s no reason to expect an increase in foot traffic anytime soon—the U.S. recently set a new record with 140,000 daily COVID-19 cases, the clearest indication yet that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over and is something that we will all have to live with for at least another several months.

“Understandably, a large portion of the population still has serious concerns about brick-and-mortar businesses’ health and safety practices at this time,” Kelly added. “Anything that leads consumers to feel safer and have more confidence to go out in public to patronize businesses without having to worry about becoming infected—particularly something like a vaccine that could impact millions of people—is sure to have a positive effect on retail foot traffic.”

October did prove a successful month for retailers, according to newly released data from the National Retail Federation based on national statistics.

Retail sales grew for the sixth month in a row in October, with sales significantly better than the same time a year ago as the economy continued to recover and consumers began their holiday shopping early, the National Retail Federation said.

“We are encouraged by another positive retail sales number for October — the sixth consecutive positive monthly gain — as early holiday shopping provided a strong boost to the data,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a media statement. “Overall, retail sales were up 10.6 percent in October 2020 versus October 2019, and for the first 10 months of this year, retail sales were up 6.4 percent versus the first 10 months of 2019.”

The U.S. Census Bureau said today that overall retail sales in October were up 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted from September and up 5.7 percent year-over-year. That built on increases of 1.6 percent month-over-month and 5.9 percent year-over-year in September.

NRF’s calculation of retail sales – which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus on core retail – showed October was up 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from September and up 10.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year. That compared with increases of 0.9 percent month-over-month and 12.9 percent year-over-year in September. NRF’s numbers were up 10 percent unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average.

October’s sales results come as NRF’s latest research shows 42 percent of consumers started their holiday shopping sooner than usual this year. NRF has urged consumers to shop safe and shop early, and 59 percent had begun by early November, up from 49 percent at that point a decade ago. Consumers surveyed for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics plan to spend an average $997.79, down $50 from 2019 as they focus on gifts rather than purchases for themselves.

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TiiCKER Launches World’s First Software Platform Connecting Individual Investors with Public Company Brands

In July 2020, Michigan-based entrepreneur, Jeff Lambert, launched an intelligent startup, TiiCKER. The fintech startup connects individual investors with publicly traded brands they love. https://www.tiicker.com/

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Poppe Out at CMS Energy, Rochow Takes Helm as President, CEO

Patti Poppe’s tenure as president and CEO of both CMS Energy and its Consumers Energy division, which started in 2016, is over.

Garrick Rochow & Patti Poppe

Poppe, CMS Energy officials announced Wednesday, is leaving the Jackson, Mich.-based energy company effective Dec. 1. She’s leaving to take over as CEO of California-based PG&E Corporation.

The company announced in a release that Poppe will be replaced by Garrick Rochow, the current executive vice president of operations. Rochow will also replace Poppe on CMS Energy’s Board of Directors.

John Russell, chairman of CMS Energy’s Board of Directors, laid high praise about Rochow and thanked Poppe for her efforts in announcing the move

“Garrick’s leadership approach, vast industry and company expertise will take CMS Energy and Consumers Energy to the next level,” Russell said. “You can count on CMS Energy to have consistent and predictable performance because of our strong succession planning and the quality of our executive team. I wish Patti the best of luck.”

Poppe said she’ll miss the CMS “family” and also praised Rochow.

“Since 2011, I have considered CMS Energy as my home and my co-workers as my family and I will miss everyone immensely,” Poppe said. “Garrick is a world class leader and will continue to deliver on the triple bottom line of people, planet and prosperity as we have for many years now.”

Rochow, 46, has been with CMS Energy for 17 years, with over 20 years of industry experience, and has held his current position since July 2016. In this role, he is responsible for the company’s electric and natural gas distribution and transmission operations, generation, and compression operations.

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More: Back To Michigan Job Fair Series Goes Virtual to Entice ‘Boomerangs’ Back Home

Prior to this role, Rochow served in a variety of leadership positions across the business as Consumers Energy’s senior vice president of distribution and customer operations, vice president of customer experience, rates and regulation and quality and chief customer officer after serving as vice president of energy delivery.

He also works closely with the Michigan Public Service Commission, state and federal legislators and is on the Board of Directors of the Right Place in Grand Rapids.

Rochow graduated from Michigan Technological University with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and earned a master’s degree in business administration from Western Michigan University. He also has attended an executive education program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin School of Business.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead a company with amazing co-workers who make a difference every day for our customers, investors and the communities we serve,” said Rochow. “I look forward to continuing our strong operational and financial performance, while creating an environment that keeps our customers and co-workers safe, reflects our culture and is inclusive and respectful of everyone.”

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Small Business Saturday in 2020 Shifts Gears and Prepares for Virtual, Outdoor Events

Retailers who are still hoping to make lemonade out of a year packed with revenue-busting lemons are looking forward to the annual Small Business Saturday — set for Saturday, Nov. 28 this year — event, putting together special virtual and carry-out activities, promoting digital gifting options and looking for additional ways to encourage shoppers to look to e-commerce rather than brick-and-mortar visits.

Because 2020 has been such an uncomfortable and challenging year, retailers approaching the holidays and beyond “have to be willing to completely flip their business on its head,” said small-business expert Athan Slotkin.

“Ecommerce and digital markets were skills every business owner needed to understand. … COVID was the catalyst that pushed it even further and faster,” said Slotkin, a business-plan strategist and founder of The Shadow CEO, a small-business consulting firm.

Slotkin points to recent report by Allocadia that found nearly half or 44% of shoppers plan to buy online during the holiday shopping season compared to 33% in 2019. Large companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target have launched their Black Friday and related holiday-shopping campaigns, showcasing a plethora of online deals to snag shoppers.

Slotkin said that small businesses must think big and take this COVID moment of confusion and turn it into clarity.

“Don’t get stuck in history. Everybody’s in the same position now. Everyone has to scramble and learn,” Slotkin said. “Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but with that comes great opportunity as well. … There’s nothing better than a large shock to the system (because) we’re all starting from zero.”

Event planning
According to American Express, which helped to create Small Business Saturday, an estimated 110 million people participated in Small Business Saturday last year, and sales hit a record high with an estimated $19.6 billion in reported spending.

Initially founded in 2010 by American Express in response to the Great Recession, Small Business Saturday has evolved into a year-round global Shop Small campaign to support small merchants, and earlier this year, American Express helped jumpstart spending at small businesses by committing more than $200 million through the company’s largest ever global Shop Small campaign.

“Small Business Saturday is an important part of our global Shop Small campaign, and small businesses need our support more than ever as they continue to navigate the effects of COVID-19,” Elizabeth Rutledge, Chief Marketing Officer of American Express, said in a statement.

More: Health Leaders Make Joint Pitch for Safety Measures as COVID Surges

More: Johnson & Johnson CEO: Coronavirus-Vaccine Development ‘Encouraging,’ Likely in Early 2021

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“We know 88% of U.S. consumers feel a personal commitment to support small businesses in the wake of the pandemic,” Rutledge said. “Whether online, curbside or safely in store, we’re reminding consumers that they can help make an impact by shopping small and sharing their favorite small businesses on social media all holiday season long.”

Metro Detroit
Slotkin, who has traveled extensively through Metro Detroit, said this region is particularly well suited for a COVID recovery – Detroit has been through a bankruptcy, the automotive companies have all had to recover from a variety of financial disasters and the state economy has had to work hard over the decades to expand into new territories. That’s all provided a huge education on how to get over tough times and do it well, Slotkin said.

Locally, many small businesses that have strong reputations for knowing how to market and pivot well are going after Small Business Saturday with new campaigns and strategies. For example, retail expert Rachel Lutz of Detroit’s Peacock Room, Frida and Yama has been doing Facebook Live events to promote her products and helping others do the same. She will have a variety of events at her stores for Small Business Saturday as well.

Also in Detroit, retailer City Bird is putting together themed boxes for several occasions, including boxes for moms, dads, sports lovers, a “parade in a box” with all the things you need to watch the parade from home (hot cocoa, slippers, etc). They also have greeting cards new in stock, Covid-themed and otherwise. Andy and Emily Linn, the siblings who own the store, have switched from entirely brick-and-mortar to small, intimate appointments or online orders.

Detroit Experience Factory is doing a virtual tour of Detroit’s small businesses to get people interested in shopping small. Signing up for its online event will provide shoppers with a local tour guide, who will highlight Detroit’s neighborhood shopping districts and the stories behind the shops anchored in them.

Around Metro Detroit, shopping districts in downtowns and neighborhoods also are putting together Small Business Saturday events. In Lathrup Village, shoppers can participate in a Winter Market. This event allows people to “treat themselves” or shop for unique, handmade holiday gifts. The outdoor event requires all shoppers must be wearing masks and practice social distancing. To make it more fun, dozens of Lathrup Village businesses will also be participating in Lathrup Business Bingo, where shoppers can visit downtown businesses to win prizes.

In Plymouth, the local Arts and Recreation organization is asking shoppers to “ditch the mall and shop small” during the Holiday Artisan Market, a seasonal celebration of local culture, food, fashion and art. Families can visit PARC’s resident artists in the Art Wing, then experience more art, food, and music from local makers in PARC’s Theater. The Holiday Market features community favorites such as Acorn Glassworks, Gooseneck Coffee Co., Bon Bon Bon Chocolate Treats, Central Clay Studio, Janisse Larsson Art, and more.

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EMU Gives Early ‘Wellness’ start to Thanksgiving; offers free COVID testing prior to break

Eastern Michigan University is canceling classes on Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24, in order to give students two additional days to rest and recharge given the challenging semester. Students will now have an extended Thanksgiving break beginning the end of day on Friday, Nov. 20 through Monday, Nov. 30. 

Eastern Michigan University President James Smith called the semester “challenging, particularly for our students.”

“Simply put, our students need a break to rest and recharge,” Smith said in making the announcement. “Instructors also may use the time to prepare for the rest of the semester. We encourage students to take full advantage of this extended recess by focusing on their physical and mental wellness.”

The university also announced all residential students will be provided the opportunity for free COVID testing prior to departing for the Thanksgiving break, with the university covering testing costs as it has all semester. 

The details were outlined in a message to campus Sunday (Nov. 15) from Smith following the state of Michigan’s new actions to slow the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases.  

In the message, Smith affirmed the State’s new restrictions that include the suspension of  in-person instruction at colleges and universities from Wednesday, Nov. 18, until Tuesday, Dec. 8. 

Although nearly all course sections have been delivered in an online/hybrid format for the current fall semester, approximately 10 percent of courses that had been delivered in-person will move to a fully remote format beginning Wednesday, Nov. 18, through Tuesday, Dec. 8. 

Classes originally scheduled (including online courses) on Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24 are now canceled in advance of the Thanksgiving recess. During this two-day period, the University will remain open and all employees will work as scheduled – most will continue to work remotely. 

President Smith said, “Regardless of your plans for the Thanksgiving recess, we urge all members of the campus community to engage in safe practices during the holiday break. These safe practices include wearing face coverings, avoiding social gatherings, maintaining physical distancing, and practicing good hygiene. Please comply with the updated safety provisions contained in the state order above as they relate to gatherings and other activities.

“I thank our students, faculty and staff for your compliance with these safe practices,” Smith said. “We must all continue to work together to keep one another as safe as possible.”

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Metro Detroit Resident Named to The Salvation Army’s National Advisory Board

The Salvation Army’s National Advisory Board has added philanthropist and community advocate Jennifer Granger, making her the fifth Michigan resident to join the nonprofit’s team of executives, advisers, community and industry leaders across the country.

Jennifer Granger

The mission of The Salvation Army’s National Advisory Board is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

The Birmingham resident, wife and mother of two daughters is involved with more than two dozen nonprofits and charities in three cities, including 12 in the metro Detroit area. Granger is also an advocate for The Salvation Army of Metro Detroit, lending her counsel to its 50-person Advisory Board.

“The Salvation Army is truly one of the best organizations to get involved with,” Granger said in a statement. “I live by three words – passion, kindness and empathy. The Salvation Army embodies all three of those characteristics, and to be one of the many working to ‘Do the Most Good’ for our future generations is truly a blessing.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Granger connected The Salvation Army of Metro Detroit with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office to help The Salvation Army provide food and diapers to residents in need. She was also instrumental in delivering clothes, toys and donations to The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center, as well as thousands of food boxes to Corps Community Centers in Detroit, Farmington Hills and Pontiac.

“Jennifer has made an enormous impact in our community, both with The Salvation Army and with a number of other nonprofits,” Lt. Colonel John Turner, divisional commander and regional chief executive officer for The Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division said in a statement. “Her loving heart, unselfish attitude and dedication to helping others are characteristics we should all strive for in our lives. We are lucky to have Jennifer in metro Detroit to serve as an advocate for our neighbors in need.”

Granger moved to Michigan from Sacramento, California in 2017 and became heavily invested in the community right away. She is currently involved with other prominent nonprofits such as Gleaner’s Community Food Bank, Make-A-Wish Michigan and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Granger also serves on Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Taskforce for Women in Sports and the board of directors for Forgotten Harvest.

Founded by William and Catherine Booth in London, England in 1865, The Salvation Army is a faith-based, non-profit organization dedicated to serving people in need without discrimination. This past year, The Salvation Army of Metro Detroit was involved in providing 2,535,013 meals and 579,920 nights of shelter for the homeless. The Salvation Army uses $.87 of every dollar raised to provide direct services to people in need each and every day of the year.

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Detroit’s Bedrock Adds Three New Executives to Help Create ‘Vibrant Spaces and Places’

Bedrock is pleased to announce the addition of three C-Suite leaders to help guide the 9-year-old Detroit-based real estate company into its next decade of visionary development.

Ivy Greaner, Chief Operating Officer (COO), is to start Nov. 16., and John Costello, Chief Development Officer (CDO) will take on his new role beginning Monday, Nov. 2. Nadia Sesay will become Bedrock’s first Chief Community Growth and Development Officer starting Dec. 4.

Ivy Greaner

“Ivy, John and Nadia are the perfect additions to the talented team at Bedrock as we continue the important work of curating vibrant spaces and places, while working together to uplift the broader community,” Kofi Bonner, Bedrock CEO, said in a statement. “Our programs and developments must represent and support the full diversity of Detroit and whenever possible encourage growing wealth and improving health outcomes, and I look forward to working with these leaders to better accomplish these imperative outcomes.”

Greaner has nearly 30 years of experience as a real estate executive and investment leader of retail, commercial and multi-family projects in every region of the United States, from the Midwest, to the South to the West Coast. Most recently, she served as Executive Vice President and COO of Chicago-based InvenTrust Properties, a premier retail Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that owns, leases, redevelops, acquires & manages open-air centers totaling 11 million square feet. In one of her prior roles, she was Partner and COO of Ram Realty Services in Detroit and was on the leadership team that developed the city’s first Whole Foods Market in Midtown.

In Greaner’s new position as COO at Bedrock, she will be responsible for the day- to-day administrative and operational functions, ensuring a seamless experience for our visitors, residents, and tenants.

John Costello

Costello joins Bedrock from FivePoint Holdings (formerly Lennar Urban) where he served as Executive Vice President of Commercial for the last five years. Over the course of his 35-year, bi-coastal career in development, he has built upwards of 10,000 residential units and a total of some 21 million mixed-use, residential and commercial square feet across the United States.

In his role as CDO at Bedrock, Costello is tasked with streamlining overall development functions across the enterprise at a pivotal moment for landmark projects like the Hudson’s Site and Book Tower, and as Bedrock makes its first foray into the industrial sector.

In a brand-new role for Bedrock, as Chief Community Growth and Development Officer, Sesay will be leading a team focused on making meaningful connections between Bedrock’s expertise and the growing communities of Detroit and Cleveland.

Sesay comes to Bedrock from the City of San Francisco’s Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, where she served as Executive Director. In this role, she was responsible for the economic development of the new Transbay, Mission Bay and Hunters Point Shipyard neighborhoods, which collectively provide over 20,000 new housing units, including approximately 7,000 affordable housing units, 400 acres of parks and open space and 10 million square feet of commercial space.

Nadia Sesay

In addition to the above leadership additions, CEO Kofi Bonner has created a Strategy and Innovation Team comprised of four professionals charged with sourcing and incubating special projects and programs.

Detroit-based Bedrock is a full-service real estate firm specializing in acquiring, developing, leasing, financing and managing commercial and residential buildings. Since its founding in 2011, Bedrock and its affiliates have invested and committed more than $5.6 billion to acquiring and developing more than 100 properties, including new construction of ground up developments in downtown Detroit and Cleveland totaling more than 18 million square feet.

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Vesco Oil Continues Its Family Legacy as 3rd Generation Steps into CEO Role

Lilly Epstein Stotland has been named CEO of Vesco Oil Corporation. Vesco Oil is one of the largest distributors of branded automotive and industrial lubricants in the United States, and a leading recycler of used oil and antifreeze.

Lilly Stotland

She joined the family-owned company in 2004, and previously served as General Manager before she was appointed to her current role as President in 2017.

“I’m energized by the opportunity to continue to build on my father’s legacy,” Stotland said in a statement. “Under his leadership, the company more than doubled in size through strategic acquisitions. Now, Vesco Oil is stronger than ever and poised for success thanks to our dedicated employees, longstanding leadership team, and loyal customers and suppliers. I’m dedicated to upholding the company’s core values while leading Vesco Oil as a valued and trusted distributor in the lubricant industry for years to come.”

Vesco Oil is a third-generation family owned and operated business. Donald Epstein has transitioned into the role of Honorary CEO Emeritus as Lilly continues in her role as President and assumes the position of CEO. She is a co-owner of Vesco Oil and serves on the company’s Board of Directors alongside her mother, Marjory Winkelman Epstein, and sister, Lena Epstein, who are also co-owners.

“Lilly has proven her ability to not only run day-to-day operations since her appointment as President three years ago, but also leverage her business expertise to grow the company significantly into contiguous Midwest markets,” former Vesco Oil CEO Donald Epstein said in a statement. “Her transition to CEO is a natural and deserved evolution rooted in her dedication and commitment to the success of this company since she joined in 2004.”

For 16 years, Lilly Epstein Stotland has managed strategic acquisitions and geographic expansion of the company. Prior to joining Vesco Oil, she was a Financial Analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York.

“I’m proud to announce Lilly’s well-earned appointment as CEO,” said Vesco Oil Chairman of the Board, Marjory Winkelman Epstein. “She is up to the challenge of leading this company toward a bright and sustainable future. We look forward to the great initiatives she will accomplish in the years ahead.”

Stotland earned a bachelor’s degree in economics cum laude from Harvard University, and was a recipient of John Harvard and Harvard College Scholarships for highest academic distinction. She also holds a master’s degree in business administration with distinction from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Vesco Oil has continued expanding its business with existing suppliers, and currently operates a total of 10 locations across four Midwestern states, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois. The company also proudly holds a Women’s Business Enterprise Certification (WBE) from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.

Vesco Oil Corporation is an ISO 9001 – 14001 certified and environmentally conscientious distributor, providing automotive and industrial customers with a full range of high-quality lubricants and supporting services. Founded in 1947 by Eugene Epstein, Vesco Oil Corporation is one of the largest distributors of branded automotive and industrial lubricants in the United States and is a leading recycler of used oil and antifreeze. The company also is a full-service provider of automotive appearance products, operates a full line of metalworking fluids and a leading provider of bulk windshield washer solvent and antifreeze. Vesco Oil Corporation is a majority women-owned business, receiving Certification from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.

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