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.

More: Construction, Real Estate Activity Next Up for Reopening

More: Claims Continue to Flow as U.S. Unemployment Passes 30 Million

More: Town Hall Answers Questions as Businesses Get Ready to Re-Engage

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.”

Vaccine Requirements Vary at Michigan Universities as Virus Cases Rise

Michigan’s two largest state universities are requiring students and staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to school this fall, but other state schools are so far leaving the choice open to students and employees, Corp! Magazine found.

That includes at least six of Michigan’s 13 state universities that have declined to impose a vaccine mandate to blunt rising COVID-19 cases: Central Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University and Northern Michigan University, according to the schools.

Although COVID-19 cases have dropped precipitously since April as more and more people get vaccinated, new cases have been on the rise since July — mostly among people who have not been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, state and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows.

About 57 percent of Michigan’s population have been vaccinated, which is close to the national average of 58 percent. The CDC has advised — but not required — that people resume wearing masks indoors within 33 of 83 Michigan counties where virus transmission rate remains high. Those counties include close to half of the state’s population, the Detroit News reported.

With cases rising among unvaccinated Michigan residents, the six state universities are all encouraging vaccination. But they stopped short of making that a requirement.

“Central Michigan University is an authorized vaccination site, and we’ve vaccinated many students, staff and faculty already,” Heather Smith, a spokeswoman for the university, said in a statement. “Getting vaccinated is ultimately a personal choice and we support everyone’s decision to make that determination for themselves.”

Communications officials at Western Michigan University did not respond to emails from Corp! Magazine for this story.

Walter Kraft, a spokesman for EMU, said in a statement that although keeping COVID-19 cases low remains a priority for university officials and they are “strongly encouraging” vaccination, it is not a requirement at this point.

“Our determined and wide-ranging efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on our campus over the 16-17 months have kept our case counts among the lowest of any university in the state,” Kraft said in a statement. “We are focused on continuing those safe practices and are entering the fall semester with a range of precautions in place that include the wearing of masks in all classrooms when class is in session by students, faculty and staff, and maintaining three-foot physical distancing.”

As part of that effort, administrators are requiring masks indoors for students and staff who aren’t vaccinated, unless they’re alone in an office or residence hall room.

“We believe these practices, along with our continued robust contact tracing and testing protocols, will provide a safe experience to our campus community,” Kraft continued.

The decision sets them apart from MSU and U-M, two Big Ten schools that both announced last week students and faculty who are not vaccinated would not be permitted to return to in-person classes on campus. It’s part of an effort to blunt the recent rise of COVID-19 cases as the Delta variant begins taking hold nationwide.

At least six other smaller Michigan colleges also are making vaccinations a partial requirement for coming back to school, MLive reported. Wayne State University announced Tuesday the school is also mandating vaccinations.

“To best protect the health and safety of our campus community, Wayne State will require all students, faculty and staff who plan to be on campus during the fall semester to receive their COVID-19 vaccination,” university president Roy Wilson said in a letter to students, parents and staff. 

Like MSU and U-M, Wayne State students and faculty will have to submit proof they’ve been vaccinated by Aug. 30 to return to campus, according to Wilson’s letter. A waiver is available in some cases to students or staff “based on legitimate health or religious reasons,” subject to review from university officials, the letter said.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have been committed to following the latest science and responding in a manner that prioritizes the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Wilson continued. “I believe this mandate does just that, and will allow us to continue with plans for more in-person classes and events while still providing effective protection for our community.”

Many schools also are continuing to require that masks be worn indoors, even for vaccinated students or staff.

But Grand Valley State University and Ferris State are not among them, according to the schools’ websites. At GVSU, vaccinated students and university employees can skip the mask, though unvaccinated people are required to wear one indoors. Ferris State, meanwhile, rescinded the mask requirement for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration rolled back the mask requirement statewide.

Northern Michigan is still requiring masks, but is not at this point requiring a vaccine.

“But Northern strongly recommends that students and employees get vaccinated since the University will not lift pandemic restrictions until there is a high percentage of the on-campus population vaccinated,” the university said.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Package Includes Funding for Michigan Projects

A group of U.S. Senators has been working for weeks putting together a bipartisan infrastructure they believe they can get through the Senate, with 17 Republican senators having already signed on.

After all of those negotiations and several stops-and-starts, the text of what they’ve come up with was finally released Sunday.

And there appears to be quite a bit for Michigan.

According to published reports, here’s a brief look at some of the items pertaining to Michigan:

  • Some $1 billion for the federal Great Lakes cleanup program.
  • Some $7.5 billion to help build an electric vehicle charging network (President Joe Biden has promised to build 500,000 charging stations nationwide to encourage buyers to purchase an EV).
  • Some $451 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to fund projects to restore Great Lakes, marine or coastal ecosystem habitats or for projects to protect coastal communities from flooding or coastal storms.

One thing missing: Money for local highway, bridge and public transit projects. That includes some $210 million for projects in 12 of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts.

“It’s obviously an issue of concern for members because we worked really hard on this,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, who is chief deputy whip for House Democrats, told The Detroit News. “The only the only thing I know for sure is that there’s still a commitment to try to get these in whatever the final bill looks like.”

According to the Associated Press, the package does include a massive infusion for transportation infrastructure, including $110 billion for roads and bridges, $39 billion for transit and $66 billion for rail, according to the Associated Press. There’s also funding for water infrastructure, including $15 billion to remove lead service pipes; as well as funding for airports, ports and broadband expansions.

While the infrastructure package appears headed for a vote this week, senators are also working on the other part of Biden’s major agenda item: a $3.5 trillion spending plan on what has been called “soft infrastructure” items like climate change, child care, etc.

“What I’m focused on, what my Democratic caucus is focused on, is not which bill where and so on, but what we’re really trying to get done for folks,” U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow said. “Yes, we want as much bipartisan support as possible. If they’re willing to support roads and bridges and taking out all the lead water pipes and connecting everybody with high-speed internet, great. Amen.

“What we also know is we’re going to create tens of millions of new jobs tackling climate crisis, we’re going to continue the biggest middle-class tax cut in a generation and we’re going to bring down the cost of the things that keep people up at night – child care, cost of medicine, cost of college. We’re committed to that.”

American Advantage Home Care opens offices in Detroit, Trenton

American Advantage Home Care has opened regional administrative hubs in Trenton and Detroit’s Durfee Innovation Society under the leadership team of Nicole Willis-Moorer, Cleamon Moorer Jr., Dr. Deirdre Claiborue and Sarah DeSonia, RN. The offices will serve patients in Wayne and Monroe counties.

EntryPoint Accepting Applications for The Cackle: Special Edition Celebrating Midwest Small Businesses

ANN ARBOR – EntryPoint, a nonprofit research institution that delivers comprehensive research insights and implements effective data-driven programs to promote entrepreneurship across the Midwest, today announced its now accepting applications for The Cackle: Special Edition Celebrating Midwest Small Businesses.

Midwest small business owners are encouraged to apply or community members can nominate their favorite local business to be featured on the livestream. The special edition will air live every Monday as an expansion of The Cackle starting July 26, at 10:30 a.m. EST on the EntryPoint Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter handles (@EntryPointMI) until September 13. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.

“Small businesses are critical to the vibrancy and success of Midwest economies, underscoring the importance of shopping and doing business locally. In fact, 85% of Midwest businesses have less than 25 employees, and local businesses keep 35% more money in the local economy than chain retailers. We want to shine a light on these small businesses and let them know how much we appreciate all that they do to create the foundation of our local communities,” said EntryPoint Founder and Managing Director, Emily Heintz. “This special edition of The Cackle is an opportunity to give back to the small business community after this challenging year.”

Midwest-based small business owners with fewer than 25 employees can apply to be considered for the special edition. Community members can also nominate their favorite Midwest small business to be featured. A voting link will be shared weekly with viewers during the Monday livestream on the EntryPoint Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages. The voting link will allow viewers to select one of the businesses featured that week to receive $1,000 to aid in their economic recovery and celebrate their hard work.

Support for The Cackle: Special Edition Celebrating Midwest Small Businesses is generously provided by DTE Energy Foundation, Jobs Ohio, Lightship Capital and other prominent community organizations from across the Midwest.  

The Cackle is EntryPoint’s weekly livestream interview series that highlights small businesses, startups and people having an impact on communities across the Midwest. Each episode reaches over 2,000 people. In nearly 100 episodes, EntryPoint has explored a wide range of topics relating to the vibrancy of local economies, including entrepreneurial journeys, economic trends, the challenges small businesses and startups face, and the importance of building a diverse and inclusive community.

Previously, EntryPoint hosted The Cackle: Special Edition Featuring the 2020 Midwest Shop Local Gift Guide that resulted in an estimated $61,755 in purchases from small businesses by visitors to the gift guide, and in less than a week, the special edition of The Cackle reached over 15,000 new potential customers. In total, the series was viewed by over 57,000 people.

To learn more about The Cackle and view upcoming episodes, please visit EntryPointMI.com/The-Cackle.

Dan Dalton named a “Go-To” Real Estate Lawyer by Michigan Lawyers Weekly

Daniel Dalton, co-founder of Detroit-headquartered Dalton & Tomich PLC, was named a Michigan “Go-To” Lawyer for Real Estate by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. In addition to land use and zoning, Dan is nationally known for his work in religious property law.

Detroit Archdiocese Sells Inn at St. John’s to Pulte Family

PLYMOUTH – Pulte Family Management SJ LLC, a wholly owned for-profit entity of  the William J. Pulte Trust, and the Archdiocese of Detroit announced the sale of The Inn at St. John’s complex in Plymouth. The transaction was completed on July 30 and further financial details of the sale will not be disclosed.

The late William Pulte, who passed away in March 2018 at the age of 85, was an active philanthropist and founder of home building giant PulteGroup Inc. He also served with a small group of local Catholic business leaders who worked closely with Cardinal Adam Maida to finance and develop the former St. John’s Seminary campus into a world class hotel, conference center, and 27-hole golf course.

“The Inn at St. John’s was near and dear to my father’s heart,” said Mark Pulte, William Pulte’s son. “He was honored to work with Cardinal Maida on the transformation of this beautiful property and to have played a role in its success. When the Archdiocese expressed interest in selling the property, my father’s estate was a natural choice. They knew that it would be in good hands.”

The hotel, conference rooms, and reception centers will continue to serve and support business, civic, and private events. The golf course will operate as usual with daily tee times, organized outings, and events and league play. The chapel will remain available for Catholic weddings. The family’s future plans for the property include upgrades that will be announced by Pulte Family Management in the coming weeks and months.

“This purchase is yet another example of the Pulte family’s longstanding commitment to southeast Michigan and the local Church in Detroit,” said Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron. “The decision to sell was motivated in-part by the considerable challenges of a Catholic organization operating a hotel conference center – especially during the pandemic – so we are grateful that Pulte Family Management SJLLC has stepped forward to purchase the property and operate it going forward, ensuring its continued legacy and value in the local community.”

The decision to purchase was made in-part as a tribute to the late Bill Pulte, according to his son.

“My father would have loved this moment as he played a significant role in the vision for the campus from the beginning,” said Mark Pulte. “He was passionate about helping others and he was a creative thinker. We are in the unique position to seamlessly integrate both his vision and values with the purchase as well as continue to make an impact with its future successes.”

MI Governor Appoints Farbman Group President to Board

Andy Gutman, president at full-service commercial real estate company Farbman Group, was appointed to the Michigan Board of Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons by Governor Gretchen Witmer with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Industry 4.0 Workshops Target Emerging Manufacturers

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. (July 30, 2021) – The Right Place, Inc.,Feyen Zylstra and The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center – West (aka The Center-West), are offering in person workshops designed to guide small and midsized manufacturers through creating sustainable change as they learn about and implement Industry 4.0 technologies for their business.

The daylong workshops will be held at Feyen Zylstra’s Industrial Tech Center, 3085 Walkent Drive, Walker, MI, 49544.

As of now, the group has confirmed two workshop dates: Wednesday, Aug. 25, and Tuesday, Sept. 21.

Additional dates may be added based on interest. Cost is $150 per person. Participants may register at: https://www.feyenzylstra.com/industry-4-0-workshop/.

The interactive workshops are geared toward owners, executives, facility managers, or anyone tasked with continuous plant floor improvement.

Each session will break down the elements of Industry 4.0 with practical case studies and activities aimed at helping business owners and executives understand the technology available and identify which initiatives make the most sense for their operations.

“While Industry 4.0 and IIoT are widely-accepted concepts on the plant floor, many manufacturers have yet to understand and harness the benefits and competitive advantage that they provide. We believe Feyen Zylstra’s ongoing Industry 4.0 partnership with The Right Place and The Center-West will assist area manufacturers with accelerating their access to digital transformation and smart manufacturing technologies,” said Ryan Cahalane, President of Industrial Technology, Feyen Zylstra.

“This partnership provides a systemwide approach to improvement and adoption of proven manufacturing principals and implementation of the correct industry 4.0 technologies to advance a company’s vision,” said Justine Burdette, Vice President, Technical Services, The Right Place, Inc. and Regional Director, The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center – West. “There is great potential for productivity and quality gains with smaller to midsized companies through applying facets of Industry 4.0 to their operations.”

Through attending the workshop, each participant will be able to apply the following to their business:

  • Understand their current state.
  • Understand the steps needed to sustainably introduce Industry 4.0 technologies to their best benefit.
  • Recognize the potential Return on Investment this transformational change can provide.
  • Develop a timeline for the implementation of the best served technologies for their business.
  • Understand how the services of our implementation team can help transform and improve their competitive advantage.

Community House in Birmingham hosts college application information session

The Community House in Birmingham will host Barbara Connolly, founder College Choice Counseling, for an in-person program from 7-9 p.m. August 19 to help guide students through the college application process. To learn more or register:

Aisha Hall Joins Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, P.C.

Aisha Hall has joined the Southfield office of Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, P.C. as an associate in the electronic payments practice group. Hall has been recognized as an accredited ACH professional.

EMU Professor Receives $1.86 Million Grant to Improve Access to Behavioral Health Services

YPSILANTI — Alexandros Maragakis, an assistant professor in Psychology at Eastern Michigan University, has received a $1.86 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to improve access to behavioral health services for children in Michigan.

Assistant Professor Maragakis will receive approximately $465,000 per year for 4 years to integrate behavioral health services with pediatric primary care practices in a variety of urban and rural Michigan communities.

According to Dr. Maragakis, Michigan has a number of underserved urban and rural communities with limited access to quality mental health services for children, yet most children in these communities have access to primary care.

“The integration of behavioral health within primary care has recently gained global attention given that almost half of all pediatric primary care visits have some type of behavioral health concern documented,” said Dr. Maragakis. “The goal of this grant is to grow the behavioral health workforce to improve access to behavioral health services for children in Michigan.”

Trainees, which will include students from EMU’s Clinical Psychology and Social Work programs, will participate in interdisciplinary education that will expose them to various healthcare professionals, prepare them for both in-person and telehealth integrated behavioral health services, and emphasize experiences for working with minority cultures.

The Michigan Medicine/EMU Pediatric Integrated Behavioral Health Training Collaborative (the Collaborative) is a partnership with Eastern Michigan University’s Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology and Masters of Social Work Program, and Michigan Medicine in collaboration with MidMichigan Community Health Services. The Collaborative has received prior support from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, and this project is an expansion of that work.

Dr. Maragakis is a founding member of EMU’s Center for the Advancement of Neurobehavioral Health.  His current research interests involve using quality improvement methods to analyze best practices in integrated behavioral and primary care settings. Specifically, his research investigates the impact of integrated services on somatic and behavioral outcomes, as well as healthcare expenditures, provider burnout and efficiency, and access to evidence-based behavioral health services.

For more information about the Health Resources and Services Administration, visit the organization’s homepage.

LAFCU Launches Free Personal Financial Course Open to Public

LANSING — LAFCU is inviting the public to enroll in its new comprehensive personal financial course that helps strengthen the financial stability of individuals in Michigan. The enrollment deadline is Monday, Aug. 9.

The free, virtual course, named Pathway to Financial Transformation, will help participants, ages 20 and over, enhance current financial behavior and build a roadmap to attain financial freedom.

The 16 one-hour sessions will be presented on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, excluding holidays, Aug. 12, 2021–April 28, 2022, 6 p.m.

“Pathway to Financial Transformation is the result of many years of providing education through LAFCU’s financial literacy program,” said Shelia Scott, LAFCU community financial education & business development officer. “We’ve listened to people’s concerns about finances, and LAFCU specialists have identified topics they believe will support an individual’s pursuit of financial freedom.

“Attaining that freedom means having control of your finances instead of being controlled by them. You are able to make life decisions without financial impact being the primary driver. You’re also in a better position to qualify for lower loan interest rates, to purchase a home and to just live better.”

The course will cover all facets of personal finance and will identify many traps that often derail a person’s financial stability. It is structured similar to a college course with a syllabus, assignments such as completing a budget worksheet, and quizzes. The course is interactive as participants can ask questions during class.

Topics include savings, budgeting, managing credit, lending, investing, improving one’s credit score, home purchases, home ownership and information about possible barriers that have prevented equal access to financial resources.

Sharing their expertise will be seasoned financial professionals from LAFCU as well as a representative from LAFCU’s financial counseling partner, GreenPath Financial Wellness, headquartered in Farmington Hills. Free to all enrollees is an optional session with a GreenPath Financial Wellness expert.

Course graduates will be celebrated at a cap and gown ceremony.

“The benefits of attaining financial freedom have been accentuated during the pandemic,” Scott said. “Bills don’t stop even when we can’t work. But we also learned that many of the things we thought we couldn’t do without, we can do without. That’s learning how to save.

“It’s never too late to improve one’s financial management. This course will provide knowledge that can transform behavior. It’s the type of comprehensive course that’s rarely offered at no charge.”

To enroll, visit www.lafcu.com/pathway. The course is open to people who live, work, worship or attend school in Michigan, LAFCU’s geographical service territory.

U.S. Bank Foundation Invests $1 Million to Support Emerging Leaders, Community-Led Solutions to Address Economic Disparities

MINNEAPOLIS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jul. 28, 2021– U.S. Bank Foundation today announced a $1 million investment to 20 nonprofit organizations driven by a diverse group of exceptional emerging leaders who are focused on creating effective community-led solutions to the increasing economic disparities.

Organizations are in both rural and metro communities and are focused on support for entrepreneurs and small business owners, workforce development programs and financial inclusion efforts for individuals and families as solutions to wealth building.

“We are dedicated to empowering our communities by listening to those with lived experience and supporting their ideas on how to address racial and economic inequities and creating lasting change,” said Reba Dominski, executive vice president, head of social responsibility at U.S. Bank. “In addition to the funding, we are exploring ways to support these leaders and organizations by creating points of connection and access as well as opportunities to build their networks. We look forward to learning from these leaders as we continue to work to break down traditional power dynamics in philanthropy.”

The emerging leaders recognized through nonprofit grant funding include:

  • Joy Briscoe, Executive Director of 24/7 Black Leadership Advancement Consortium (Waterloo, Iowa), is advancing generational wealth for the black business community.
  • Erica DiMartino-McNertney, Site Director of Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in Cincinnati (based in New York), supports justice-involved individuals in building career and financial stability.
  • Jeffery Beckham Jr., CEO of Chicago Scholars (Chicago, Illinois), is empowering first-generation college students and students from low-income communities with the right mentors, resources, and opportunities to go to our nation’s best colleges and universities, graduate on time, and become Chicago’s next generation of leaders.
  • Luisana Victorica, Site Director of College Track (Sacramento, California), is more than doubling the rate of bachelor’s degrees for low-income and first-generation students.
  • Lori Boegershausen, Director of Educational Access for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio (Nelsonville, Ohio), is strengthening community resources to meet the needs of Black Appalachian Ohioans.
  • Arnella Williams-Foster, Community Coordinator of Nashville Business Incubation Center (Nashville, Tennessee), supports the development and growth of minority, women, and veteran-owned small businesses.
  • Buddy King, Chief Operating Officer of Higher Works Collaborative partners with Initiative Foundation (Little Falls, Minnesota), to support training courses, seminars, and technical assistance for low-income and minority entrepreneurs.
  • Whitney Peake, Board Member of Live the Dream Development, Inc. (Bowling Green, Kentucky), supports minority, women, and low-to-moderate-incomein small business owners.
  • Anamaria Rocha, Executive Director of Mercado on 5th Inc. (Moline, Illinois), provides office space, bilingual small business workshops, 1-on-1 technical assistance and mentorship.
  • Henry Jake Foreman, Program Director of New Mexico Community Capital (Albuquerque, New Mexico), provides business training that integrates Indigenous methodology.
  • Annamarie Dachtler, Executive Director of Olive Crest (Los Angeles, California), fuels economic stability and independence through transitional housing for vulnerable youth emancipating from foster care.
  • Juan Navarro, Artist-in-Residence at Riverside Art Museum (Riverside, California), is rejuvenating store fronts to contribute to neighborhood vitality, safety and economic development.
  • Ryan Quigtar, Executive Director of the Renton Innovation Zone Partnership (Renton, Washington), supports career immersion events for students from Title 1 schools through the Skyway Resource Center.
  • Cesar Garcia, Executive Director of Southside Redevelopment Corporation, Canopy South (Omaha, Nebraska), is establishing a revolving loan fund to be utilized for workforce housing.
  • Dara Eskridge, Executive Director of Invest STL (St. Louis, Missouri), cultivates opportunities for wealth building among households and small businesses to support equitable neighborhood development.
  • Silvia Castro, Executive Director of Suazo Business Center (Salt Lake City, Utah), provides long-term support for low-to moderate-income entrepreneurs.
  • Charis Blackmon, Executive Director of West Side CLT (Charlotte, North Carolina), tackles economic mobility through permanently affordable homeownership.
  • Trina Fleming, Executive Director of Women Helping Women (Irvine, California), equips individuals with employer-in-demand skills.
  • Keena Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Center of Economic Opportunity (Columbus, Ohio), provides women of color entrepreneurs equitable access to capital, connections and business know-how.
  • Amalia Luxardo, Executive Director of Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona (Tucson, Arizona), provides oversight for the Communities for Philanthropic Justice Fund, which, in close partnership with community, cultivates and builds BIPOC leadership and relevant practices within grantmaking institutions.

American Airlines, JetSMART Sign Letter of Intent to Create Network

FORT WORTH, Texas — American Airlines and JetSMART have signed a letter of intent to create what officials in both companies are calling the “broadest network and most rewarding customer offering in the Americas.”

This proposed partnership would tie together the full-service, global presence of American with the complementary network of ultra-low-cost carrier JetSMART in South America to offer competitive fares and expanded travel options for flyers throughout North and South America.

“This proposed investment in JetSMART would give customers access to the largest network, lowest fares and best travel loyalty program in the Americas,” said Vasu Raja, American’s Chief Revenue Officer. “This would enable JetSMART and American to grow aggressively and profitably across Latin America as demand recovers, while preserving the best aspects of each carrier’s business model.

“This partnership would also make AAdvantage the largest travel loyalty program in the Americas, creating more ways for customers to earn travel rewards and use their miles to access new destinations and elite benefits globally, no matter whether they earn in Latin or North America,” Raja added.

Operating from Chile and Argentina, JetSMART is a portfolio airline of Indigo Partners, one of the world’s premier developers of new generation ultra-low-cost airlines. JetSMART operates a modern fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft and offers short-haul domestic and international service to 33 destinations throughout South America. American has served Latin America since 1942 and offers service to 17 destinations in South America from its U.S. hubs in Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami and New York. Through the two airlines’ codeshare, customers would be able to travel seamlessly throughout the Americas.

“We look forward to working with American to continue delivering low fares and customer choice throughout South America,” said Bill Franke, Founder and Managing Partner of Indigo Partners.

Estuardo Ortiz, Chief Executive Officer of JetSMART, added, “By connecting and growing our respective networks, and maintaining our distinct business models, we see a compelling value proposition. When completed, this proposed partnership would accelerate JetSMART’s path to becoming the leading South American low-cost carrier while expanding service for American’s customers.”

Under the proposed transaction, American would invest in JetSMART to facilitate this growth and give American a minority ownership stake in the short-haul South American carrier. Additionally, American and Indigo Partners would jointly commit to provide additional capital to fund potential future opportunities in the region. American can strengthen and grow its South American network through this proposed partnership to attract more travelers in more markets. This proposed partnership, along with others in Latin America, would also give American customers access to more low fares and travel options on a network that is twice as big as other alliances.

The intended investments and codeshare agreements are subject to definitive documentation and any required governmental and regulatory approvals.

Federal Government Awards Record-Breaking $145.7 Billion in Contracting to Small Businesses

WASHINGTON (Globe Newswire) — Today, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced that the federal government exceeded its small business federal contracting goal, awarding 26.01 percent or $145.7 billion in federal contract dollars to small businesses, a $13 billion increase from the previous fiscal year.

“Despite the fact that it’s been an extremely challenging year for small businesses, the SBA is proud to announce that our nation’s entrepreneurs used their trademark ingenuity, grit, and determination to do a record amount of contracts — $145.7 billion — with the federal government,” said SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman. “Thanks to the support of countless dedicated government professionals, the federal government exceeded its small business contracting goal for FY20 with a $13 billion increase from the previous fiscal year.

“However, we know that there’s much more to do to ensure all of our small businesses can get contract-ready and have the opportunities they need to engage with the world’s largest customer,” Guzman added. “We’re committed to increasing these opportunities and lowering barriers to give our small businesses a chance to grow their revenues through contracting. Our goal this year, and every year, is to make sure that small businesses can be like the giants they are in our economy and to create conditions to guarantee their success.”

The federal government also added almost a million jobs to the American economy through the $145.7 billion in prime contract dollars and $82.8 billion in subcontracts awarded to small businesses.  Overall, the federal government exceeded its goal of 23 percent in prime contract dollars and earned an “A” on this year’s government-wide Scorecard. Eight federal agencies earned an “A+” for their agencies’ achievements in small-business contracting.

At the same time, the Biden-Harris Administration recognizes there is much work to be done to advance equity in federal procurement. President Biden’s Day 1 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities instructs agencies to ensure that federal contracting and procurement opportunities be made more readily available to all eligible vendors and to remove barriers faced by underserved individuals and communities. In his June 2021 speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma commemorating the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, President Biden announced a goal of increasing the share of contracts awarded to small, disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent over five years.

FY2020 Small Business Federal Procurement Scorecard:

The individual agency scorecards released today by the SBA, as well as a detailed explanation of the methodology, is available at SBA.gov. Highlights from the overall Federal Procurement Scorecard are:

  • In FY20, the federal government exceeded the service-disabled veteran-owned small business and small disadvantaged business goals of 3 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
  • Although dollar awards increased to new records from previous years in all small business categories, the federal government fell short of meeting the goals established by Congress for women-owned small businesses and HUBZone small businesses. The government spent over $27 billion with women-owned small businesses and over $13 billion with HUBZone businesses, figures that both exceeded the prior year’s spending by over $1 billion.
  • The federal government also exceeded its subcontract goals for awards to small businesses and women-owned small businesses. In all, the government awarded almost $83 billion in subcontracts to all small businesses.
  • Despite the overall increase in the value of small-business awards, the number of small businesses receiving prime contracts with the federal government decreased.

Experts: U.S. Economic Data ‘Generally Positive’

U.S. economic data released this week was generally positive. New home construction and home sales improved at the end of Q2. Leading indicators showed positive momentum for the U.S. economy heading into Q3.

The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index for the U.S. increased by 0.7 percent in June. Eight of the 10 LEI components rose for the month, led by initial claims for unemployment insurance, the ISM New Orders Index and the Leading Credit Index. The Coincident Index rose by 0.4 percent. The lagging Index was unchanged. 

Total U.S. housing starts increased by 6.3 percent in June to a 1,643,000 unit annual rate. June starts were in the upper part of the recent range defined by a high of 1,725,000 from March of this year and a low of 1,447,000 from February. Single-family starts increased by 6.3 percent in June to a 1,160,000 unit annual rate.

Even with a May and June increase, the trend in single-family starts this year has been flat-to-down. Multifamily starts increased by 6.2 percent in June to a 483,000 unit rate, range-bound over the last 12 months. Total permits fell by 5.1 percent in June to 1,598,000 unit rate. Permits for single-family construction were down by 6.3 percent in June to a 1,063,000 unit annual rate, the weakest rate so far this year. Permits for multifamily construction dipped by 2.6 percent to a 535,000 unit rate, also the weakest rate this year. 

Homebuilder confidence ticked down in July, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Survey results point to declining housing affordability as a headwind for builders. 

Existing home sales rose by 1.4 percent to a 5,860,000 unit annual rate in June, after falling to a 5,780,000 rate in May. In June, sales were up across the Northeast, Midwest and West. They were unchanged in the South. The months supply of existing homes on the market for the overall U.S. ticked up slightly to 2.6 months. This is still a very tight housing market, resulting in strong home price appreciation. The median sales price for an existing home hit a record high at $363,300 in June, a 23.4 percent increase from a year earlier.

Mortgage applications for purchase fell by 6.4 percent for the week of July 16, after some opportunistic buying early in July as mortgage interest rates dipped. On a four-week moving average basis, purchase apps were down 17.1 percent from the year-ago level. Refi apps eased by 2.8 percent for the week after surging by 20.4 percent the week before. They were down 15.2 percent from a year ago. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage inched back up to 3.11 percent. 

Initial claims for unemployment insurance unexpectedly rose by 51,000 for the week ending July 17 to hit 419,000. Even as we continue to see weekly gyrations in the data, initial claims remain near the recent lows set in June. Continuing claims fell by 29,000 for the week ending July 10, hitting 3,236,000. The total number of claims for all unemployment benefit programs fell by 1,262,815 for the week ending July 3 to reach 12,573,833. 

The Federal Reserve is in its media blackout period ahead of next week’s Federal Open Market Committee policy meeting. Recent hot inflation data, including house prices and rents, will be a key topic of discussion at the meeting. We expect Fed Chair Jay Powell to continue to try to talk inflation expectations down while the Fed solidifies plans for unwinding exceptionally accommodative policy.

Robert Dye is vice president and chief economist for Comerica. Daniel Sanabria is senior economist for Comerica.

Entrepreneurs’ Organization West Michigan Elects Wade Wyant as President for 2021-2022

Entrepreneurs’ Organization West Michigan elected Wade Wyant as its president for 2021-2022. EO West Michigan is the local chapter of a global peer-to-peer network of 198 chapters in 61 countries representing more than 14,000 business owners.

Senate Votes to Advance $1.2 Trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Package

Last week, a vote on the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure package failed in the U.S. Senate, with even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer voting against it (in a procedural move).

But on Wednesday, signals came that the bill may finally be moving forward.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said Wednesday the bipartisan group negotiating the package had reached an agreement on the major issues, were working on legislative text but were “prepared to move forward.”

Hours later, the Senate did just that, voting to advance the legislation and setting up a final vote on the bill, likely to come within the next several days.

That procedural motion passed 67-32, with 17 Republicans – including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — joining all 50 Democrats to begin legislative action.

According to NPR, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has been leading talks for the Democrats, told reporters they were “very excited to have a deal.” She said she had spoken to President Joe Biden and he seemed “confident” about the bill, according to NPR.

During remarks Wednesday in Pennsylvania, Biden added that he was working with Democrats and Republicans on the deal because “while there’s a lot we don’t agree on, I believe that we should be able to work together on the few things we do agree on.”

The bill is expected to be around $1.2 trillion over eight years, with roughly $550 billion in new spending. Details on key issues were still being worked out.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said there is $65 billion for broadband deployment in the bill. She acknowledged “it has not been easy” to get a deal, “but we have reached agreement on the major issues,” according to NPR.

A White House fact sheet on the deal also outlines:

  • $110 billion for roads, bridges and other major projects;
  • $11 billion in transportation safety programs;
  • $39 billion in transit modernization and improved accessibility;
  • $66 billion in rail;
  • $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle chargers;
  • $73 billion in power infrastructure and clean energy transmission.

Portman said the bill is paid for, including using funds from combating fraud in unemployment assistance programs. The White House said it will also be offset in part by “targeted corporate user fees” as well as economic growth that’s expected from the investments.

The group is awaiting a final price tag from the Congressional Budget Office.

According to NPR, South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, who opposed the procedural motion, told reporters that Republicans still wanted to see the final details, but he was open to voting for the bill.

“I want to encourage this because I think it’s good to have a bipartisan exercise around here once in a while on something that matters, and it’s important to people in the country,” Thune said. He thought leaders would work on a deal to consider amendments so both sides could try to add elements.

Senate Democrats are also trying to push the $3.5 trillion spending package that is the key component of Biden’s economic plan.

Schumer said Wednesday the Senate was “on track to do both,” according to Yahoo! News.

But he’s facing some pushback from inside his own party. Synema said she’s “made clear” she supports beginning the process, but does not support “a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”

“In the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona’s economy and help Arizona’s everyday families get ahead,” Sinema said in a statement to the Arizona Republic.

U.S. Economy Grew 6.5% in 2nd Quarter, Surges Past Pre-Pandemic Levels

If you think the U.S. might finally be recovering from the economic morass brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be right.

According to a report from the U.S. Commerce Department, the U.S. economy grew at a 6.5% annual rate in the second quarter of 2021. According to Commerce, the size of the economy has now passed its pre-pandemic level.

That means the nation’s gross domestic product, which had already shown solid growth at 6.3% in the first quarter, accelerated the last quarter.

ABC News is reporting that second-quarter figure was less than the 8%-plus annual growth rate many economists had predicted. But the miss was due mainly to clogged supply chains related to the rapid reopening of the economy.

The Commerce Department reported that consumer spending surged again, advancing at an 11.8% annual rate, according to ABC. Spending on goods grew at an 11.6% rate, and spending on services, from restaurant meals to airline tickets, expanded at a 12% pace as vaccinations encouraged more Americans to shop, travel and eat out.

Companies, too, spent with confidence last quarter. Business investment surged at an 8% annual rate in the April-June quarter, adding 1.1 percentage point to GDP.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo called the GDP report “encouraging.”

“President Biden took swift, decisive action in his first 100 days to vaccinate Americans, deliver relief to families and businesses, and set the stage for a sustainable economic expansion for all Americans,” Raimondo said. “The President entered office with a plan to Build Back Better, and as he said last night, America is moving forward, but we can’t stop now.  A simple bounce-back is not sufficient.  We need the strategic investments included in the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan to not only return to where we were prior to the pandemic, but to build our country and our economy back better.

“We need big, bold actions that invest in our families, our workforce, and our infrastructure that position America to out-compete on the global stage for decades to come,” she added.

Aiding with the recovery are the trillions of dollars in assistance from federal rescue programs, including stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits to small business aid to just-distributed child tax credit payments.

“Consumers are going to continue to drive the economic train,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told ABC. “There is a lot of excess savings, a lot of cash in people’s checking accounts.”

Michigan Philharmonic headlines first-ever downtown Detroit Motor City Car Crawl

The Michigan Philharmonic, will headline the Detroit Motor City Car Crawl with a free concert at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5. “Motor City Movie Magic” features movie theme music, especially from auto-related films like “Cars” and “Back to the Future,” during an evening at downtown’s Campus Martius.

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