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.”

Michigan Hits 55% Vaccinations; In-Person Work to Resume

One down, three to go.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday the state had reached the first step of her four-step “MI Vacc to Normal” recovery plan, with 55% of Michiganders having reached their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

The milestone means that in two weeks – May 24 – in-person work can resume across all employment sectors. Whitmer released a video on social media congratulating Michiganders for achieving this important step and encouraged others to get vaccinated to help us get back to normal.

“I am excited that 55% of Michiganders have gotten their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine because it puts us one step closer to getting Vacc to Normal,” Whitmer said. “Everyone is eligible to get their safe, effective shots, and it’s on all of us to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. On May 24, we anticipate allowing a return to in-person work across all sectors, and as more Michiganders get vaccinated, we will continue lifting restrictions to get Vacc to Normal safely.”   

So far, Michigan has administered 4,455,395 vaccines, moving the state closer to its goal of equitably vaccinating at least 70% of Michiganders ages 16 and older as soon as possible.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, repeating a mantra she and the governor have espounded for months, called the vaccine the “most important tool we have” to reduce the spread of the virus.

“By getting shots in their arms as soon as possible, Michiganders can help end this pandemic as quickly as possible,” Khaldun said. “We urge all eligible Michigan residents to make an appointment or locate a walk-in vaccine clinic to get their vaccine as soon as they are able by visiting Vaccinefinder.”

The Vacc to Normal plan will use four vaccination-based milestones that, once achieved, will enable Michigan to take a step toward normalcy:

  • 55% of Michiganders, plus two weeks: Allows in-person work for all sectors of business.
  • 60% of Michiganders, plus two weeks: Increases indoor capacity at sports stadiums to 25%; increases indoor capacity at conference centers/banquet halls/funeral homes to 25%; increases capacity at exercise facilities and gyms to 50%; lifts the curfew on restaurants and bars.
  • 65% of Michiganders, plus two weeks: lifts all indoor capacity limits, requiring only social distancing between parties; further relaxes limits on residential social gatherings.
  • 70% of Michiganders, plus two weeks: Lifts the Gatherings and Face Masks Order such that MDHHS will no longer employ broad mitigation measures unless unanticipated circumstances arise, such as the spread of vaccine-resistant variants.

While the state still leads the nation in new coronavirus cases, Michigan’s COVID-19 infection rates have been falling the last few weeks following a surge the previous couple of months.

The state reported 18,248 cases last week, its lowest in seven weeks. The number of adults hospitalized with the virus is likewise falling, down 36% over the last couple of weeks, according to statistics kept by the state.

To learn more about the ‘MI Vacc to Normal Plan’ and vaccine rollout, visit www.michigan.gov/covidvaccine to view the COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard.      

Feyen Zylstra acquires North Carolina engineering division of Dynics, Inc.

Electrical services & industrial technology firm Feyen Zylstra has expanded into North Carolina with the acquisition of Dynics Services Group, the engineering division of Ann Arbor’s Dynics, Inc. Dynics has acquired Feyen Zylstra’s Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) software application, Endeavor.

Ferris State University set to construct $29.5m Center for Virtual Learning to handle tech-driven degree demands

Ferris State University announced it will construct the Center for Virtual Learning on its Big Rapids campus. When complete in 2023, the $29.5m Center will host Ferris’ Information Security and Intelligence program, the School of Digital Media, the School of Education and eLearning at Ferris.

Holland Home uses exergaming to keep residents connected and active during pandemic

Holland Home, Michigan’s largest nonprofit provider of senior services, is using exergaming technology, CyberCycle, to keep residents connected and active during the pandemic. In March, residents rode more than 1400 miles on CyberCycles and ranked 7th out of 265 teams worldwide.

Joe Valentine Appointed to The Community House Board of Directors

The Community House, a non-profit resource and destination for personal, professional, recreational and philanthropic pursuits, has appointed Joe Valentine, former Birmingham City Manager, to the Board of Directors for The Community House. Valentine will serve a minimum 3-year term.

Warner Music Group Announces Groundbreaking Partnership With Wave

LOS ANGELES (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Warner Music Group announced a groundbreaking partnership with and investment in Wave, the leader in virtual entertainment.

Through this collaboration, Wave will develop virtual performances, experiences, and monetization opportunities for WMG’s global roster of emerging and established artists. This includes new forms of ticketing, sponsorship, and in-show interactions for fans.

The agreement strengthens the relationship between Wave and the renowned music company as WMG continues to amplify virtual experiences for artists worldwide across its family of labels, including Atlantic, Elektra, Parlophone, Warner Records, and others. WMG’s entrepreneurial approach has borne partnerships with companies shaping the future of music – from popular interactive platform Roblox, to experimental virtual avatar company Spirit Bomb – enabling artists to power their creative visions and engage fans in new ways.

“WMG has an incredible history of being a trailblazer in the music industry. They share our vision for pulling the future forward using new technologies that benefit artists and fans alike,” said Adam Arrigo, CEO and Co-Founder of Wave. “We’re excited to partner with them to create interactive events that are unlike any other virtual concerts ever experienced.”

WMG and Wave will collaborate to bring Wave’s cutting-edge technology to transform participating artists into digital avatars, performing live and taking fans into an immersive virtual experience. Wave offers fans unique and interactive offerings including live chats, virtual gifting and voting, as well as real-time audience appearances during artist performances. Through Wave, WMG will be able to forge more powerful artist activations, incorporating new and fan-favorite features into their shows to fuel audience engagement.

“The commercial opportunity in the metaverse has exploded in the last several years, with the past few months seeing a tipping point for mainstream adoption of immersive social experiences and virtual communities,” said Oana Ruxandra, EVP, Business Development and Chief Digital Officer at WMG. “Wave is indisputably a leader in the interactive virtual entertainment space and the right partner to help us grow WMG’s efforts. Our artists and their fans will be getting best-in-class experiences, as we pioneer new forms of consumption and monetization.”

WMG joins a variety of artists, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists investing in Wave. Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Scooter Braun, J Balvin, Maveron, among others, participated in Wave’s most recent funding round. The company also announced its continued expansion into China through a strategic partnership with Tencent Music Entertainment.

Wave continues to strengthen its relationship with major and emerging artists, labels, and AAA gaming companies looking to engage with next generation audiences at the nexus of entertainment and gaming. To date, the company has hosted more than 50 Wave events for a number of popstars, DJs, and artists, including The Weeknd, John Legend, Dillon Francis, Alison Wonderland, Tinashe, and more, performing for millions of viewers around the world.

Chase Renews Commitment to Syracuse IVMF to Enhance Post-Service Lives of Vets

Syracuse, New York — Ten years after its original foundational grant to enhance the post-service lives of veterans and military families through Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), JPMorgan Chase today announced an additional $8 million grant to support the Institute’s national training and research programs over the next three years.

The announcement comes during National Small Business Month, highlighting the shared commitment of JPMorgan Chase and IVMF to empower transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses, including those who aspire to found and grow their own businesses.

“The values that veterans bring to the table—character, leadership, teamwork, fortitude—align with the principles needed for success in business, and our collaboration with Syracuse University’s IVMF provides tools and resources that veterans need to live up to this potential and drive innovation across industries,” says Mark Elliott, Global Head of Military and Veterans Affairs at JPMorgan Chase and Co-Chair of the IVMF Advisory Board. “IVMF’s mission to improve the lives of veterans and their families aligns with our own.”

The timing of the renewal comes as both the IVMF and the JPMorgan Chase Office of Military and Veteran Affairs mark ten years of empowering the post-service lives of military families. Since 2011, over 150,000 transitioning service members, veterans and military families have been directly impacted by IVMF training and programs. This includes 70,000+ alone who have benefited from entrepreneurship training.

“JPMorgan Chase understood immediately the IVMF was positioned to meet the unique challenges facing veterans and their families,” says Mike Haynie, Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives & Innovation at Syracuse University and Executive Director of IVMF. “Over the past decade they have contributed $34 million to IVMF programs and research that have empowered, advocated for, and improved the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of veterans and their families nationwide.”

This latest grant will enable the IVMF to continue delivering national programs to transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses who may be facing disproportional impacts related to the pandemic. Nearly a third (31%) of veteran spouses responding to the 2020 IVMF survey (https://fliphtml5.com/ugwgi/koji) reported experiencing long-term unemployment, which was three times higher than the civilian long-term unemployment rate. Research conducted in collaboration with IVMF (https://fliphtml5.com/ugwgi/koji) has shown meaningful employment can ease the transition, ultimately helping mitigate negative outcomes for veterans and their families.

IVMF programming is tailored to address the unique needs of the military community, offering no-cost career and entrepreneurship training, working with communities and non-profits to enhance service delivery to veterans and their families through collaboration and technology, and conducting actionable, applied research to deliver insights and shape national policy discussions. This has improved and expanded opportunities for more inclusive workplaces and networking for underrepresented communities of people of color and women.

During National Small Business Month, JPMorgan Chase and IVMF are highlighting successful stories in entrepreneurship including those recently named to Inc.’s iconic Inc 5000 list in the Vet 100 category.

GM Defense Names New President, Opens State-of-the-Art Production Facility

CONCORD, N.C. —GM Defense LLC, a subsidiary of General Motors, announced Steve duMont as its new president, while also celebrating the official opening of its new production facility in Concord, North Carolina, where it will manufacture the Infantry Squad Vehicle (ISV), a light and agile all-terrain troop carrier for the U.S. Army.

DuMont joins GM Defense from Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a business of Raytheon Technologies, where he led and implemented a focused strategy for global growth. He held various leadership positions during his more than 13 years at Raytheon, as well as previous systems engineering and program leadership positions with BAE Systems and Boeing. Prior to the private sector, duMont served as an aviation officer and attack helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army.

“Steve’s robust defense, business development and military experience position him well to advance the vision of GM Defense,” said Pam Fletcher, GM vice president of Global Innovation. “As we welcome Steve to the GM family, we also thank Tim Herrick for serving as interim president in the recent months.”

DuMont said he was “honored to be joining GM to lead the GM Defense team.”

“I wanted to continue my career with an organization that can provide solutions to address some of the toughest problems that our defense customers are facing, and GM Defense is doing just that,” duMont said. “The company has the ability to disrupt the industry by bringing significant commercial innovation forward, and I’m truly excited to lead this team at such an important time for our defense and government customers around the world.”

In his new role as president, duMont will leverage the best-in-class capabilities of GM to bring world-class manufacturing and quality, design and engineering, and commercial innovation to defense and government customers.

One such example of leveraging GM’s strengths in manufacturing is GM Defense’s new Concord production facility. In just over 90 days – from the start of construction to the start of vehicle production – GM Defense has demonstrated its fast-to-field capabilities by standing up a state-of-the-art tactical wheeled vehicle manufacturing center. The facility will build ISVs in support of a $214.3 million U.S. Army contract award. The Army has an acquisition objective of 2,065 vehicles for the Infantry Brigade Combat Teams.

The new 75,000-square-foot plant includes some of the latest manufacturing tools, including a digital operating system utilizing Bluetooth-enabled tools to meet U.S. Army requirements with extreme precision. The advanced tools will help ensure the highest level of quality while enabling greater efficiencies throughout the ISV build. Now the newest and one of the most advanced production lines for tactical wheeled vehicles, the GM Defense Concord facility will support ISV full rate production.

“Our ability to build vehicles after the start of construction in just over 90 days, combined with the rapid delivery of the first ISV to the U.S. Army 120 days after contract award, underscores the world-class manufacturing capabilities and innovation we bring to our customers,” said Herrick, former interim president of GM Defense and GM’s vice president for Global Product Programs. “I look forward to supporting Steve as he the expands the company’s North Carolina footprint and pursues new defense and government contracts.”

United Airlines Expands India Relief Efforts with Online Fundraising Campaign

CHICAGO (PRNewswire) —  United Airlines has expanded its efforts to support those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in India with the launch of a new online fundraising campaign.

Customers can donate to the airline’s relief partners: Airlink, Americares, GlobalGiving Foundation and World Central Kitchen. United is offering up to 5 million bonus miles to encourage MileagePlus members to support this effort and will match each donation up to a total of $40,000 in cash donations. In addition, United is currently the only U.S. airline serving India, and over the last few days has helped transport more than 300,000 pounds of critical medical supplies to the region.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have been committed to leveraging our resources and relationships to provide support to communities hit hardest by COVID-19,” said Luc Bondar, vice president of marketing & loyalty and president of MileagePlus at United. “As India faces this crisis, our generous customers, employees and MileagePlus members have stepped forward to ask how they can support those in need, and we are proud and humbled to facilitate this critical work.”

United is working directly with its partner organizations, as well as engaging with community leaders to assist the impacted communities. Focus areas for some of the airline’s partners include:

  • Airlink: Transportation of medical supplies and PPE
  • Americares: Supporting COVID-19 treatment facilities, donating critical medical equipment, PPE and supplies for health workers and educating the community on COVID-19 prevention and vaccination.
  • World Central Kitchen: Hot meal distribution to health care workers by partnering with local restaurants

In addition to its fundraising efforts, United will also continue to leverage its cargo operations to transport greatly needed medical equipment to the region. Between April 28 and May 2, United operated 20 flights that transported more than 300,000 pounds of medical supplies to India. This included donations from the U.S. India Chamber of Commerce and the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce in Houston that brought 50 ventilators through the USICOC Foundation to the Indian Red Cross Society.

United is continuing to coordinate humanitarian cargo efforts with partner, Airlink, which provides tactical coordination to help break through supply chain barriers to execute rapid response airlifts of humanitarian aid. United has proudly served India since 2005 and employs more than 300 individuals in the country.

The online campaign platform is currently scheduled to be available for donations through June 15. United will continue to evaluate how it can provide support to the region.

Verizon Media to Be acquired by Apollo Funds in $5 Billion Deal

NEW YORK – Verizon and Apollo Global Management, Inc. announced that funds managed by affiliates of Apollo (the “Apollo Funds”) entered into an agreement to acquire Verizon Media for $5 billion. Verizon will retain a 10% stake in the company, which will be known as Yahoo at close of the transaction and continue to be led by CEO Guru Gowrappan.

One of the world’s premier global technology and media companies, Verizon Media is comprised of iconic brands such as Yahoo and AOL, as well as leading ad tech and media platform businesses. The corporate carveout will allow Verizon Media to aggressively pursue growth areas and stands to benefit its employees, advertisers, publishing partners and nearly 900 million monthly active users worldwide. 

“We are excited to be joining forces with Apollo,” said Guru Gowrappan, CEO, Verizon Media. “The past two quarters of double-digit growth have demonstrated our ability to transform our media ecosystem. With Apollo’s sector expertise and strategic insight, Yahoo will be well positioned to capitalize on market opportunities, media and transaction experience and continue to grow our full stack digital advertising platform. This transition will help to accelerate our growth for the long- term success of the company.”

Reed Rayman, private equity partner at Apollo, said the firm is “thrilled to help unlock the tremendous potential” of Yahoo and its “unparalleled collection of brands.”

“We have enormous respect and admiration for the great work and progress that the entire organization has made over the last several years, and we look forward to working with Guru, his talented team, and our partners at Verizon to accelerate Yahoo’s growth in its next chapter,” Rayman said.

Verizon Media reported strong, diversified year-over-year revenue growth the past two quarters, driven by innovative ad offerings, consumer ecommerce, subscriptions, betting and strategic partnerships. Yahoo, one of the best recognized digital media brands in the world and the fourth most visited internet property globally, continues to evolve as a key destination for finance and news among Gen Z. This was most recently marked by Yahoo News becoming the fastest growing news organization on TikTok.  Under the terms of the agreement, Verizon will receive $4.25 billion in cash, preferred interests of $750 million and retain a 10% stake in Verizon Media. The transaction includes the assets of Verizon Media, including its brands and businesses. The transaction is subject to satisfaction of certain closing conditions and expected to close in the second half of 2021.

Mallory Kallabat Appointed to The Community House Foundation Board of Directors

The Community House, a non-profit resource and destination for personal, professional, recreational and philanthropic pursuits, today announced the appointment of Mallory Kallabat, an attorney with Clark Hill PLC, to the Board of Directors for The Community House Foundation for a 3-year term.

Lawmaker Plans to Introduce Legislation Guaranteeing Severance Package

LANSING — After companies go bankrupt, workers are left without compensation in many cases.

Laura Virgo of Warren was an employee of Art Van Furniture Inc. for 22 years, working at locations in Dearborn, Warren, Westland, Taylor and Southfield.

Virgo describes her job at Warren-based Art Van as “the greatest job on earth at one point.”

In 2017, the Boston equity firm THL — Thomas H. Lee Partners — bought Art Van, and by 2020 the company had gone bankrupt and closed all its stores, including 30 in Michigan.

Virgo said that employees like herself weren’t provided any type of severance pay.

“Not only did we not get any severance, they shut our insurance off in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “It was the biggest piracy I ever saw in my life.”

Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, a Democrat from Dearborn, plans to introduce guaranteed severance legislation this summer, according to Megan Kiefer, his legislative aide.

The bill would ensure all pay for hours, overtime, holidays, sick time, jury duty and vacation earned in the 12-month period before the layoff must be paid to employees, plus one week’s pay for each year worked, Kiefer said.

According to Virgo, 3,800 employees throughout the country lost their jobs when Art Van closed.

“There are no laws that protect us right now. The company was allowed to come in and leave us broke,” Virgo said. “It affected all the vendors, all the communities.”

Virgo said that THL didn’t give employees money that it owed them.

“I walked away with four weeks of vacation in their pocket and the flexible health spending account money that I never touched a penny of,” she said. “It’s more than that there wasn’t a severance. I didn’t get things that were already mine.”

According to Virgo, United for Respect, a national nonprofit organization fighting for policy changes to benefit retail employees, worked with former Art Van employees to help them get compensation.

“Initially THL offered us a settlement of about $230 per person to help us with our insurance, but with negotiation we were able to move that up to $1,200,” Virgo said.

Virgo said both employees and customers were shocked by THL’s decisions. 

“They shut off our phones, which drove angry customers into the store. People were spitting on us and cursing us because THL wouldn’t give them their money back,” she said. 

Teria Moore-Berry of Ypsilanti worked seasonally for Toys R Us in Ann Arbor for two years before the company closed in 2018. Since then, she’s been a vocal leader with United for Respect.

“There was a lack of care for workers going through all of this, and just for it to end with nothing didn’t feel right,” she said. 

Moore-Berry said United for Respect informed her that she was supposed to receive some sort of severance. 

“There ended up being about 33,000 people who lost their jobs, and the company didn’t give any thought to how we would be,” she said. “I wasn’t even aware that I was supposed to get any kind of severance.”

Moore-Berry said she began traveling to Washington, D.C., to advocate for people in similar situations.

“We actually ended up getting a $20 million hardship fund after they saw we were protesting,” she said. “It was nowhere near the amount of money we were supposed to be getting.”

According to Moore-Berry, a guaranteed severance law would prevent other employees fired in mass layoffs from being treated how she was.

“This bill would focus on the people who are on the ground working on an everyday basis and how they’re being affected,” she said. “We’re more than just workers that can be tossed to the side.”

According to Kiefer, employers covered by the bill would need to have at least 100 employees. To be eligible for severance pay, an employee would have had to have worked at least three years for the employer.

Eligible employees would receive one week’s pay for each year that they were employed by the company, she said.

“This has been a long-standing issue in Michigan,” she said. “This bill aims to make sure that Michigan workers have the resources they need when there is a mass layoff.”

Kristia Postema is a reporter for Capital News Service.

BAMF Investing $30M to establish HQ along Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile

GRAND RAPIDS – Global theranostics and radiopharmacy innovator Bold Advanced Medical Future Health will establish its headquarters within Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile.

The announcement was made last week by The Right Place and the City of Grand Rapids.

The company expects to add more than 200 life science jobs and invest $30 million in its new facility, which is expected to contain the world’s most advanced cyclotron-equipped radiopharmacy, molecular imaging clinic and theranostics clinic.

The first-of-its-kind dual-cyclotron radiopharmacy will produce novel radiopharmaceuticals on-site so cancer patients will receive confirmed diagnosis and treatment in a cutting-edge theranostics clinic during their same day visit. The facility will also supply both diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals to hospitals and independent clinics in the West Michigan area.

The company will lease at least 35,000 square feet in the new Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building, located within Michigan State University’s Grand Rapids Innovation Park at the Northeast corner of Monroe Avenue and Michigan Street at the west end of the famed Medical Mile corridor.

Aside from the radiopharmacy and theranostics clinic, the location will serve as corporate headquarters for BAMF.

“The BAMF Health Precision Medicine Platform is considered the first and only platform of its kind in the world,” said BAMF Health founder and chief executive officer Dr. Anthony Chang. “We are eager and honored to bring BAMF Health’s lifesaving technology to patients in 2022. Our approach to achieve intelligence-based precision medicine will focus on effective therapies through precise and early diagnosis. It will guide patients to the most effective treatment, prevent unnecessary procedures and side effects, improve quality of life and outcomes, and reduce cost.”

The Right Place provided a wide variety of wrap-around business services to ensure BAMF’s successful landing in Grand Rapids. The organization first began partnering with BAMF in late 2016, making numerous connections and introductions for the fledgling startup. In 2017, The Right Place introduced the company (then called Rethink Imaging) to Michigan State University and Dr. Norm Beauchamp. As that new relationship quickly grew, The Right Place team went on to provide connections with local capital resources for financial support and custom research services.

“This project was a ‘must-win’ for our team,” said Randy Thelen, president and CEO, The Right Place, Inc. “The technology and innovation that BAMF is bringing to the area of cancer detection and treatment, has the potential to save countless lives and significantly boost the global exposure of Medical Mile.”

Beauchamp, MSU’s executive vice president for health sciences, said the MSU Grand Rapids Innovation Pakr is “designed to create a health care innovation hub that will spur collaboration between academic research (biomedical, bioengineering and technology), health care providers and health industries to commercialize, patent and license health innovation.”

“The radiopharmacy that BAMF Health is leasing from MSU in the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building embodies that vision and came about through collaboration between The Right Place, the city of Grand Rapids, private philanthropy and Michigan State University. Ultimately, this is finding new and better ways to bring health to all,” Beauchamp said.

The new BAMF headquarters is set to open in February 2022, corresponding to the opening of the 210,000-square-foot Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building. Throughout the planning and development of the Grand Rapids Innovation Park, the City of Grand Rapids has played an instrumental role in ensuring the park is a success.

“With its cutting-edge innovation and bold vision for improving health outcomes, BAMF Health is the type of anchor company that epitomizes what all of the partners in Michigan State University’s Grand Rapids Innovation Park have worked to create,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “There is enormous significance to their decision to locate in the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building, on the Medical Mile, in downtown Grand Rapids. It is a testament to the work done to develop and attract world class resources and assets in our health care industry, and of what can be achieved with a shared community vision. We look forward to watching BAMF and their partners thrive in Grand Rapids.”

BAMF is led by Chang, along with co-founder and chief technology officer Anderson Peck and chief operating officer Chad Bassett. Before founding BAMF Health, Chang and Peck worked together in Chang’s lab to advance medical imaging technology. Dr. Chang is an accomplished scientific leader and educator. During his academic years, he was one of youngest imaging center directors in the world.

Theranostics is a promising new field in medicine that combines the power of molecular imaging and molecular targeted radiation therapy to accurately diagnose and treat patients. The procedure is a simple IV injection that delivers treatment directly to where it is needed, minimizing damage to surrounding tissue.

“Currently, there is no dedicated platform for the efficient and effective translation of radiopharmaceutical technology to the clinic, resulting in an inevitable time-consuming and high-cost process that stops new radiopharmaceuticals from reaching patients,” Chang said. “With a new approach to data security, BAMF’s platform allows clinicians, researchers, and developers to facilitate the clinical trial process while maintaining the highest standards of quality. Running AI algorithms on big data across multiple institutions eliminates bias, achieves high accuracy and enables better patient outcomes.”

The Grand Rapids clinic will be the home to never-before-seen theranostics treatment for cancer patients, especially those who are in late-stage. Potential cancer applications will start from prostate and neuroendocrine tumor and expand to breast, pancreas, lung, gynecological, colon, brain and pediatric oncology. Additionally, BAMF Health will pursue diagnostic and therapeutic applications in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Endometriosis, chronic pain, PTSD and depression and cardiac diseases. “We want to make the best technology accessible and affordable to every patient who needs it, as soon as possible,” Chang said. “Together with MSU, The Right Place and the Grand Rapids community, BAMF is here to make the Grand and Rapid impact.”

State Eases Mask Restrictions for Indoor, Outdoor Gatherings, Non-Contact Sports

Participating in an outdoor gathering with fewer than 100 people? Playing non-contact sports? Michigan’s COVID-19 precautions are about to change for you.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services updated its COVID-19 Gatherings and Face Masks epidemic order Tuesday to encourage safer outdoor activities as spring and summer bring warmer weather and new opportunities to go outdoors.

Under the new order, which goes into effect Thursday, May 6, and continues through Monday, May 31, masks are generally not required outdoors unless a gathering has 100 or more people.

In addition, anyone who is fully vaccinated and not experiencing symptoms is not required to wear a mask at residential gatherings, including indoors. New guidance for organized sports no longer requires routine COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated participants if they are asymptomatic.

Masks continue to be required for contact sports but are no longer required outdoors during active practice and competition for non-contact sports. For example, softball and baseball players will be required to wear a mask in the dugout but not when at bat or playing first base. 

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel lauded the “commitment by Michiganders” to receive COVID-19 vaccines is “allowing us to move toward a return to normal.”

“The vaccines work,” Hertel stressed. “That means once Michiganders are fully vaccinated, they do not have to abide by as many health guidelines because of the protection the vaccine provides from the spread of the virus.

“Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer launched the MI Vacc to Normal plan to set vaccine milestones to enable a return toward normalcy,” Hertel added. “This week we are taking further steps in that direction.”

MDHHS continues to urge Michiganders to follow CDC guidance, even where not specifically required by an epidemic order. For people who aren’t yet fully vaccinated, that means masking up whenever around other people not from your household. 

 The updated Gatherings and Mask Order preserves strong public health measures to control the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, called getting the vaccine “the most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your family and your community.”

“Vaccines give you the freedom and peace of mind to be able to do more things, but we still have work to do to reach our goal of vaccinating at least 70% of residents ages 16 and up,” Khaldun said. “Get one of the three safe and effective vaccines as soon as you are able, and please remember you need to get your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to get the full immunity that these vaccines offer.” 

To date, 39.3% of Michigan residents 16 and older had been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and 50.6% had received at least a first dose. 

Updates to the Gatherings and Masks Order encourage outdoor events with larger capacities permitted for entertainment and recreational facilities and for sports stadiums and arenas that hold events outdoors. This includes: 

  • Large outdoor events, including festivals, fairs, and golf tournaments will be able to exceed the current 1,000-person limit so long as they create and post a safety plan consistent with the MDHHS Large Outdoor Event Guidance, and no more than 20 persons per 1,000 square feet are gathered in any space available to patrons.
  • Outdoor stadiums and arenas: 
  • Stadiums complying with enhanced protocols will continue to be allowed to operate at 20% of their fixed seating capacity. For example, a stadium with a maximum capacity complying with enhanced protocols would be permitted to host 8,000 patrons. 
  • Otherwise, for stadiums or arenas with a fixed seating capacity of 5,000 or greater without enhanced protocols 1,000 patrons may be gathered (previously 750). 
  • For stadiums or arenas with a fixed seating capacity of 10,000 or greater without enhanced protocols 1,500 patrons may be gathered. 
  • Residential outdoor gatherings are allowed up to 50 people. Or, where density does not exceed 20 persons per 1,000 square feet of usable outdoor space, up to 300 people may be gathered.   

Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit Michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine. 

Pontiac nonprofit Grace Centers of Hope seeks volunteers for outdoor spring cleanup

Pontiac-based nonprofit Grace Centers of Hope is calling on Metro Detroit residents to volunteer for outdoors spring cleanup in its Little Grace Village neighborhood. COVID protocols will be observed. Visit gracecentersofhope.volunteerhub.com or email [email protected]

Davenport to Offer Scholarships to Future for Frontliners Graduates

GRAND RAPIDS – Davenport University announced today that it has created a scholarship program to help Future for Frontliners graduates further their education. Davenport’s new Beyond Future for Frontliners Scholarship provides up to $8,000 per year for up to 4 additional years of education.

“We applaud the state’s efforts to support our frontline heroes and want to extend additional support for these individuals,” said Davenport University President Dr. Richard J. Pappas. “We stand ready to further their education with degree programs, professional development, and career services to help them quickly take the next step in their education and career.”

The Beyond Future for Frontliners Scholarship will support students who graduate from a community college with the Future for Frontliners scholarship and are looking to earn a bachelor’s degree, pursue a master’s degree or explore additional professional development programs or certificates to enhance their skills.

“We have been a long-time partner with Davenport University and welcome their support to create additional opportunities for these students who have served as the true heroes during this pandemic,” said Dr. Bill Pink, president of Grand Rapids Community College.

This is the second offering the university has put together to support those affected by COVID-19. Last year, Davenport introduced the Launch Scholarship, offered to anyone who had lost their job due to the pandemic. The Davenport University Career Services Department also provides career assessments and transition strategies to those unemployed because of COVID-19, training for interviews, and resume and cover letter development.

The Beyond Future for Frontliners Scholarship offers up to $8,000 for up to 30 credits for up to 4 years. Additionally, each Future for Frontliners graduate can transfer up to 90 credits. To be eligible for the program, individuals must have graduated from a community college with the Future for Frontliners scholarship. The scholarship is available to individuals who plan to take degree-seeking courses during the summer or fall semester at Davenport University.  Individuals interested in taking advantage of this program can visit davenport.edu/beyondfuturefrontliners, call Davenport University at 800.686.1600, or send an email to [email protected].

New iteration of MacKenzie’s Bakery coming to Vicksburg

VICKSBURG, MI – Vicksburg native Chris Moore has acquired the assets of Kalamazoo’s recently shuttered MacKenzie’s Bakery from Water Street Coffee Joint owner Mark Smutek. As a result of the deal, which was finalized April 19, Moore now owns the famous bakery’s brand, recipes and equipment, all of which will be incorporated into a new company that will focus on producing wholesale bread to area retailers and restaurants.

Mackenzies Vicksburg intends to open later in 2021 at a Moore-owned property, 103 E. Prairie Street, in downtown Vicksburg.  The 1,700-square-foot location will primarily serve as a kitchen and distribution facility, but the bakery may eventually offer retail products via a small storefront space. The building is attached to 101 E. Prairie, which Moore also owns. The facades of the adjoining two-story buildings have been painstakingly restored and are a part of Moore’s mission to revitalize downtown Vicksburg and restore many of its original buildings into historic centerpieces.

Moore, the owner of the $80 million mixed use The Mill at Vicksburg project currently undergoing renovations on the west end of the village, grew up enjoying Mackenzies baked goods and jumped at the chance to revitalize the brand and help bring more business to the 3,400-person village, which sits about 12 miles south of Kalamazoo. Moore has long claimed that his vision is to create a “thriving Vicksburg” so placing the bakery outside of the Mill property was intentional.

“There is a lot to be determined regarding this transaction, but one thing is for sure, downtown Vicksburg is going to smell great with the aroma of Mackenzies bread,” said Chris Moore, 56, who resides in Seattle, where he operates his businesses Concord Technologies and Old Stove Brewing, but frequently visits Vicksburg for extended periods.

MacKenzie’s Bakery shuttered operations at the end of 2020. The brand, web domain name and equipment were purchased soon after by Smutek. Moore’s Vicksburg leadership team, led by chief operating officer Jackie Koney, was approached by a mutual acquaintance who connected them to Smutek. An ongoing dialogue led to finalizing a deal to transfer ownership to Moore.

Recently all equipment from the closed bakery was transferred to Vicksburg, where Koney’s team will work to finalize renovation plans.

Former bakery owner John MacKenzie has signed on to help consult the new owners during startup. Additional full- and part-time staff will be hired to manage daily operations. The focus this time around is solely on wholesale bread, but eventually, the bakery may offer some small retail offerings.

“We are looking to bring Mackenzies bread into stores and dining establishments across Southwest Michigan, so our immediate focus is to gear up for large-scale bread production,” said Jackie Koney. “Once we get settled we’ll evaluate expanding product offerings and delivery channels.”

The move into downtown Vicksburg is welcomed by Village leadership.

“We look forward to welcoming a new iteration of Mackenzies into downtown Vicksburg,” said Village of Vicksburg manager Jim Mallery. “There is a lot of potential for growth with Mackenzies Vicksburg’s products and sales channels, so we are excited to have them up and running and adding to our downtown charm.”

Mackenzies Vicksburg expects to share more information soon on its website, www.mackenziesbakery.com, about opening dates and product offerings.

Improve accuracy and process economy with new lower-flow Twin Screw Pumps

The popular Alfa Laval Twin Screw Pump comes in three new model sizes optimized to handle lower flow rates for hygienic applications across the dairy, food, beverage and home-personal care industries.
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Michigan’s The Big Salad expanding with 3 new restaurants

The Big Salad, based in Harper Woods, has unveiled plans to launch three new eateries that include locations in downtown Detroit, downtown Traverse City and a site in the Novi/Farmington communities. The Traverse City restaurant is scheduled to open in mid-July, with Novi/Farmington opening by fall.


GCH announced that CAPS Remodeling will match all donations up to $10K made during the month of May to support its comprehensive homeless and life skills programs. Anyone interested in supporting GCH through the matching gift challenge shouldvisit www.gracecentersofhope.org. Campaign runs May 1-31.

(Caption Info) Pastor Kent Clark, CEO of Grace Centers of Hope, poses for a photo in their chapel in Pontiac, Mich., on June 12, 2012. . (Elizabeth Conley/The Detroit News)
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