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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.”

Matrix Human Services Celebrates Head Start Expansion at Infinity I Location

DETROIT – Matrix Human Services, a leading community organization committed to educational excellence and community development, announced the official ribbon-cutting of its newly remodeled Infinity I Head Start.

Officials invite the community  to join them in celebrating the milestone Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 11 a.m. at 9208 Gratiot in Detroit.

The extensive expansion of Infinity I represents a significant investment in the future of the Detroit community. As the largest Head Start provider in Detroit, Matrix has been a cornerstone of education and community engagement for over a century, and this renovation project reaffirms Matrix’s commitment to providing a safe and modern learning environment for students and the community.

The event will feature:

  • The ribbon-cutting ceremony.
  • Tours will be available.
  • Community engagement, with visitors able to learn about ongoing community initiatives and opportunities for collaboration,

The event is open to everyone, including students, parents, local organizations and supporters.

For more information, call Matrix at (313) 526-4000.

UAW Adds GM, Ford Plants to Strike Target List

Two more SUV plants – the GM Lansing Delta Township Assembly and Ford’s Chicago assembly plant – have been added to the UAW’s list of strike targets as negotiations continue between the UAW and the Big 3 Automakers.

Union President Shawn Fain made the announcement during a Facebook Live event Friday morning.

Fain said Friday Stellantis was spared an additional target, citing some progress in negotiations.

The Delta Township plant makes the Buick Enclave and the Chevy Traverse. The plant has more than 2,800 employees, which includes non-bargaining-unit salary workers, according to The Detroit News.

On its website, Ford shows Chicago Assembly builds the Ford Explorer, a police utility vehicle and the the Lincoln Aviator. It has 5,700 hourly workers.

The UAW launched its strike Sept. 15 when 12,700 autoworkers halted work at Big Three assembly plants in Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. A week later, an additional 5,600 workers at 38 GM and Stellantis-owned parts distribution centers in 20 states walked off the job. 

No additional Ford targets were included at that point. Fain said at the time the sides were making progress on wage, job security and other issues.

“Negotiations continue,” Ford said in a statement, according to CBS News. “Our focus remains on working diligently with the UAW to reach a deal that rewards our workforce and enables Ford to invest in a vibrant and growing future.”

Among the UAW’s demands: A 36% pay increase across a four-year contract, annual cost-of-living adjustments, pension benefits for all employees, greater job security, restrictions on the use of temporary workers and a four-day work week. Thehe union also wants the automakers to eliminate a two-tiered wage system adopted at the companies after the 2008 financial crisis. 

The automakers have said they’ve made reasonable offers, while arguing that the UAW’s wage and other demands would make it hard to compete with other car manufacturers. 

Union leaders counter that the Big Three reaped hefty profits as car prices jumped during the pandemic, while workers failed to enjoy the same benefits. 

Talks between the UAW and automakers are still active. GM met with the union on Thursday, and Stellantis submitted its latest counteroffer to the union on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Striking workers are receiving pay through an $825 million fund set up by the UAW.

Fed Holds Rates For Now, Hints Another Hike Coming

As expected, the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee unanimously held the fed funds target steady at a range of 5.25% to 5.50% at its Sept. 20 interest rate decision.

Acknowledging the recent spate of better-than-expected economic developments and persistent inflationary pressures, FOMC participants reiterated a further rate hike is likely before year end. In the Summary of Economic Projections (“Dot Plot”), the median member of the FOMC anticipates cutting rates just half a percentage point in 2024, compared to a full percentage-point in cuts seen previously.

The median Dot on the Dot Plot projects the fed funds rate holding above its longer-run steady-state value of 2.5% through the fourth quarter of 2026, reinforcing the Fed’s message that they plan to keep interest rates “higher for longer.” 

The Dot Plot’s median Dot significantly upgraded the projection for annual real GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2023 to 2.1% from 1.0% earlier. Next year’s growth forecast was also revised up notably to 1.5% from 1.1%. In line with brightening economic prospects, monetary policymakers expect the labor market to fare better than previously anticipated over the forecast horizon. 2023’s expected headline inflation was raised a notch to 3.3%, while core inflation was lowered by two-tenths to 3.7%. The FOMC did not change its 2024 headline and core inflation projections of 2.5% and 2.6%, respectively.  

The earliest data on the economy’s momentum in September are mixed. S&P Global’s Flash U.S. Composite PMI for September showed momentum slip, with the index edging down to a 7-month low and just barely above the threshold that separates expansion from contraction.

The weakness was broad-based with the Services PMI slipping to an eight-month low, while the Manufacturing PMI rose but was still in contraction for the fifth consecutive month. On the other hand, unemployment insurance claims fell to the lowest since the first quarter in the latest releases covering the first half of September, implying economic momentum may have firmed a bit.

Bill Adams is a senior vice president and chief economist at Comerica. Waran Bhahirethan is a vice president and senior economist at Comerica.

New Law Raises California Fast-Food Hourly Wage to $20

The minimum wage question may have just gotten more interesting.

Under a new law signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday, that state’s fast-food workers will be paid at least $20 an hour beginning April 1, moving them near the top of the list in terms of the minimum wage.

That’s according to data from the University of California-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, according to the Associated Press. The state’s minimum wage for all other workers – $15.50 per hour – is already among the highest in the United States.

Cheering fast food workers and labor leaders gathered around Newsom as he signed the bill at an event in Los Angeles.

“This is a big deal,” Newsom said, according to the AP.

Newsom’s signature on Thursday reflects the power and influence of labor unions in the nation’s most populous state, which have worked to organize fast food workers in an attempt to improve their wages and working conditions.

In exchange for higher pay, labor unions have dropped their attempt to make fast food corporations liable for the misdeeds of their independent franchise operators in California, the AP reported. The industry, meanwhile, has agreed to pull a referendum related to worker wages off the 2024 ballot.

California’s fast food workers earn an average of $16.60 per hour, or just over $34,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s below the California Poverty Measure for a family of four, a statistic calculated by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Equality that accounts for housing costs and publicly-funded benefits, according to the AP.

In addition to the $20 minimum wage, the law creates a fast food council that has the power to increase that wage each year through 2029 by 3.5% or the change in averages for the U.S. Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, whichever is lower.

The raise takes effect on April 1 and applies to workers at restaurants that have at least 60 locations nationwide – with an exception for restaurants that make and sell their own bread, like Panera Bread.

Ford Reaches Agreement With Unifor

OAKVILLE, Ont., Sept. 24, 2023 – Ford Motor Company of Canada, Limited and Unifor have reached a new national labor agreement providing significant wage increases, bonuses, additional paid time off, retirement enhancements, significant inflation protection provisions as well as an accelerated grow-in period for new hires.

Based on the collective agreement ratified by employees today, Ford is enhancing the income maintenance and eligibility during the Oakville Electric Vehicle Centre (OEVC) retooling period, modernizing the workforce design to support the EV future. The contract will also introduce new investment and added capacity at Essex Engine Plant for the 7.3-litre engine in Windsor, ON.

Ford of Canada’s hourly employees also receive historic economic gains, including:

  • 15 per cent in general wage increase over the life of the agreement – the largest uplift in Ford of Canada history and three-times the increase in 2020
  • A record C$10,000 ratification bonus for full-time permanent employees and $4,000 for temporary employees
  • Significant increases to retirement programs including raised pension benefit rate and increased contributions
  • Reduced new hire wage progression period by 50 per cent

“Our Unifor-represented autoworkers are the heart of Ford of Canada,” said Bev Goodman, president and CEO, Ford of Canada. “This contract invests in our talented and dedicated employees, who remain consistently focused on the critical work of assembling our vehicles, building our engines and components, improving customer satisfaction, and expediting parts delivery service to our more than 400 dealers. Together, we are ensuring our Canadian operations continue to deliver with the skills, knowledge, and processes to compete and win.”

U.S. Economy Grew at a 2.1% Rate in Second Quarter

Nothing has changed in the government’s assessment of the U.S. economy.

The government said Thursday the U.S. economy grew at a 2.1% annual pace from April through June, a continued steady performance despite higher interest rates.

The second-quarter expansion of the nation’s gross domestic product — its total output of goods and services — marked a modest deceleration from the economy’s 2.2% annual growth from January through March, the Associated Press reported.

Consumer spending, business investment and state and local government outlays drove the second-quarter economic expansion.

The economic performance comes despite the Federal Reserve dramatically raising interest rates to combat inflation, which last year hit a four-decade high. The Fed has raised its benchmark rate 11 times since mid-March 2022. Consumer spending rose at an annual rate of just 0.8% from April through June, down from the government’s previous estimate of 1.7% and the weakest figure since the first quarter of 2022, the AP reported.

But business investment excluding housing, a closely watched barometer, rose at a 7.4% annual pace, the fastest rate in more than a year. And state and local government spending and investment jumped 4.7%, the biggest such quarterly gain since 2019.

Many think growth is accelerating in the current July-September quarter, fueled by still-free-spending consumers. Many Americans, for example, flocked to theaters for the hit summer movies “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” and splurged on Taylor Swift and Beyonce tickets. Business investment is also thought to have remained solid, according to the AP report.

The economy is expected to weaken in the final three months of the year. Hiring and income growth are slowing. And economists think the savings that many Americans amassed during the pandemic from federal stimulus checks will have evaporated by next quarter.

The economy also faces an array of obstacles that are expected to hobble growth. They include surging oil prices, the resumption of student loan payments, the effects of the United Auto Workers strike, the loss of pandemic-era child care aid and a likely government shutdown beginning this weekend.

The combined effects of those factors will hamper Americans’ ability to spend and likely weaken the economy.

Unemployment Claims See Slight Jump

Last week, the number of American workers filing first-time claims for unemployment assistance reached its lowest level since January, despite the Federal Reserve’s consistent effort to cool it off with interest rate hikes.

This week, though, that number edged up, though only slightly.

According to statistics released Thursday by the Labor Department, some 204,000 U.S. workers filed for unemployment assistance during the week ending Sept. 23. That’s up some 2,000 claims from the previous week.

The four-week moving average of claims, though, fell to 211,000, a drop of 6,250.

The Federal Reserve chose not to raise its benchmark borrowing rate last week, it is well into the second year of its battle to squelch four-decade high inflation. Part of the Fed’s goal in that fight has been to cool the labor market and bring down wages, but so far that hasn’t happened.

The whopping 11 interest rate hikes since March of last year have helped to curb price growth, but the U.S. economy and labor market have held up better than most expected, according to an Associated Press report.

Earlier this month, the Labor Department said U.S. employers added 187,000 jobs in August. Though the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.8%, it’s still low by historical measures.

U.S. businesses have been adding an average of about 236,000 jobs per month this year, down from the pandemic surge of the previous two years, but still a strong number.

Overall, 1.67 million people were collecting unemployment benefits the week that ended Sept. 16, about 12,000 more than the previous week.

JPMorgan’s Dimon: Engage More With China, Tout Economic Performance

Jamie Dimon. Chairman & CEO. JPMorgan Chase & Co at the Detroit Economic Club meeting held at Motor City Casino in Detroit, Michigan, on Wednesday, September 20, 2023.. (Photo by Jeff Kowalsky, Detroit Economic Club)

Jamie Dimon says he tells people he wouldn’t mind being the president of the United States. But he also makes it clear he has no intenion of or desire to actually run for president.

Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorganChase, drew laughter from the crowd at the Detroit Economic Club event at which he was the keynote speaker last week when he downplayed any potential run for office in response to a question from moderator Dennis Archer, Jr.

Archer, the chairman and CEO of Sixteen42 Ventures and the son of the former mayor of Detroit, posed the question as Dimon’s appearance was about to begin.

“I do not intend to run for president,” Dimon said with a smile. “I tell people I would love to be president, so you’re going to have to anoint me. I think we torture our politicians. I do think the country needs a lot of help and a lot of support.”

The discussion covered a range of national and local issues, ranging from how America should be dealing with China to how important diversity policies are and how the $200 million investment JPMorgan Chase made in Detroit 10 years ago has changed things.

Dimon said the successful comeback Detroit has made can be a learning experience for the country as a whole.

“Detroit is a perfect example that collaboration works and yelling and screaming at each other doesn’t,” Dimon said, comparing it to national politics. “Collaboration is house-by-house, block-by-block, company-by-company. Without good government, it wouldn’t be possible. We see this around the world. If you’ve got bad local government it’s impossible to fix anything.”

Dimon said the bank made the investment in Detroit a decade ago to see “can we make a change?” The company looked at putting up “X dollars” to see how many jobs it would create. He said it was a “coordinated, massive” effort that was part philanthropy and part business.

It’s true, he said, JPMorgan Chase’s market share went up 10 to 15 percent (in some places even more), but the company also continued doing what it did best: Banking. JPMorgan Chase banks 60,000 middle-market companies, 100 countries around the world, development banks around the world and some 80 million Americans.

“That’s what we do … We lift up society,” Dimon said. “It’s not always about profit … it’s about doing the right thing.

“We learned so much here we’re doing it elsewhere,” he added. “We call them “mini Detroits,” including in Paris. When you look at it, how we got smarter, we shared … some of the things that work and don’t work. A lot of lessons. It’s not Democrat or Republican if crime goes down, or if lights are turned on or hospitals work better. There were a  lot of lessons from what we learned here, and we try to share that openly.”

Engage with China
Dimon said the U.S. should engage more with China and not worry about them so much, pointing out the U.S. gross domestic product is $80,000, while China’s is more like $15,000.

“China is no 10-foot giant,” Dimon said. “We have all the food, water and energy we need … they don’t. They import 11 mllion barrels (of oil) a day. We have neighbors like Mexico and Canada. They have the Philippines, Vietnam, Russia, Pakistan … it’s a tough part of the world.

“Every one of those nations is rearming,” he added. “If you think those nations are happy with China … China has (upset) them all.

The Federal Reserve and Ukraine
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates 11 times in 12 months, but Dimon isn’t sure they’re getting it right. He said the Fed was actually a “day late and a dollar short.”

“We were still spending like drunken sailors, rates were at 0%, inflation had already taken off,” he said. “They did the right thing early in Covid, (and) they just continued doing it. Be cautious and be humble about this. I think they realize they don’t really know so they’re trying to navigate it now. They don’t want to sink the economy.

Dimon believes interest rates will have to go higher, likely in the new year, maybe 4-6 months from now. That point, he said, inflation will likely be at 4% and it “won’t be coming down for a whole bunch of different reasons.”

“Meanwhile, we have a very strong economy,” he said. “But don’t confuse today with tomorrow. This other stuff is kind of tomorrow and if and when it affects the current economy, we’ll see.”

Spending and the inflation rate aren’t what Dimon considers the most significant thing that will affect the economy, particularly in the long term. So what will?


“I think the most significant thing about the freedom of democracy for the next 100 years, and I think that battle will be fought in the next 10 years … is Ukraine,” Dimon told the DEC crowd. “This Ukraine war is affecting all global relationships. Economically it’s got immediate effects on oil, gas, food, migration … It’s affecting our relationships with the Middle East, Africa, China, all trade relationships. The whole world is remilitarizing.

“The most important thing is that we get this right,” he added. “The only thing that can fix it is American leaderhship. There is no other nation with the military muscle, the economic muscle, the moral muscle that can lead.”

Economic prosperity
Dimon believes the foundation of all that works in America is the country’s economic prosperity. The problem is, he said, that the country does a poor job with it over the last quarter-century, particularly for the lower-income Americans.

“We’ve done a terrible job for the lower 30% of our income society … Think of rural areas, inner cities,” he said. “I think the bottom 30% makes less than $18 an hour, and they’re the ones without medical insurance, their health is worse, their schools are worse, they die younger … that’s what we’ve done.

Dimon said he’d increase taxes on wealthier Amerians, but then give it to the lower 30% in the form, perhaps, of a doubled Earned Income Tax Credit.

“If you make $14,000 a year, the government gives you $12,000,” he said. “That money would go directly into neighbors who need it and it would be used by mothers and fathers to uplift their families, and it would be spent locally.”

Importance of diversity
Noting the advancements JPMorgan Chase has made in diversity, Dimon said he believes a strong diversity program is a “business imperative,” for three reasons:

  • It’s the right thing to do. “The Black community has been left behind,” he said. “It’s been 175 years since the Civil War, and it’s not even remotely close to parity. We should recognize that and do something about it.”
  • The talent pool. “If I’m picking the best team from everybody, and you’re picking the best team from middle-aged white men, I’m going to have the better team,” he said.
  • Community, the actual diversity. “If you go to Chinatown, or Greektown or Indian Town, the people there know more about those communities, how to reach out to them, how they relate to people,” Dimon said. “It helps to reach out to other communities, and we do that to all communities, not just one community.”

He said the murder of George Floyd changed things.

“You learn how to get better at all these things,” he said. “With the murder of George Floyd we doubled down with the DEI effort … and I think it’s the right thing to do. There’s nothing wrong with a company reaching out to different communities. We’re going to continue doing that … it’s just the right thing to do.”

Characteristics of a president

Dimon doesn’t want to run for president, but he has definite opinions on what kind of person he wants to see in the Oval Office. And he isn’t sure the last few administrations have done it very well.

He said he looks for a broad set of characteristics in a potential president, not just one thing. He said the president needs to be able to educate the public, explain the decisions being made and not just read the public opinion polls, whether it’s about hot-button subjects like Ukraine, education and anything else “we need to fix.”

“Bring very good people around them … There’s no job you can do on your own, particularly being president,” he said. “You need the best and the brightest around you, and that’s kind of been stopped in the last couple of presidencies. It’s more, who are people comfortable with, as opposed to being the best and brightest.”

Experts: Recession Didn’t Happen, But It Still Could

Financial experts at Huntington Bank, like economists around the country, expected to see a recession this year.

And those same experts have all been confounded a little because it didn’t happen. And, according to John Augustine, one of the leading factors in avoiding a recession – and casting doubts on the idea there may be one next year – is the performance of stocks.

Augustine, chief investment officer for Huntington Investment Company, told participants in the quarterly call the bank has with its customers that folks who expected the recession were “over-cashed” coming into this year in an effort to survive it. Part of the reason? Stocks.

“Stocks are having a good year, the S&P 500 is up over 15%, overseas developed stocks are up over 10% this year,” Augustine said. “The leadership in stocks this year has been the big tech companies; no one else in the world has them. They’ve done well, and that helps the S&P 500.”

While the “big 7” technology companies have done well, he said, so have some overseas stocks. What has been trailing, he pointed out, is commodities. Last year, it was the other way around.

“Commodities were leading last year, stocks were trailing,” he said. “Last year was a tough investment year. This year has been much better. This is one reason you stay invested. Stocks bottomed in October last year, and right when the news was the worst is when they bottomed. And they’ve moved up since then. It’s why you stay invested.”

Next year could be different, Huntington experts warned, because it’s a big political year, with the presidential and Congressional races dominating the landscape.

“Politics is going to be on our minds next year,”Augustine said. “But remember when you’re investing you want to invest on policy, not politics. Politics is usually a very unprofitable way to invest.”

Augustine said there are what he called “cross currents” in markets that lead experts to be a little conservative. Among them:

  • There’s a great deal of debate on what the economy is going to do next year. “Obviously this is being debated in markets every day, but for business customers, ‘What do I do? How do I plan for next year?’
  • It’s an election year next year, with all the unknowns of an election year.
  • Thirdly, and this is a new one, crude oil is on the rise. “This has really happened over the past couple of months,” Augustine said. “It’s up a little bit, hanging above $90 a barrel. It continues to put upward pressure on gas prices and that’s one of our … definitions of inflation.”
  • The fourth item here, he pointed out, is something that’s developed through this year. “We’ve seen Europe slow down a little bit,” he said. “We haven’t seen China pick up the pace the way we thought we would after they took down their Covid restrictions; actually, the U.S. is leading in economic growth and, in many respects, market growth.”

Another confounding element, Augustine said, is the consumer. Across the country, he said, the consumer “is still heathy.” The national unemployment rate is low, spending continues to rise and consumer confidence levels are up.

“The U.S. consumer is really driving this economic car right now,” he said. “Will it continue? Probably. The question is, will it run out of gas next year, and we don’t know that yet. Right now, it’s a positive.”

Next year, the economy may slow and corporate profits may rise. If we lower interest rates come with that, and if the economy doesn’t slow too much, next year could be a “really good year for stocks.”

“If economic estimates continue to move higher and then they deliver on them … companies have already put in place a lot of cost-cutting measures this year to improve profitability next year, even if the economy does slow,” Augustine said. “It’s still 50/50 as to how much the economy slows down next year. The Fed is going to be the arbitrator.”

Huntington has a five-step “to-do” list to help its customers get it right. On the list:

  • Start investing. “We hope we did that in our 20s, I hope we maxed out our 401(k) plans, made contributions to our IRAs, etc.,” Augustine said. “That’s basic, but that’s where we start.
  • Stay invested. “That’s what this year has been about, he said. “Last year was a tough year … a lot of people thought this year would be, too, but it hasn’t been.”
  • It’s a periodic adjustment of investments. “Perhaps the biggest point here has to do with staying unemotional,” he said. “Emotions and investments do not mix. Emotional investing is usually very unprofitable. We see that in 401(k) plans and it’s a shame.”
  • The tax policy that was enacted in the previous administration … a lot of that expires in the next couple of years. “Use next year to review your estate plan, review your insurance, get with your advisors,” Augustine advised. “There will be, as it stands today, changes in the estate tax code coming into 2025.”
  • What’s coming in 2024 is a series of cross-currents. “We have a UAW strike that looks like it’s going to be expanded. We have a federal government … will they or wont’ they shut down on Oct 1 because they can’t get a funding bill passed? We don’t know.”

“But we have some good things going on in the economy as well,” he said. “Again, led by the U.S. consumer. And even the consumer has shifted from goods spending to more services spending and travel … the consumer is still in the game. Businesses are profitable, households are healthy, business balance sheets are healthy. We’ll all be watching government a little more next year now that we’re headed into an election year.”

One variable Augustine said he can’t predict is the potential government shutdown.

“In general, things slow down,” he said. “The U.S. government is a big spender. We suspect the baseline now is they do leave … we hope it’s not out too long, just as we hope the UAW is the same thing. Think of the federal government as a big spender coming out of the economy. If they’re coming out, UAW and car production is coming out of the economy, that’ll tend to slow things down as we move into next year. We just don’t know the outcomes yet. We’re hope they’re good we hope they’re short.”

FTC, 17 States Sue Amazon for Illegally Maintaining Monopoly Power

The Federal Trade Commission and 17 state attorneys general today sued Amazon.com, Inc. alleging that the online retail and technology company is a monopolist that uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power. The FTC and its state partners say Amazon’s actions allow it to stop rivals and sellers from lowering prices, degrade quality for shoppers, overcharge sellers, stifle innovation, and prevent rivals from fairly competing against Amazon.  

The complaint alleges that Amazon violates the law not because it is big, but because it engages in a course of exclusionary conduct that prevents current competitors from growing and new competitors from emerging. By stifling competition on price, product selection, quality, and by preventing its current or future rivals from attracting a critical mass of shoppers and sellers, Amazon ensures that no current or future rival can threaten its dominance. Amazon’s far-reaching schemes impact hundreds of billions of dollars in retail sales every year, touch hundreds of thousands of products sold by businesses big and small and affect over a hundred million shoppers. 

“Our complaint lays out how Amazon has used a set of punitive and coercive tactics to unlawfully maintain its monopolies,” said FTC Chair Lina M. Khan. “The complaint sets forth detailed allegations noting how Amazon is now exploiting its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for the tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Amazon to reach them. Today’s lawsuit seeks to hold Amazon to account for these monopolistic practices and restore the lost promise of free and fair competition.”

“We’re bringing this case because Amazon’s illegal conduct has stifled competition across a huge swath of the online economy. Amazon is a monopolist that uses its power to hike prices on American shoppers and charge sky-high fees on hundreds of thousands of online sellers,” said John Newman, Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. “Seldom in the history of U.S. antitrust law has one case had the potential to do so much good for so many people.”

The FTC and states allege Amazon’s anticompetitive conduct occurs in two markets—the online superstore market that serves shoppers and the market for online marketplace services purchased by sellers. These tactics include:

  • Anti-discounting measures that punish sellers and deter other online retailers from offering prices lower than Amazon, keeping prices higher for products across the internet. For example, if Amazon discovers that a seller is offering lower-priced goods elsewhere, Amazon can bury discounting sellers so far down in Amazon’s search results that they become effectively invisible.
  • Conditioning sellers’ ability to obtain “Prime” eligibility for their products—a virtual necessity for doing business on Amazon—on sellers using Amazon’s costly fulfillment service, which has made it substantially more expensive for sellers on Amazon to also offer their products on other platforms. This unlawful coercion has in turn limited competitors’ ability to effectively compete against Amazon.

Amazon’s illegal, exclusionary conduct makes it impossible for competitors to gain a foothold. With its amassed power across both the online superstore market and online marketplace services market, Amazon extracts enormous monopoly rents from everyone within its reach. This includes:

  • Degrading the customer experience by replacing relevant, organic search results with paid advertisements—and deliberately increasing junk ads that worsen search quality and frustrate both shoppers seeking products and sellers who are promised a return on their advertising purchase.
  • Biasing Amazon’s search results to preference Amazon’s own products over ones that Amazon knows are of better quality. 
  • Charging costly fees on the hundreds of thousands of sellers that currently have no choice but to rely on Amazon to stay in business. These fees range from a monthly fee sellers must pay for each item sold, to advertising fees that have become virtually necessary for sellers to do business. Combined, all of these fees force many sellers to pay close to 50% of their total revenues to Amazon. These fees harm not only sellers but also shoppers, who pay increased prices for thousands of products sold on or off Amazon.  

The FTC, along with its state partners, are seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that would prohibit Amazon from engaging in its unlawful conduct and pry loose Amazon’s monopolistic control to restore competition.

Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin joined the Commission’s lawsuit. The Commission vote to authorize staff to file for a permanent injunction and other equitable relief in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington was 3-0.

Without ‘Significant’ Progress, UAW Expands Strike With More GM, Stellantis Targets

(Editor’s Note: This story was updated with information about additional targets announced by the UAW.)

When the UAW went on strike last week, it involved some 12,700 workers and targeted three plants – one from each of the Big Three.

When a Friday deadline set by UAW President Shawn Fain failed to produce any progress the union expanded the work stoppage to involve more workers and an increased number of targets.

Fain used a Facebook Live Friday to announce the UAW is expanding its strike to 38 General Motors and Stellantis NV parts distribution centers around the U.S.

The initial 12,700 workers are striking at Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, General Motors Co.’s Wentzville Assembly in Missouri and Stellantis NV’s Jeep plant in Toledo.

No additional strikes against Ford Motor Co., were announced.

Ford, GM and Stellantis and the UAW appear to still be far apart on issues such as wage increases and a tiered-wage system.

The strike is starting to have ripple effects. GM laid off some 2,000 workers at its Kansas assembly plant, saying the UAW strike has caused a shortage of parts. Stellantis laid off some 370 workers at three parts factories supplying its Toledo Jeep plant.

Stellantis said in a statement that due to the UAW strike a “potential of more than 350” workers will be temporarily laid off.

Stellantis confirms that it will immediately temporarily lay off 68 employees at the Toledo Machining Plant in Perrysburg, Ohio, due to storage constraints,” the statement read, according to a report by UPI. “All other production at this facility continues. In addition, we anticipate similar actions at Kokomo Transmission and Kokomo Casting in Kokomo, Ind., affecting an estimated 300 employees at these two facilities.”

According to a report in The Detroit News, Ford has laid off some 600 workers at its Bronco and Ranger plant in Wayne. Detroit-based LM Manufacturing temporarily laid off about 650 workers due to the strike, the News reported.

The union is seeking a roughly 40% pay hike over the new four-year contract, restoration of an automatic cost-of-living adjustment pegged to inflation, an end to the two-tier pay system in which new hires are paid far less with fewer benefits than other UAW workers, restoration of traditional pensions and a shorter work week with no cut in pay.

Fed Holds Off on Rate Hike; Cuts Could Be Coming in 2024

The Fed held its policy stance unchanged as expected at their September 20 decision, and signaled through the policy statement and the Dot Plot that most members of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) see the next move as more likely a hike than a cut. However, voting members of the FOMC are about evenly divided regarding further rate increases, and most members see rate cuts on the horizon in 2024 if inflation’s underlying trend continues to cool. Chair Powell’s opening statement at the press conference after the decision implies that he leans toward holding rates steady near term while keeping another hike on the table, saying, “We are in a position to proceed carefully in determining the extent of additional policy firming that may be appropriate.”

The September decision held the fed funds target steady at a range of 5.25% to 5.50%. The Fed also held unchanged the rates that they pay on commercial banks’ reserve balances and on cash deposited at the Fed by money market funds, as well as the rates the Fed charges commercial banks through their lending programs.

The quarterly Dot Plot (formally called the Summary of Economic Projections or SEP) shows that the median member of the FOMC thinks another quarter percentage point hike is probably appropriate before year-end, but that cuts also are likely to be appropriate in 2024 if inflation and economic growth slow as they expect. The median dot for the federal funds rate at year-end 2023 was 5.6%, reinforcing that another quarter percentage point hike is likely at the November or December FOMC decision. The median dot at the end of 2024 is 5.1%, but almost half (nine of 19) of FOMC members believe the fed funds rate should be below 5% by the end of 2024. 

It’s worth remembering that not every dot represents a voting member of the FOMC. The Fed Board’s Governors skew more dovish than the Regional Fed Presidents, and unlike the Presidents, the Governors vote at every decision. So the Dot Plot implies that the vote to make another hike by year-end 2023 is closer to a 50-50 split than a simple count of the dots would suggest. In addition, it implies that a narrow majority of voting members of the FOMC probably see the fed funds rate under 5% by the end of 2024. 

The median dot on the Dot Plot upgraded the forecast for real GDP growth in 2023 to 2.1% from 1.0% in the June Dot Plot, mostly reflecting stronger-than-expected economic data released since June, and raised the 2024 real GDP forecast to 1.5% from 1.1%. The Dot Plot lowers the unemployment rate forecast to 3.8% at year-end 2023 from 4.1% in the June projection, implying no further increase in the unemployment rate from August’s level. The forecast for unemployment at the end of 2024 was cut to 4.1% from 4.5%. The Dot Plot shows that most FOMC members see a clearer path for the U.S. economy to dodge a recession, with inflation coming back to the Fed’s target without a serious downturn. 

The median dot in the Dot Plot made only small changes to the inflation projections. PCE inflation at year-end 2023 is projected at 3.8%, down from 4.1% in June, and seen slowing to 2.5% at year-end 2024. Core PCE is seen at 3.7% at the end of this year and 2.6% at the end of next year.

The FOMC revised the forward guidance in their policy statement to be consistent with the Dot Plot to show most FOMC members see the next change in policy is more likely a hike than a cut. The September statement reads: “In determining the extent of additional policy firming that may be appropriate to return inflation to 2 percent over time, the Committee will take into account the cumulative tightening of monetary policy, the lags with which monetary policy affects economic activity and inflation, and economic and financial developments. In addition, the Committee will continue reducing its holdings of Treasury securities and agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities, as described in its previously announced plans. The Committee is strongly committed to returning inflation to its 2 percent objective.” 

The July policy statement was more open to the possibility that the Fed could end rate hikes after that decision’s quarter percentage point increase. It said that the Fed would monitor that same grab-bag of factors which influence growth and inflation “in assessing the appropriate stance of monetary policy,” rather than “the extent of additional policy firming that may be appropriate.” 

Put simply, FOMC members are still prepared to hike rates further if they deem it necessary to keep inflation tracking back toward their target, especially since oil prices and house prices have risen recently—Chair Powell said in the press conference after the September decision that the Fed “looks through” fluctuations in oil prices at core inflation to monitor the outlook for prices, but that’s difficult to do in practice since oil prices influence airfares, shipping costs, and other energy-intensive services which are components of most core inflation indices. 

But the Fed is not pre-committing to further hikes. The Dot Plot shows that FOMC members see inflation headed in the right direction, with core inflation slowing. They are also closely watching signs of a cooler labor market, like slowing payrolls growth, falling job openings, and August’s uptick in the unemployment rate. 

After the Fed decision, Comerica is making a small upward revision to its interest rate forecast. Comerica continues to forecast for the Fed to hike the policy rate by a quarter percentage point at the next decision November 1, unchanged from the prior forecast. The Fed is then seen cutting interest rates by a quarter percent per quarter beginning in June, ending 2024 with the fed funds target at a range of 4.75% to 5.00%. This holds unchanged the forecast for the fed funds rate at the end of 2023, and revises up the forecast for the fed funds rate at the end of 2024 by a quarter percentage point relative to Comerica’s prior forecast.

Bill Adams is a senior vice president and chief economist at Comerica. Waran Bhahirethan is a vice president and senior economist at Comerica.

Unemployment Claims Fall to Lowest Levels Since January

The number of Americans seeking first-time unemployment benefits sank last week to levels not seen since the end of January.

U.S. applications for unemployment benefits fell to 201,000 for the week ending Sept. 16, according to statistics released by the Labor Department Thursday.

That’s 20,000 fewer than the week before, and the lowest level in eight months as the labor market continues to show strength in the face of elevated interest rates.

The four-week moving average of claims also fell, dropping by 7,750 to 217,000.

The Federal Reserve, which has been raising its interest rates the last couple of years in the hopes of slowing the job market to fight inflation, left its benchmark borrowing rate alone this week. That’s after 11 interest rate hikes since March 2022 that helped to curb price growth, though the U.S. economy and labor market have held up better than most expected.Earlier this month, the government reported that U.S. employers added a healthy 187,000 jobs in August. Though the unemployment rate rose slightly, to 3.8%, it’s still low by historical measures.

U.S. businesses have been adding an average of about 236,000 jobs per month this year, down from the pandemic surge of the previous two years, but still a strong number, the Associated Press reported. Recent government data also showed that job openings dropped to 8.8 million in July, the fewest since March 2021 and down from 9.2 million in June.

Overall, 1.66 million people were collecting unemployment benefits the week that ended Sept. 9, about 21,000 fewer than the previous week.

Murdoch Steps Away From Fox, News Corp Media Empire

Rupert Murdoch

NEW YORK — The name Murdoch will still be a powerful one around the Fox News network.

It just won’t be Rupert.

Fox announced earlier this week that Rupert Murdoch was stepping down as the head of both Fox’s parent company and his News Corp. media empire.

Murdoch will chairman emeritus of both companies, while his son, Lachlan, steps in as the chairman at News Corp. Lachlan will also continue serving as CEO of Fox C will become News Corp. chairman and continue as chief executive officer of Fox Corp.

“On behalf of the FOX and News Corp boards of directors, leadership teams, and all the shareholders who have benefited from his hard work, I congratulate my father on his remarkable 70-year career,” Lachlan Murdoch said in a release posted to the Fox website. “We thank him for his vision, his pioneering spirit, his steadfast determination, and the enduring legacy he leaves to the companies he founded and countless people he has impacted. We are grateful that he will serve as Chairman Emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies.”

Besides Fox News, Murdoch started the Fox broadcast network. With shows such as “The Simpsons,” Fox was the first network to successfully challenge ABC, CBS and NBC.It has been a rough year for Fox, which had to pay $787 million to settle a defamation lawsuit related to its coverage of false claims following the 2020 presidential election. Shortly after, Fox fired its most popular personality, Tucker Carlson.

Stock in Fox Corp., while positive this year, began to decline early in 2022, due in part to lawsuits and investor anxiety over the loss of viewers to smaller media outlets.Murdoch vowed in a letter to employees that he would remain engaged at Fox.

“In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas,” Murdoch wrote, according to The Associated Press. “Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest.” Shares of News Corp. and Fox rose Thursday in early trading.

Cadillac Introduces New, ‘Bolder Vision’ for Luxury Sport Sedan

Cadillac used the North American International Detroit Auto Show to introduce what officials called the “refreshed and more advanced 2025 CT5” — a bolder vision of the luxury sport sedan. The 2025 CT5 features a revised front fascia, and offers more standard comfort, safety and technology features, while also incorporating the brand’s 33-inch-diagonal LED color touchscreen display.  

“CT5’s importance in Cadillac’s portfolio cannot be overstated,” said John Roth, vice president, Global Cadillac. “Globally, CT5 is having its best sales year, ever. The 2025 CT5 stays true to what customers love about this vehicle, while bringing a revised look and the latest technology and safety features.”

The 2025 CT5 is distinguished by a new, bolder front-end design, which complements its dramatic fastback profile. The updates include a lower and wider front grille with redesigned Cadillac signature vertical lighting and stacked LED headlamps. Additionally, the CT5 Sport trim features a performance black mesh grille and black surrounds.  

Additional new features across the lineup include:

  • Available 5G Wi-Fi® hotspot capability1
  • Google built-in2 compatibility
  • Blind Zone Steering Assist3 (standard)
  • Intersection Automatic Emergency Braking3 (standard)
  • Available Traffic Sign Recognition and Intelligent Speed Assist3
  • Driver Attention Assist (incorporated with available Super Cruisehands-free driver assistance technology)
  • Exterior colors: Deep Space Metallic and Typhoon Metallic5

“CT5 continues to redefine American luxury and the enhancements for 2025 take it even further,” said Alex MacDonald, CT5 chief engineer. “The new advanced technologies enhance the driver’s personal connection in a sedan already renowned for its driving spirit, comfort and technology.”

LED color touchscreen display and technology details
The CT5’s new 33-inch-diagonal LED color touchscreen display is capable of a stunning 9K resolution and curves toward the driver in a single, continuous screen spanning the driver’s viewing area. The system also incorporates a customizable user interface designed to offer a technology-forward and personalized experience.

It is also the gateway to the CT5’s many technologies, including Google built-in2. With Google Assistant®6, Google Maps, and Google Play7, customers can access hands-free communication, live traffic updates, download their favorite apps including podcasts, news, music and more.

OnStaris available on the CT5, helping to elevate the in-vehicle experience through a variety of available safety, entertainment, convenience, and driver assistance technologies, including available Super Cruise4. Additionally, OnStar Remote Access9 is included for three years, providing customers with simplified remote control of their properly-equipped vehicle.

CT5 driving experience
Rear-wheel drive dynamics deliver uncompromising performance. Continuing in the CT5 is Cadillac’s ride and handling philosophy of isolated precision — quiet, smooth and effortless with a strong connection to the road for an engaging experience. Additional elements include:

  • A standard 2.0L Turbo engine with 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, and dual exhaust tips
  • An available 3.0L Twin-Turbo engine with 335 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque
  • Available all-wheel drive that helps traction and vehicle control in virtually all driving conditions, enhancing the overall feeling of driving confidence
  • Driver Mode Selector that allows the driver to tailor the CT5’s responses to different driving conditions, including steering response, engine sound and brake feel. The modes include Tour, Sport, Snow/Ice and customizable MyMode
  • Available Super Cruisedriver assistance technology with new Driver Attention Assist

The 2025 Cadillac CT5 will be produced at GM’s Lansing Grand River Assembly facility in Michigan10, with production to begin in spring 2024. Additional details and pricing will be announced in the future.

The refreshed 2025 Cadillac CT5-V and CT5-V Blackwing will be announced at a later date. Visit www.cadillac.com for more information.

U.S. Retail Sales Expected to Grow 3.7% This Holiday Season

This holiday season, running November 1 through December 24, U.S. retail sales excluding automotive are expected to increase 3.7% year-over-year (YOY), according to Mastercard SpendingPulse™. The anticipated growth in retail in the U.S. reinforces continued consumer resilience. Mastercard SpendingPulse measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment and is not adjusted for inflation. 

Looking back at the 2022 holiday shopping season, inflationary pricing and pent-up demand, coupled with excess savings and rising wages allowed consumers and retailers to navigate the season well. After years of inventory and spending habits being in flux, the 2023 season will bring a broader rebalancing across categories, channels, and sectors in alignment with macroeconomic trends. 

“While the consumer of holidays past may have been a consumer trying to find footing in a rapidly shifting economy, the consumer of holidays present has taken their power back,” said Michelle Meyer, U.S. Chief Economist, Mastercard Economics Institute. “We expect these individuals to impressively navigate the holiday season, making choices and trade-offs that best suit their lifestyles.”  

Key trends to watch in 2023 include:  

  • Spreading Cheer Across Channels: While digital shopping habits became the new normal during the pandemic, this season’s shopper is looking to make purchases anytime, anywhere – in-store and online. With this omnichannel approach in mind, consumers are anticipated to shop across channels, with e-commerce expected to increase +6.7%, and in-store sales to increase +2.9% YOY. 
  • Tech the Halls: Electronics, gadgets and gaming might be at the top of many wish lists this year as AI, immersive experiences and digital workspaces continue to evolve the way we work and play. Further, consumers who purchased new gadgets during the pandemic could be looking to upgrade to the latest model. Electronics are anticipated to increase +6.0% YOY this season.
  • Festive Feasting: The Restaurant sector is expected to continue its growth streak, increasing +5.4% YOY and outpacing Grocery growth (+3.9%), as consumers make plans to gather around tables and with loved ones for shared meals, activities, and festivities outside of the home.

“This holiday season, retailers will be vying for consumer dollars. With numerous choices and tightening budgets, you can anticipate shoppers to be increasingly selective and value-focused,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and Chairman of Saks Incorporated. “We expect the most effective holiday strategy will be to meet consumers where they are – personalized promotions to in-store experiences will be key in doing so.”   

Loepp Sets Retirement Date From Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Dan Loepp

DETROIT – Daniel J. Loepp, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, plans to retire at the end of next year.

Loepp, who has lead BCBSM for more than 20 years, informed the company’s Board of Directors earlier this month of his decision to retire Dec. 31, 2024.

During his more than two decades of leadership at BCBSM, the company said in a release announcing his retirement, Loepp “transformed the company” from a large single-state health insurance plan and workers’ compensation subsidiary to a modern, diversified, multi-company enterprise of national scale.

The Executive Committee of the BCBSM Board of Directors will lead the succession process, beginning in December 2023 with the start of a national search for a new president and CEO.

“Transformational is the one word that best describes Dan Loepp’s legacy over more than 20 years,” said Gregory A. Sudderth, chairman of the BCBSM Board.  “His vision and leadership diversified our business model, revolutionized the delivery of patient care, modernized the experience of our members, helped revitalize our cities’ downtowns and strengthened our social mission commitments to communities. In every way, Dan Loepp has prepared Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to compete and succeed in a 21st Century where health care continues to evolve, and where our nonprofit company’s longstanding social mission remains as critical as ever.”

In his announcement to employees, Loepp said he was “very proud” of the achievements the team has shared.

“I am tremendously proud of the work you have done,” Loepp said. “Our enterprise employees – at every level – have embraced change, innovated to bring forward new ideas, rallied through challenges and carried on with determination to grow our business and fulfill our commitments to the people we serve.”

During Loepp’s tenure as CEO, BCBSM revenue more than doubled – from $15.3 billion in 2005 to $32.8 billion in 2022.

Loepp championed BCBSM’s transformation to a nonprofit mutual insurance company in 2013 – enabling Blue Cross and its subsidiary companies to serve more customers in a greater variety of insurance markets and providing greater depth and breadth of health insurance product offerings.

He championed partnerships and investments to expand into emerging markets beyond commercial health insurance – including a move in 2011 to become a minority owner of AmeriHealth Caritas, a national Medicaid managed care company; and another in 2022 to enable AF Group, a BCBSM subsidiary offering primarily workers’ compensation insurance, to purchase AmeriTrust Group to diversify its product and solution offerings.

In 2021, he furthered investment in new technologies and different ways to deliver solutions for the healthcare ecosystem when BCBSM purchased NASCO, a provider of innovative health care technology for other Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensed plans.  NASCO services over 20 million Blue members across the nation.

In 2023, Loepp led efforts by BCBSM and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont to formally affiliate. Pending regulatory approval, BCBS Vermont would become the first Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensed plan outside of Michigan to join the BCBSM enterprise.

Loepp also initiated BCBSM’s nationally recognized efforts to work with physicians and health systems to transform the payment model for health care services – including the launch of one of the nation’s largest Patient-Centered Medical Home programs in 2009. More than 20 value-based care initiatives launched by BCBSM during Loepp’s tenure have helped make Michigan a leader in leveraging payment reforms to promote health care quality and health outcomes for patients.

A champion of the idea that companies should serve communities, Loepp led efforts by BCBSM to invest in Michigan’s urban centers as hubs for business operations.  In 2007, he initiated the restoration of Lansing’s derelict Board of Water and Light power station in the heart of the city’s downtown – opening it in 2011 as the new national headquarters of Accident Fund, a BCBSM workers’ compensation subsidiary.

In 2010, he stood at the forefront of a movement by southeast Michigan employers to return to downtown Detroit by relocating 3,000 suburban BCBSM employees to offices in the GM Renaissance Center and other BCBSM downtown Detroit properties. He also committed BCBSM employees to locate in downtown Traverse City – and remain located in downtown Grand Rapids and Marquette serving local customers.

As part of the legislative effort that led to BCBSM transitioning to become a nonprofit mutual insurance company in 2013, Loepp agreed to commit $1.56 billion to the independent Michigan Health Endowment Fund over 18 years – an unparalleled corporate financial commitment – to further the company’s historic social mission into the future.  In 2018, BCBSM committed $5 million to the City of Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund to invest in revitalizing the East Warren-Cadieux neighborhood where Loepp spent his boyhood years.

“As you can imagine, it’s not an easy decision to step away from the best job I’ve had, leading a company of such significant importance to the lives of millions of people, and one that is only beginning to realize its potential for diversifying into an enterprise of national scale,” Loepp said in his message to employees. “But it’s the right decision and this is the right time to make it.”

The Right Place debuts 10-Year Tech Strategy for Greater Grand Rapids Region

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Regional economic development organization, The Right Place, Inc., has launched a 10-year tech strategy to grow the Greater Grand Rapids region into a major tech hub of the Midwest.

This vision calls for the tech sector to grow to 10% of regional employment and 20,000 jobs over the next decade.

“Tech hubs have become the modern engines for economic growth, spurring advancement and prosperity within their communities,” said Randy Thelen, President and CEO of The Right Place, Inc. “Our regional businesses are driven by technology, and we believe it is our next big opportunity. This collaborative plan offers a detailed roadmap to achieve our community’s bold vision and make it a reality.”

The newly launched strategy is the product of more than six months of intensive research and strategic planning with hundreds of business, community, education and other leaders across the region.

The initiative was led by Technology Taskforce co-chairs Steve Downing, CEO of Gentex, and Dr. Richard J. Pappas, President of Davenport University, both of whom bring a blend of industry and academic expertise.

“Businesses across our region have significantly ramped up the pace of digitalization throughout the past few years,” Downing said. “As business leaders create and integrate cutting edge digital technologies into their products and manufacturing processes, the collaborative initiatives in the Tech Strategy will pave the way to strengthening our tech community and economy at large.”

Pappas said creating a robust and highly-skilled talent pipeline is “critical to the economic growth of our region.”

“We’re committed to providing students with the skills necessary to stay ahead of the curve and pursue meaningful and impactful tech careers in our region,” Pappas said.

The strategy and corresponding recommendations have been segmented into three categories: Talent, Ecosystem and Growth.

  • Talent — Increasing the tech talent pipeline is fundamental to the successful execution of the overall strategy. The region must attract, reskill and educate 20,000 people in the next 10 years to meet the rising demand for talent. Detailed tactics to achieve these goals are available in the report.
  • Ecosystem — Innovation requires a cohesive ecosystem in which entrepreneurs, startups, and corporations are empowered to commercialize their projects and scale their companies. Creating a robust ecosystem will involve several key objectives: Launching tech events, growing incubators and accelerators, supporting entrepreneurs, increasing density and expanding broadband. Tactics are detailed in the report.
  • Growth — The Grand Rapids regional business community can lead future technological innovation and cultivate a larger digital transformation in the community via the connection of businesses and tech, attracting and growing existing tech companies, and marketing the region as a tech hub. Tactics to achieve these objectives are detailed in the report.

Although the plan is only just being released externally, community members have been working behind the scenes to begin the development and implementation of initiatives included in the strategy. These include scouting trips to other tech hubs, marketing the region nationally and internationally, and the launch of Grand Rapids Tech Week.

The first annual Tech Week was a multiday event series designed to showcase the region’s tech community. Events were hosted in locations across Grand Rapids by a collaborative of community partners including the City of Grand Rapids SmartZone, Confluence, Midwest House, The Right Place, The Right Place’s Technology Council, Spartan Innovations and Start Garden.

Technology survey
Prior to the launch of the strategy, The Right Place conducted a survey of local businesses to assess the community’s technology-related needs and potential for future growth. Over 100 businesses of varied size and a variety of industries responded. Several key findings emerged which indicate the strategic importance of strengthening the region’s tech cluster:

  • 72% of respondents plan to increase tech hiring over the next five years.
  • Respondents plan to hire a total of 3,200 tech workersin the next five years.
  • 78% of respondents noted technology as “highly important”to their business strategy.
  • 69% indicated intent to increase tech training and recruitment budget over the next five years.
  • Cybersecurity, cloud-based computing and artificial intelligence were the top 3 emerging technologies noted by respondents.

Private Colleges Seek to Expand Campus Diversity, Equity

LANSING (Capital News Service) – Nonprofit private universities in Michigan are looking for ways to expand opportunities for students from underserved communities, bringing more diversity and equity to the campuses, according to Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities. 

As higher education diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices and staff have “ramped up” in the last 10 years, the push to change enrollment strategies to become more inclusive has become a major goal, the association says. 

Colby Cesaro, the vice president of the advocacy group, said its member institutions tend to have a higher proportion of minority students, in part because of low faculty-to-student ratios and more attention to break down barriers of language or culture.

“We are targeting so many different diverse populations across the state,” Cesaro said. 

“It’s not just specific to the students – it really is more of a holistic family approach, and that’s what we’re hearing from our institutions that have had a lot of success with DEI efforts.”

According to the association, some of its members are at or near “majority-minority status.” That occurs when there are more non-white students than white students. 

Andrews University in Berrien Springs boasts that diversity status, with a 3-to-1 ratio of non-white to white students, according to Tony Yang, its vice president of strategy, marketing and enrollment. 

Yang said Andrews’ strong faith base as a Seventh-day Adventist university has created a global outreach for the institution.

An internationally diverse group of students want to be part of a “learning community” with the same religious values, even though students are not required to be Seventh-day Adventists, he said. 

Yang said the university doesn’t have an intentional goal of expanding its minority enrollment, but its recruitment from all over the world adds to its diversity. 

Andrews is tied with the University of Hawaii at Hilo as the No. 1 most ethnically diverse campus in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report.

To continue its support of DEI, Andrews created the position of chief diversity officer, he said. 

“This university is kind of in the middle of nowhere here in Michigan, but somehow we’re a small representation of God’s kingdom, drawing people from all over the world with vastly different cultural, ethnic and lots of other different backgrounds. Representing God’s kingdom in that way here, that’s so fulfilling for me for the work that I do,” Yang said. 

Davenport University also has wide diversity on its Grand Rapids campus, with 30% minority students and over 40% of students who are the first in their families to attend college, according to President Richard Pappas.

One factor comes from a strategy called Casa Latina, which Provost Gilda Gely described as “integration” of languages, modifying 11 of its programs to be taught in both English and Spanish.

“Casa Latina is a different way of delivering the curriculum that we have, so we can actually provide access to a population that does not traditionally get to go to college because many of them have language barriers,” said Gely, who serves as Davenport’s chief academic officer. 

“Maybe they do have the capacity to go to college, but they don’t feel confident enough and they don’t feel they belong. Just having a student organization for Latinos might not be enough for them to actually be successful in college,” she said.

Cesaro said the largest new development in Michigan’s higher education landscape is the Hispanic population, which she said has nearly doubled in the last decade. 

Another Davenport strategy is its urban education program that draws teachers from inner cities who want to earn a graduate certificate. The goal is to create a cycle of more students from underserved communities attending a higher education institution and then teaching in such communities, Pappas said. 

The program has spread from Grand Rapids to Pontiac and Bay City schools, with Lansing to be added soon, according to Pappas.

Pappas said, “Our next strategy will be to do more with students as we move forward, so it’s not about the size of the actual (DEI) office.”

“You can see what’s happening around the country with Florida taking out their DEI and not even supporting it,” Pappas said. “We are committed by our actual actions, by our actual strategies, by our vision or DEI process.” 

While colleges’ enrollment diversity initiatives are on the rise, the president of Michigan Future Inc. said retention and graduation strategies are a focus. The Ann Arbor-based nonprofit organization looks for ways to stabilize the state’s economy and workforce.

“We’ve been arguing for years that the priority should be a system that is designed for all kids, but particularly for minority kids, to pursue a four-year degree because that’s the most reliable paying career,” Lou Glazer said. 

“We’ve been saying for years that you cannot make progress on racial equity unless you substantially increase the minority four-year degree graduation rate, period. It is the most powerful lever.” 

Robert LeFevre, the president of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, said retention “is where the rubber meets the road. 

And Glazer said the next steps to substantially improve graduation rates should combine colleges’ financial and support services.

Liz Nass is a writer for Capital News Service.

Advantage Real Estate Helps Fitness Gym Open Downtown Grand Rapids Location

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Advantage Commercial Real Estate advisor and senior vice president Mark Ansara represented personalized fitness provider REVfit Personal Training in securing a 2,500-square-foot studio at 740 Michigan Street in the Midtown section within Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile corridor.

REVfit is currently preparing the ground-floor location, which was formerly a gym, for an Oct. 1 opening for personalized fitness instruction sessions. Anyone wishing to sign up or learn more can visit www.revfitgr.com. The company offers appointment-only services.

The 12-year-old company has provided personalized fitness services at other locations but chose the near-downtown location to accommodate the growing residential communities surrounding the building.

“We looked for some time to find the right spot, but Mark really helped us focus on what we needed and brought us to 740 Michigan,” said REVfit founder and operator Autrey Stirgus. “We are very excited to get up and going and begin showcasing our customized physical fitness programs.”

With great streetside visibility and dedicated surface parking behind the building, the location just matched what REVfit was looking for, according to Advantage Real Estate’s Mark Ansara.

“It’s exciting to welcome another player in the fitness arena, particularly one located so conveniently close to downtown. REVfit will be a valuable addition to our thriving fitness community here in Grand Rapids,” said Mark Ansara.

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