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.”

Commerce Department Warns Chip Inventories Are Shrinking

Companies that rely on semiconductors to provide their services could be in trouble.

The U.S. Department of Commerce this week released a report that says the median inventory held by chips consumers – automakers, medical device manufacturers and the like – has dropped from 40 days two years ago to less than five days in 2021.

If a COVID outbreak, a natural disaster, or political instability disrupts a foreign semiconductor facility for even just a few weeks, according to the report, it has the potential to “shut down a manufacturing facility in the U.S., putting American workers and their families at risk.”

“The semiconductor supply chain remains fragile, and it is essential that Congress pass chips funding as soon as possible,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “With skyrocketing demand and full utilization of existing manufacturing facilities, it’s clear the only solution to solve this crisis in the long-term is to rebuild our domestic manufacturing capabilities.

Raimondo pointed to President Biden’s $52 billion proposal to “revitalize our domestic semiconductor industry.”

“Every day we wait on this funding is a day we fall further behind,” she said. “But if we address this problem, we can create good jobs, rebuild American manufacturing, and strengthen our supply chains here at home for years ahead.”

The statistics came in the department’s Risks in the Semiconductor Supply Chain Request for Information (RFI) issued in September.

Key findings

  • Demand for semiconductors is as much as 17 percent higher in 2021 than it was in 2019, and consumers aren’t seeing commensurate increases in the available supply.
  • The majority of semiconductor manufacturing facilities are operating at or above 90 percent utilization, meaning there is limited additional supply to bring online without building new facilities.
  • Bottlenecks are most concentrated in a specific semiconductor inputs and applications, including legacy logic chips (used in automobiles, medical devices, and other products), analog chips (used in power management, image sensors, and radio frequency), and optoelectronics chips (including for sensors and switches).
  • The main bottleneck that respondents identified is the need for additional fab capacity. Additional bottlenecks that respondents identified include a lack of raw material inputs for both semiconductors and the other components paired with semiconductors to assemble sub-parts for electric devices.

The RFI asked all parts of the semiconductor supply chain – producers, consumers, and intermediaries – to voluntarily share information about inventories, demand, and delivery dynamics. More than 150 responses from the world responded to the RFI. 

The results of the RFI are included in a report and blog released by the Department of Commerce.

First-Time Unemployment Claims Down for First Time in a Month

For the first time in weeks, fewer Americans filed for unemployment assistance last week.

According to statistics released by the Labor Department Thursday, some 260,000 U.S. workers filed first-time unemployment applications in the week ending Jan. 21.

That’s down some 30,000 from the previous week, which had hit a three-month high.

The job market had been coming back strong over the last year, culminating in dropping below a pre-pandemic average of some 220,000 per week.

Fewer workers are continuing to claim unemployment benefits. The total – 1.6 million – is below the pre-pandemic average of 1.7 million, according to the statistics.s

The  unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent in December, its lowest level since February 2020.

“The downtrend will likely continue given demand for labor remains strong and businesses remain reluctant to lay off workers amid a persistent labor shortage,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a report, according to CBS News.

Expert: Heightened Market Volatility Merits Review Whether or Not Near-Term Technicals Reflect Longer-Term Fundamentals

The financial markets have struggled in the new year. A variety of concerns, including the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, surging inflation, policy tightening, geopolitical tensions and extended valuations, have all contributed to the volatility. Few asset classes have been spared, as investors around the world reassess asset prices in an environment of cyclical recovery and rising interest rates.

Considering the rapid rise in risk assets since the spring of 2020, it should come as no surprise that asset prices are being tested. Indeed, the S&P 500® Index achieved 70 records last year, with barely a pullback exceeding 5.0%. Mountain climbers that don’t take advantage of base camps on the ascent can attest to the difficulty of the return trip!

Of course, corrections are a normal part of the investment cycle. The extreme policy accommodation over the past two years has limited their occurrence, but the longer-duration, low margin, and speculative investment vehicles have all taken it on the chin in recent weeks. To be sure, classic corrections, as defined by a pullback of – 10.0% from a recent high, have taken place in the Nasdaq Composite as well as the Russell 2000 Index of small cap stocks.

Several sectors of the S&P 500® have also entered correction territory, including Consumer Discretionary, Telecommunication Services, and Information Technology.

Moreover, weakness at the constituent level has been quietly growing. For example, before the Nasdaq 100 slipped into correction last Thursday, the average stock in the group had already declined by 22.0% from its recent high.

Though the S&P 500® has not yet slipped into correction territory, the Index is down 8.0% from its recent high and the average stock is down 16.0% from its 52-week crest. Since a correction has largely occurred at the constituent level, perhaps it is time for the Index to “catch up.”

While market weakness pervades, we believe a deeper look into the charts can be instructive to help investors determine whether current trends suggest a more pervasive problem exists, or if the bottoming process has begun. We suspect the latter is true.

John Lynch is Chief Investment Officer for Comerica Wealth Management.

Corvette Celebrates Milestone With 70th Anniversary Edition

DETROIT – 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of Corvette, the longest running nameplate of any car on the road today. For eight generations, Corvette has pushed the boundaries of technology, performance and style while remaining an attainable cultural icon.

The 2023 model year Corvette Stingray and Corvette Z06 will celebrate this milestone with a special 70th Anniversary Edition package.

“Passion for Corvette runs deep at Chevrolet and this anniversary is extra special because of the excitement and sales success we’ve achieved with the eighth generation of America’s iconic sportscar,” said Steve Majoros, vice president, Chevrolet marketing. “Even after 70 years, Corvette still makes hearts race and kids dream of the open road.”

70th Anniversary Edition Corvettes will stand out in one of two exterior colors unique to this package – an all-new White Pearl Metallic Tri-coat or Carbon Flash Metallic. Optional stripes are available in complementing colors – Satin Gray with the White Pearl Metallic Tri-coat and Satin Black with the Carbon Flash Metallic.

The 70th Anniversary Edition Corvettes feature distinct wheels with commemorative wheel center caps. While Stingray and Z06 each have separate wheel designs, the wheels share a similar dark finish and Edge Red stripe.

Inside the cockpit, drivers will find two-tone Ceramic leather GT2 or Competition Sport seats, red stitching throughout, red seatbelts, and sueded microfiber seat inserts and steering wheel.

Additional content includes:

  • 70th Anniversary Edition exterior badging, including special Corvette crossflags
  • Edge Red brake calipers
  • 70th Anniversary Edition logo on seats, steering wheel and sill plates
  • Rear bumper protector and trunk cover
  • Custom luggage set with red stitching and 70th Anniversary Edition logo

70th Anniversary Edition Stingray coupes will also include an Edge Red engine cover.

The 70th Anniversary Edition package will be available when production starts later this year on 2023 Corvette Stingray 3LT and Z06 3LZ  coupe and convertible models. The 2023 Corvette Z06 visualizer, live on Chevrolet.com, now includes the 70th Anniversary Edition package.

All 2023 Corvettes, including those not equipped with the 70th Anniversary Edition package, will feature a commemorative 70th anniversary interior plaque located on the center speaker grille and a graphic imprinted on the lower rear window.

Corvette is offering buyers more options in 2023 to make each vehicle bespoke and personalized, raising the number of choices to 14 available exterior colors and eight interior colors that allow for thousands of combinations.

SBA Announces Pilot Program to Bolster Cybersecurity Infrastructure of Emerging Small Businesses

WASHINGTON (Globe Newswire) — Today, Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), announced $3 million in new funding for state governments to help emerging small businesses across America develop their cybersecurity infrastructure – a priority of the Biden-Harris Administration, outlined in the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).

As part of the Cybersecurity for Small Business Pilot Program, through the Office of Entrepreneurial Development, state governments are eligible to compete for grants that will help deliver cybersecurity assistance to nascent and start-up business owners. Applications are being accepted through March 3.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses have adopted technology at high rates to survive, operate, and grow their businesses,” said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. “As a result, cybersecurity has become increasingly important as now, more than ever before, small business owners face cyber risks and challenges that could disrupt their operations and competitive advantages. As we seek to build a stronger and more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem, we must innovate and provide resources to meet the evolving needs of the growing number of small businesses.

“With this new funding opportunity, the SBA intends on leveraging the strengths across our state governments, territories, and tribal governments to provide services to help small businesses get cyber ready and, in the process, fortify our nation’s supply chains,” she added.

Mark Madrid, Associate Administrator for the Office of Entrepreneurial Development, said more must be done “to help small businesses combat cybersecurity threats, which continue to increase, evolve and inhibit.”

“This pilot program will empower state governments to expand existing services, innovate, adapt to current environments, develop new resources, and scale solutions to assist more small businesses,” Madrid said. “Additionally, expanding access to underserved and underrepresented small business ecosystems will be a critical marker of success.”

About the program
Eligible applicants are comprised of state governments that seek to provide training, counseling, remediation, and other tailored cybersecurity services for emerging small firms in multiple industries. Grantees will be awarded up to $1 million to assist small businesses.

Funding details and requirements are available at Grants.gov under “Cybersecurity for Small Business Pilot” (Funding Opportunity Number SB-OEDCS-22-001/CDFA 59.079) offered by the SBA. Applications must be submitted by the stated deadline on the official grant application portal as stated in the funding announcement.

Businesses Applaud Supreme Court Vaccine Ruling, But Uncertainty Awaits

Business groups are applauding a Supreme Court ruling earlier in January that paused a federal vaccine mandate for large employers. But what lies ahead is an uncertain and potentially expensive survey through a muddle of state rules on vaccinations and testing and a protracted court battle likely to come.

The Biden administration announced this week it would withdraw the rule after the court ruling. The mandate is on pause as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration works on developing a more permanent vaccine rule.

Absent a federal decree, multi-state companies are now navigating a jumble of conflicting state regulations or are left to decide whether to create internal rules mandating vaccines for employees. That can be a time-consuming and expensive prospect.

But many businesses and business advocacy groups are still cheering the Supreme Court for blocking the edict this month.

“A majority of companies were threatened by the vaccine mandate for several reasons,” said Eric Hobbs, chairman and shareholder of workplace safety group at Ogletree Deakins, one of the largest labor and employment law firms in the country.

“A lot of workers, blue collar, white collar — in a very tight labor market — have been vigorously opposed to vaccination,” Hobbs said. “In a tight labor market, the potential of losing them to the company down the street that has fewer than 100 employees and doesn’t have the vaccine or test (mandate) … it’s very significant.”

According to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, 23 states have required vaccines for certain employers, although the details vary from state to state. Thirteen states have passed laws prohibiting vaccine mandates for employers and 27 have filed lawsuits challenging the federal vaccine mandate, according to the foundation.

About 210.7 million people have been fully vaccinated, or 63.5 percent of the U.S. population, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows. But Hobbs, whose legal group has advised dozens of employers on the vaccine requirement when it was in place, said multi-state companies are now having to invest “an immense amount of time and resources” to navigate differing state and local laws regarding vaccine requirements.

Illinois is one of the handful of states that have enacted their own rules requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for some employers or weekly testing in lieu of vaccines. The state requires vaccines or testing for individuals who work in licensed day care centers. 

The Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement the rule adds “another level of protection for our youngest residents and preventing outbreaks in daycare centers as more and more parents return to work.”

The National Safety Council, which advocates for worker safety, supported the federal rule. Without it, President and CEO Lorraine Martin said in a statement that businesses should still require vaccinations in addition to other safety measures.

“COVID-19 continues to devastate the American people, and employers must play a role in fighting this deadly virus,” Martin said.

But others say companies should decide for themselves. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that businesses should implement their own vaccine mandates while the federal rule is weighed.

For the time being, the Supreme Court ruling takes pressure off of employers in a competitive labor market, according to the National Grocers Association, a trade group that represents more than 1,500 retail and wholesale grocers nationwide.

“The ruling is a great relief for our industry as it staves off a burdensome mandate that would have created further disruptions and impaired our members’ ability to properly serve the needs of their communities,” said Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of the association, in a statement. “We support efforts to increase vaccination rates that will not place added pressure on an already strained food supply chain and labor force.”

Many Michigan businesses also were glad to have the requirement paused.

“The court fully acknowledged the sweeping and disruptive nature of OSHA’s vaccine mandate and the numerous complexities associated with its implementation,” Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said in a statement. “We will continue to encourage vaccines and the necessity of maintaining thoughtful safety protocols in the workplace.”

A coalition of Michigan businesses which included numerous local chambers of commerce, the Michigan Bankers Association and the Michigan Retailers Association argued that the president’s “top-down COVID vaccination mandate” would have had “a devastating impact on employers, employees, jobs and our economy.”

Multi-state food retailers and producers believed a federally-enforced vaccine-and-testing regimen would worsen ongoing supply chain and labor challenges. FMI, a trade association for grocers and food producers, welcomed its disappearance.

Some large companies, including Ford Motor Co. have instituted internal vaccine mandates for workers. General Motors Co. has not announced a vaccine requirement but a spokeswoman for the company said GM remains “firmly in support of COVID-19 vaccination” and continues to “strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated,” according to The Detroit News. The Dearborn, Mich.-based Carhartt also will continue to require employees to be vaccinated, although Starbucks will not.

A separate Supreme Court order this month ruled that federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services can require COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers at federal providers. A lower federal district court in Texas later blocked  the Biden administration directive on federal employers. The Justice Department appealed the freeze.

Despite the pause, “employers still have a legal obligation to protect their employees from the potential spread of COVID-19 in the workplace,” Susan Wiltsie, an attorney with Hunton Andrews Kurth in Washington, D.C., told the Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management. “OSHA enforces that obligation through its general duty clause. OSHA also has a National Emphasis Program related to COVID-19 that covers certain industries.”

OSHA Officially Withdraws Vaccine Mandate Order for Large Businesses

It was basically over Jan. 13 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Biden administration’s mandate that large businesses either reqire their employees to be vaccinated or provide a weekly negative COVID-19 test was an overreach.

This week, the administration made it official.

The Biden administration this week officially withdrew the Department of Labor’s mandate, issued back in November, that businesses with 100 or more employees require either the vaccine or the test.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Tuesday issued a rule that kills the mandate. In the statement posted to OSHA’s website, officials announced they were “withdrawing the vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard issued on Nov. 5, 2021, to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers with 100 or more employees from workplace exposure to coronavirus.”

The withdrawal was effective Wednesday.

Although OSHA is withdrawing the vaccination and testing ETS as an enforceable emergency temporary standard, the agency is not withdrawing the ETS as a proposed rule. The agency is prioritizing its resources to focus on finalizing a permanent COVID-19 Healthcare Standard.

OSHA strongly encourages vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by COVID-19 in the workplace. U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said as much in a statement issued after the Jan. 13 Supreme Court Ruling.

“I am disappointed in the court’s decision, which is a major setback to the health and safety of workers across the country,” Walsh said. “OSHA stands by the (mandate) as the best way to protect the nation’s workforce from a deadly virus that is infecting more than 750,000 Americans each day and has taken the lives of nearly a million Americans. We urge all employers to require workers to get vaccinated or tested weekly to most effectively fight this deadly virus in the workplace. Employers are responsible for the safety of their workers on the job, and OSHA has comprehensive COVID-19 guidance to help them uphold their obligation.”

Merger Moves CPA Firm Higher in National Ranking

TROY and GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Doeren Mayhew, the 60th largest U.S. certified public accounting and advisory firm, announced it has merged with Grand Rapids-based accounting firm Beene Garter LLP

The merger was effective Jan. 1.

“Doeren Mayhew is making strategic choices to grow in the right markets, with the right partners to fuel our ambitious five-year growth plan. This acquisition does just that,” said Chad Anschuetz, managing shareholder and chairman of Doeren Mayhew. “Beene Garter is a perfect fit for us. The firm brings deep industry experience and technical expertise complementary to ours, along with a rich history and strong roots in the West Michigan market. We are excited to welcome the Beene Garter team to our firm and look forward to strengthening our position in the region and focusing on our clients’ success.”

The union brings added bench strength for both firms. Together, they will bolster existing service line offerings and industry expertise, while also broadening technical and industry capabilities beyond their current reach. Both firms share competencies in audit and domestic tax, in addition to specializing in the manufacturing, wholesale and distribution, construction and non-profit industries.

Founded in 1949, Beene Garter is West Michigan’s largest independently owned accounting firm. Recently, the firm was ranked as No. 226 on INSIDE Public Accounting’s annual list of the nation’s largest firms in terms of revenue.

Doeren Mayhew will expand its presence to the West Michigan market through the addition of Beene Garter’s single Grand Rapids office, and the firm’s 15 partners and 100-plus employees – all of whom will become Doeren Mayhew employees.

The office will continue to operate and serve clients as normal under the name Beene Garter, A Doeren Mayhew Firm for a transitional period of time until it takes on the Doeren Mayhew name exclusively.

Beene Garter’s managing partner, Thomas Rosenbach, said the firm has “always been focused” on serving clients, and that won’t change.

“I’m proud of the firm we’ve built, and Doeren Mayhew is the right firm to partner with for our future and our clients,” Rosenbach said. “We can continue the close relationships we have with our clients while providing them greater access to resources and services. It’s all about mutual success.“

Doeren Mayhew will capitalize on Beene Garter’s food and agribusiness knowledge, and state and local tax expertise, plus its Sage Intacct, third-party retirement plan administration and payroll practices. Beene Garter clients will benefit from an expanded suite of non-traditional CPA services Doeren Mayhew offers in areas such as investment banking, real estate advisory, cybersecurity, SOC reporting and international advisory, as well as a reach beyond the local region to support their own expansion efforts.

As affiliate members of the Moore Global Limited Network, the firms are no strangers. Over the years, they have worked together and shared an admiration for each other’s business models, leadership teams and client-service philosophies.

“We have known and respected Doeren Mayhew for many years. They are the Beene Garter of East Michigan,” Rosenbach said. “Decisions like this are never easy, but the common trust and respect between our firms, and our similar values and goals makes the path much clearer. We’re excited to build our future with them.”

Anshuetz is equally excited.

“Through our involvement in the Moore network and projects we have collaborated on in the past, we recognize Beene Garter as a like-minded firm,” Anschuetz said. “Together, we will continue to focus on helping clients achieve their goals and inspiring our employees’ careers.”

With more than 500 people in nine offices in Michigan, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Europe, this consolidation makes Doeren Mayhew the fourth largest Michigan-based CPA firm and propels it closer to the top 50 spot in the United States.

Consolidating the two firms’ extensive construction practices is expected to boost its existing number 24 ranking amongst the Top Construction Accounting Firms in the nation.

Whitmer Talks Taxes, Economy, Education in State of the State Address

Fresh off General Motors’ announcement Tuesday that it would invest $7 billion in the electric vehicle and battery production industry in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took her fourth State of the State address on the road Wednesday to tout past accomplishments and preview future proposals.

For the second straight year, Whitmer delivered her address virtually, this time from the Detroit Diesel manufacturing facility in Redford Township. The bulk of the speech focused on job incentives, tax cuts and other economic issues.

The GM investment will create and retain 5,000 jobs manufacturing electric vehicle batteries in Lansing and Orion Township.

“The future of the auto industry is being built in Michigan, in plants like this one by union members. And we are just getting started,” Whitmer said. “(Tuesday), the world saw what we can accomplish together. Democrats, Republicans, businesses, utilities, and labor joined forces to equip Michigan with solid economic tools to attract big projects and create thousands of jobs.”

She also hit on several proposals:

  • Restoring the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Whitmer is proposing increasing the credit, saying it would deliver an average combined tax refund of $3,000 to 730,000 Michiganders, helping them pay the bills and put food on the table. 

“Raising the state EITC puts Michiganders first by putting nearly $3,000 back in their pockets when paired with the federal EITC,” Whitmer said. “Michiganders who work full-time but still can’t get ahead deserve to keep more of their hard-earned dollars. This refund for working families is a game-changer for so many Michiganders, and I know we can work together to get this done.” 

  • Lowering the cost of EVs. Whitmer proposed an electric vehicle rebate, saying the $2,000 for a new electric vehicle and $500 for at-home charging infrastructure can be paired with the $7,500 federal tax credit, knocking nearly $10,000 off the price of a new electric car, including those being built in Michigan.

“Michigan put the world on wheels, and we will electrify it too. This new rebate will put Michiganders first and help families purchase an electric vehicle by lowering costs,” Whitmer said. “With this rebate and federal, Michiganders can knock off nearly $10,000 off the purchase price of an electric or plug-in hybrid car.” 

  • Repealing the retirement tax. Whitmer proposed a repeal of the tax on retirement income, including pensions, 401(k) accounts, and IRAs would save half a million households $1,000 a year. 

“Repealing the retirement tax will put Michiganders first and save half a million households $1,000 a year,” she said. “Michiganders who have worked hard, played by the rules, and budgeted for their whole lives should be able to retire and keep all of their hard-earned dollars. Putting money back in the pockets of retirees will help them afford the essentials from prescriptions, rent, utilities, car payments, to gifts for their grandkids.”

  • Increasing access to mental health care. She called for an expansion of the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program program to focused on behavioral health providers and an increase to funding for mental health professionals in our schools.

“We need to invest in our mental health workforce, so we can put Michiganders first and ensure they have the support and resources they need to thrive,” she said. “Every Michigander deserves access to both mental and physical healthcare.”

Whitmer said she planned to propose the “biggest state funding increase” in two decades. Last year, Whitmer joined with the GOP-led Legislature in approving a $17.1 billion funding plan for schools, calling it the “the “largest investment in education” in state history.”

At a moment when some school districts have returned to remote learning in the face of the omicron surge, Whitmer strong discouraged the practice.

“I want to be crystal clear,” Whitmer said. “Students belong in school. We know it’s where they learn best. Remote learning is not as fulfilling or conducive to a child’s growth.”

Tax Incentives Helped Michigan Land GM’s $7 Billion EV Investments

Tax incentives worth some $834 million from the Michigan Strategic Fund were a key factor in landing the $7 billion investment General Motors announced Tuesday it was making in the electric vehicle industry in Michigan.

The automaker’s $7 billion investment includes $4 billion to convert GM’s Orion Township assembly plant for the production of full-size EV pickups and up to $2.5 billion to build Ultium’s third U.S. battery cell plant in Lansing, growing the state’s global leadership in electric vehicle and advanced battery production.  

The MSF approved the support for GM’s projects in Orion Township and the Lansing area, creating 4,000 new jobs and generating $6.5 billion in total capital investment. In addition to these EV-related investments in Michigan, GM also announced it is investing more than $510 million in its two Lansing-area vehicle assembly plants to upgrade their production capabilities for near term products. 

“Today we are taking the next step in our continuous work to establish GM’s EV leadership by making investments in our vertically integrated battery production in the U.S., and our North American EV production capacity,” said Mary Barra, GM Chair and CEO. “These important investments would not have been possible without the strong support from the Governor, Michigan Legislature, Orion Township, the City of Lansing, Delta Township as well as our collaboration with the UAW and LG Energy Solution. These investments also create opportunities in Michigan for us to bring our employees along on our transition to an all-electric future.”

John Walsh, president and CEO of the 1,700-member Michigan Manufacturers Association, issued a statement congratulating GM on the “massive investments that will be felt through the supply chain, in related industries and in communities and families across the state.”

“MMA’s message for many years has been strong and unwavering: Michigan must be at the table with talent, a healthy business environment and tailored economic incentives amidst the aggressive efforts of other states to compete for manufacturing capital and job investments,” Walsh said. “GM’s announcement is proof that this winning combination will bring business investment and growth to our state.”

To support GM’s investments, the Michigan Strategic Fund approved: 

  • A Critical Industry Program grant in the amount of $600 million officials said was the first of its kind for the creation of up to 4,000 jobs related to the Orion Township and Ultium projects; 
  • An 18-year Renewable Energy Renaissance Zone which will require a minimum investment of $1.5 billion with the potential for up to $2.5 billion, estimated to be worth $158 million; 
  • A Strategic Site Readiness Program grant in the amount of $66.1 million awarded to the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) for public infrastructure and utility upgrades. 

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation also authorized a State Education Tax abatement to be used in conjunction with the locally approved Orion Township abatement in support of the GM expansion. 

The Orion assembly plant and Ultium battery cell plant projects are the first to be approved utilizing the new Critical Industry Program and Strategic Site Readiness Program signed into law by Gov. Whitmer in December. These programs were created to ensure Michigan could effectively compete for billions of dollars in investment and attract tens of thousands of jobs to bolster the state’s economy. 

“This project will create new opportunities for businesses of all sizes across the state to ensure that Michigan retains its strong supplier network and provide a platform for further investment throughout Michigan. GM’s decision underscores the strength of the workforce withinour state’s automotive sector and the bipartisan, Team Michigan commitment to winning the future of mobility and EV manufacturing here in Michigan,” said MEDC CEO and Michigan Strategic Fund President and Chair Quentin Messer Jr. “We appreciate GM’s continued vote of confidence in Michigan and their partnership on this historic economic win for our friends and neighbors, and are encouraged by the economic opportunity impact it will have across our state for decades to come.”   

In addition to MSF support, Orion Township approved PA 198 real property tax abatements for the Orion assembly plant expansions. 

“We are thrilled to partner with and support the continued growth and innovation of General Motors at the Orion Assembly Plant here in Orion Township. The new investment is a clear indication that GM trusts the hard-working people of Southeast Michigan as they continue their transition from automaker to platform innovator,” said Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett. “Not only are we excited about the thousands of jobs that will be created and the state-of-the-art electric vehicles rolling off the line, but the ripple effect this investment will have on our local economy will make a substantial positive impact for our residents and small businesses for decades to come.”  

The city of Lansing has unanimously approved a Renewable Energy Renaissance Zone and PA 198 agreement. Lansing and Delta Township also both passed unanimously an extended 425 revenue sharing agreement for the plant for 25 years.

The Lansing Board of Water and Light’s Board of Commissioners also unanimously passed a special electric rate for Ultium. Additionally, in order to construct the new assembly plant, Delta Township and the Lansing Board of Water and Light will extensively and rapidly expand infrastructure capacity in support of the site. 

“LEAP has been proud to lead regional efforts around this pivotal historic moment for Michigan and the Lansing region,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. “This project represents a secure future for our region and state in making electric powered vehicles, batteries and systems, along with potential semiconductor/chip-making and other high technology-related companies and suppliers that will follow the core EV and battery investments to build the future of mobility.”  

AARP Director: People ‘Waiting Longer to Retire,’ Then ‘Going Back to Work’ After Retirement

Paula Cunningham, state director of AARP Michigan.
Paula Cunningham, state director of AARP Michigan.

LANSING – Paula Cunningham has retired twice. 

“Well, I transitioned twice,” she said. 

Cunningham was the president of Lansing Community College, then served as the CEO of Capitol National Bank. She’s been the state director for AARP Michigan since 2015. 

She’s representative of many older Americans who want to stay in the workplace, even in the face of possible age discrimination. 

“Not only are people waiting longer to retire, but they’re going back to work after they retire,” Cunningham said. “They want to go back to work.” 

Close to one in three Americans in their 50s plan to postpone their retirement, and that number goes to one in five for those in their 60s, according to a January survey by SimplyWise, a retirement planning website.

Those are the highest numbers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to AARP. 

As older Americans postpone retirement, the workforce ages. 

Among those 75 and older, the labor force is expected to grow by 96.5% by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

But many older American workers are experiencing age discrimination, which is at its highest since 2003. According to AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age bias on the job. 

In Michigan, 2,489 age discrimination claims were made with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017. This makes Michigan –– which has the ninth-largest population –– 12th in the nation for claims made. 

In mid-January, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a Saginaw County case filed by a former human resources department employee who was turned down at age 60 when she applied for a different position. Coventry Medical Center hired a younger applicant instead.

A jury awarded Denise Doster $540,269 in damages, but a Court of Appeals panel threw out the verdict. Now Doster wants the Supreme Court to reinstate the award.

AARP, whose members are 50 or older, runs a program to help older applicants bypass discriminatory employers. Meanwhile, many older workers are calling for more legal protections, including a tougher federal law.

Discrimination often takes the form of comments pushing an older employee to retire or expressing the desire for a younger employee, said Jennifer Salvatore, a Detroit-based civil rights lawyer. 

It can also include choosing a younger job applicant over an older one because of their age. In an extreme case, Salvatore said an employer set an illegal policy requiring employees to retire at 59½. 

“In some ways, I feel like it’s almost more socially acceptable for people to discriminate based on age than it is to discriminate based on race or gender,” Salvatore said. “You hear more comments, you hear more direct evidence of age discrimination than you do other types of discrimination.” 

Michigan AARP and Michigan Works! run a program where employers can list a job opening and an application is emailed to AARP Michigan’s 1.3 million members. AARP also hosts hiring events where employers and applicants can meet.

Cunningham said those employers know beforehand that applicants are older, which helps prevent discrimination.

Percent change in civilian labor force by age, 2000-01, 2010-20 and projected 2020-30
U.S. Bureau of Labor StatisticsPercent change in civilian labor force by age, 2000-01, 2010-20 and projected 2020-30

The program was piloted in 2019 in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit –– 74 people were hired during that pilot run. After that, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the program to virtual. 

There are more than 100,000 unfilled jobs in Michigan, according to Pure Michigan Talent Connect.

Older Michigan residents can help fill these vacancies, Cunningham said, and bring more experience to the table. 

“The data has shown over and over and over again that older adults are more reliable,” Cunningham said. “They come to work on time, they stay all day. They don’t have drama. They’re great mentors for younger people in the workplace, so we need to get them connected” to employers. 

Older workers tend to be more reliable and show up to work more consistently, according to a 2018 study in the academic journal “Revista De Gestão.”

There are federal and state laws protecting older workers. At the federal level, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects those who are 40 and older. In Michigan, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects older residents. 

But 96% of older workers said laws to combat age discrimination should be stronger, according to a 2020 AARP survey. 

Salvatore said that the trend toward mandatory arbitration of disputes hurts all workers, including those who experience age discrimination. That means that employees sign a policy waiving their right for disputes to be heard in court by a jury rather than by an arbitrator who is often more likely to be pro-employer. 

To strengthen protections for older workers, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in November that would make clear that job applicants are covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Senate passage is uncertain due to a lack of Republican support, according to an article in Forbes.

If age discrimination is curbed, older workers can help fill the current labor gap, Cunningham said. 

“For every job that’s unfilled, it impacts our economy. People are not going to the movies (or) going to dinner because they’re not working,” she said. “It is a real issue for the state of Michigan.”

Hope O’Dell writes for Capital News Service.

GM: $7 Billion EV Investment in Michigan to Create 4,000 New Jobs, Retain 1,000

When General Motors’ chief economist, Dr. Diane Buckberg, spoke to the Detroit Economic Club’s recent economic outlook meeting, she promised Michigan would be in line for investments from GM in the electric vehicle industry.

On Tuesday, GM – working with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — made good on Buckberg’s promise.

Ultium Cells, a joint venture of LG Energy Solution and General Motors, announced a $2.6 billion investment to build its third battery cell manufacturing plant in the United States. The facility will be located in Lansing, Michigan. The new battery cell plant is expected to create 1,700 new jobs when the facility is fully operational. The approximately 2.8 million-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in late 2024.

GM announced an investment of more than $7 billion in four Michigan manufacturing sites, creating 4,000 new jobs and retaining 1,000, and significantly increasing battery cell and electric truck manufacturing capacity.

At an event announcing the investment Tuesday, GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra called it the “single largest investment” announcement in GM history.

The investment includes construction of a new Ultium Cells battery cell plant in Lansing and the conversion of GM’s assembly plant in Orion Township, Michigan for production of the Chevrolet Silverado EV and the electric GMC Sierra, GM’s second assembly plant scheduled to build full-size electric pickups.

“Today we are taking the next step in our continuous work to establish GM’s EV leadership by making investments in our vertically integrated battery production in the U.S., and our North American EV production capacity,” Barra said. “We are building on the positive consumer response and reservations for our recent EV launches and debuts, including GMC HUMMER EV, Cadillac LYRIQ, Chevrolet Equinox EV and Chevrolet Silverado EV. Our plan creates the broadest EV portfolio of any automaker and further solidifies our path toward U.S. EV leadership by mid-decade.”

Whitmer said the state was “thrilled and fortunate GM is … strong in Michigan.”

“This is about coming together and putting Michigan first,” Whitmer said. “GM is doubling down on its commitment … to Michigan. These investments will build on GM’s enormous investment in Michigan. Today’s investment is proof of what is possible when we work together.”

Whitmer said the 4,000 new jobs and the 1,000 jobs that will be retained will create “$35 billion in personal income” over the next 30 years.

In a release Tuesday morning, GM said the investments are the “latest step” toward accelerating GM’s drive to become the EV market leader in North America by 2025. The Orion and Ultium Cells Lansing investments announced today will support an increase in total full-size electric truck production capacity to 600,000 trucks when both Factory ZERO and Orion facilities are fully ramped.

As previously announced, GM will continue to strategically manage the conversion of its North American manufacturing footprint. Through site conversion and new facilities, GM is uniquely positioned to stay ahead of the growing demand for electric vehicles while balancing the need to aggressively compete to win in today’s market with strong products.

Today’s announcements include investments in the following locations:

  • Orion Assembly for production of Chevrolet Silverado EV and electric GMC Sierra — GM is investing $4 billion to convert the facility to produce electric trucks using the GM-developed Ultium Platform, which gives the company the flexibility to build vehicles for every customer and segment. This investment is expected to create more than 2,350 new jobs at Orion and retain approximately 1,000 current jobs when the plant is fully operational. GM estimates the new jobs at Orion will be filled by a combination of GM transferees and new hires. Electric truck production, including the Chevrolet Silverado EV and electric GMC Sierra, will begin at Orion in 2024. The Orion investment will drive significant facility and capacity expansion at the site, including new body and paint shops and new general assembly and battery pack assembly areas. Production of the Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV will continue during the plant’s conversion. Site work begins immediately.
  • New Ultium Cells battery cell plant at Lansing site — GM and LG Energy Solution, via their Ultium Cells joint venture, are investing $2.6 billion to build Ultium Cells’ third U.S. battery cell manufacturing plant. This investment is expected to create more than 1,700 new Ultium Cells jobs when the plant is fully operational. Site preparations will begin this summer and battery cell production is scheduled to begin in late 2024. Ultium Cells Lansing will supply battery cells to Orion Assembly and other GM assembly plants.

Orion Assembly will become GM’s third U.S. assembly plant being transformed for production of Ultium-powered EVs. GM assembly plants in North America currently building, or being converted to build EVs, include Factory ZERO in Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan; Spring Hill Assembly in Spring Hill, Tennessee; CAMI in Ingersoll, Ontario and Ramos Arizpe Assembly in Mexico. By the end of 2025, GM will have more than 1 million units of electric vehicle capacity in North America to respond to growing electric vehicle demand.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said the announcement shows the “partnership between GM, Oakland County and Orion Township is still thriving.”

“This investment reinforces the confidence General Motors has in the Orion plant, the abundance of a skilled workforce in southeast Michigan and the appeal of Oakland County as an attractive place to locate advanced technology manufacturing,” Coulter said.

The Ultium Cells Lansing site represents GM’s third Ultium Cells battery cell manufacturing site in the U.S., following two Ultium Cells battery cell manufacturing plants being constructed in Ohio and Tennessee.

In addition to the EV-related investments in Michigan, GM is investing more than $510 million in its two Lansing-area vehicle assembly plants to upgrade their production capabilities for near-term products:

  • Lansing Delta Township Assembly — Investment is for production of the next-generation Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave.
  • Lansing Grand River Assembly — Investment is for plant upgrades.

“These important investments would not have been possible without the strong support from the Governor, the Michigan Legislature, Orion Township, the City of Lansing, Delta Township as well as our collaboration with the UAW and LG Energy Solution,” added Barra. “These investments also create opportunities in Michigan for us to bring our employees along on our transition to an all-electric future.”

Vertically integrating battery assembly and converting existing assembly plants are at the core of GM’s strategy for scaling EV production in North America. GM projects it will convert 50 percent of its North American assembly capacity to EV production by 2030.

Michigan-Based Better Health Market & Cafe Opens New Dearborn Store

NOVI, Mich. – Better Health Market & Café today announced the opening of a new store located at 22250 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.

The new Better Health Market & Café offers customers an expansive organic offering including the area’s largest vitamin and supplement department, onsite nutrition experts, an expanded gourmet Prepared Foods department and indoor and outdoor dining spaces. The new store in the heart of west Dearborn’s walkable downtown replaces the 1330 N. Telegraph Better Health Store. This is the Michigan-based, family-owned company’s 14th Better Health location.

The market highlights healthy foods that are lower-in price including halal and kosher and products. Doors opened Friday, January 21.

In addition to organic produce and natural foods, supplements, a full frozen food section, bulk foods, beer and wine, and its popular juice and coffee bar, the 1,5000 square foot store has a full kitchen to produce made to order and prepared foods perfect for aimed for larger events including family holidays and corporate breakfasts and luncheons.

“We are excited to open this new location in walkable, downtown west Dearborn to offer even more Dearborn residents and employees in the city, a larger selection of fresh prepared foods and products to help them live a healthier lifestyle,” said Tedd Handelsman, founder and president of Better Health Store. “Our family legacy is focused on creating stores that are judgement-free – to help Michigan become a heathier state. The creation of this store does just that with our mission that shoppers in our stores don’t need to read the labels to avoid harmful ingredients, because we do it for them. We simply don’t let products with known harmful ingredients on our shelves.”

“Despite the current environment, we feel this is time is right for us to open this new location as customers have asked for it. There is an increased interest in taking our own health. Even if it’s junk food snacks like potato chips, we are going to offer the cleanest brands that taste great. If someone is looking to add more supplements to their lives, we offer lines without unnecessary fillers. We are here to answer questions the community may have about healthy lifestyles.”

Better Heath Market & Café’s offers a unique natural market as each location throughout the state is staffed by nutrition experts knowledgeable about the products on the shelves. Items the store sells, includes lower-priced, fresh organic produce, sugar-free, pasture raised humanely raised organic meats, as well as plant-based meat options and low carbs and Keto lifestyles options.

Additionally, the new store has a full-line grocery with natural, organic, locally grown and non-GMO food; a wide array of vitamins and supplements from such top brands as Megafood, New Chapter and Whole Earth; Michigan wine and sulfite-free, vegan, Biodynamic wine; gluten-free and locally brewed craft beer; and a large selection of organic health and beauty products.

The Café incorporates instore and online ordering and on-the-go customers items including sandwiches, wraps and burgers; freshly made smoothies and its popular juices and coffees; vegetarian and vegan options; soups and an organic salad bar. The Café is known for its Michigan Vegan Better Health ‘Whopper,’ savory chicken wraps, flavorful fresh ingredient salads, and delicious vegan and keto cookies that attract foodies from miles away. A place to indoors or out, purchase vitamins & supplements, complete full grocery shopping, it also has gift items and an extensive chocolate bar section with unique chocolates from around the world.

It also carries new and trending foods long before they can be found in other stores.

“We pride ourselves in being on the cutting edge of foods and products that aid in optimal health, but also in offering snack foods that are healthy and trending – and taste good such as vegan cheesy popcorn, Medicinal mushroom high-quality coffee, and protein chips and crackers, as examples.”

Better Health offers a wide array of its products for purchase via an online shopping at http://www.thebetterhealthstore.com with curbside and delivery options via Instacart and Fed-Ex same day delivery of certain items including vitamins and supplements, food and grocery items, herbs and homeopathic products, digestive aids, bath and body care and household items.

Grant Aims to Help Regional Advanced Manufacturing, Technology Companies Attract, Retain Talent

GRAND RAPIDS — As many as 20 advanced manufacturing and technology companies throughout West Michigan will have the opportunity to secure up to $25,000 in funding that, among other things, will help lower wage employees earn career-building industry certifications and training.

The $540,000 Regional Talent Innovation Grant was awarded recently by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to Grand Rapids economic development agency The Right Place, Inc., who will accept grant applications February 2 through February 16. Also on February 2, The Right Place will conduct an informational webinar for potential applicants. Webinar registration details can be found here.

The $539,771 to The Right Place comes from MEDC’s Regional Talent Innovation Grant program, which has allocated $7.5 million in Community Development Block Grant-CARES Act funding to local economic development organizations and workforce development partners. Each partner organization was provided between $500,000 and $950,000 to administer training programs that target growth in specific occupations in high demand from regional employers. A priority will be given to training programs focused on low- to moderate-income individuals, particularly those living in geographically disadvantaged areas. More information on the MEDC program can be found here.

The Right Place was awarded the funding to implement a pilot program, called the Talent Pathways Program, which aims to fund as much as $25,000 to up 20 companies who work in the advanced manufacturing and technology sectors in the counties of Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon, and Ottawa. Applicants must commit to completing Work-Ready credentials and/or advanced manufacturing and technology certificates for at least 5 employees by March 2023.

An additional goal of the Talent Pathways program is for at least 100 employees to earn credentials ranging from the Michigan Works! Work Ready certificate to industry certifications or apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing or technology by March 31, 2023. Fifty-one percent of those employees must be considered low income.

“We’re excited to partner with these great organizations to pilot an offering that serves our regional employers and addresses one of the most common barriers to their growth,” said Randy Thelen, President & CEO, The Right Place, Inc. “This initiative will strengthen talent retention and recruitment efforts by helping companies develop a diverse talent pool, build a culture of success for lower-wage employees, and access other workforce training resources available to our region.”

“There are so many great opportunities in the workforce, but our community is often left behind,” said Evelyn Esparza-Gonzalez, Executive Director, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. “We are excited and hopeful to work through this partnership with The Right Place and other community organizations in order to be the bridge for our clients to access these great opportunities.”

“We look forward to working collaboratively with The Right Place and our partners to bring these much needed resources to the community,” said Eric Brown, CEO, Urban League of West Michigan. “This pilot program will be a key tool as we continue working to advance economic equity in the West Michigan region and provide opportunities for individuals be on a road to earning a thriving wage.”

Applications will go live on The Right Place website (rightplace.org/talentpathways) February 2, 2022. To apply for consideration, companies must submit an online application by Feb. 16. Applications will be reviewed and awarded by March 1.

Informational Session:

  • Live webinar, Wednesday, February 2 at 8:00 am.
  • Learn more about the program and ask questions.
  • Registration required.
    Session will be recorded.
  • Register here

Who can apply:

Advanced manufacturing and technology employers located in the following counties:

  • Allegan
  • Barry
  • Ionia
  • Kent
  • Montcalm
  • Muskegon
  • Ottawa

Applicant requirements:

Applicants must commit to completing Work-Ready credentials and/or advanced manufacturing and technology certificates for at least 5 employees by March 2023.

How to apply:

  • Applications will go live on The Right Place’s website February 2, 2022.
  • To apply for consideration, submit your online application by February 16.
  • Applications will be reviewed and awarded by March 1.

Questions and more information:

Contact Jodi Nichols at [email protected] or 231-742-3328.

Merrill Names New Southeast Michigan Market Executive

Joel Chery

Merrill has announced that Joel Chery has been named Market Executive for the newly formed Farmington Hills and Associates market, comprising of the Farmington Hills, Auburn Hills, Grosse Pointe and Clinton Township offices.

In his new role, Joel is responsible for hiring, managing, and leading a diverse team of leaders and financial advisors, helping them grow by leveraging the entire enterprise on behalf of clients.

Additionally, he recently completed the Market Executive Leadership Academy (MELA) program and has been providing interim coverage in Central Minnesota. During the MELA program, he served as the Associate Market Manager for the Boston Financial Center Market in Boston, MA.

Prior to rejoining Merrill in 2019, Chery held roles as Regional Manager and Complex Manager at Wells Fargo Advisors. He began his career at Legg Mason, then joined Merrill’s advisor training program where he focused on client engagement and developed expertise in corporate retirement plans.

After seven years as an advisor, he discovered a passion for leadership and joined Morgan Stanley as an Assistant Complex Manager where he built one of the top-ranked new advisor programs in the company. Joel also held positions overseeing advisor development strategy.

“Joel brings a wealth of experience to this new role. He understands the importance of personalized investment advice to achieve client’s goals,” said Paul T. Lambert, Division Executive, Merrill Mid West & President, Bank of America.

First-Time Unemployment Claims Rise as Omicron Affects Job Market

The number of people seeking new unemployment benefits has been dropping, or at least holding relatively steady, the last few months.

So much for that streak.

The number of U.S. workers applying for first-time unemployment benefits rose to some 286,000 last week, the highest that number has been in the last three months, as the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to send case counts skyrocketing.

It’s the third straight week claims have risen, this time by some 55,000, according to statistics released Thursday by the Labor Department. It’s the most that statistic has jumped since mid-July.

The four-week average of claims rose by 20,000 to 231,000. That’s the highest total for that statistic since late November.

Economists attributed the jump in part to the rise in coronavirus cases.

“The rise in claims reflects both an increase in layoffs due to the surge in Covid cases as well as an added boost from large seasonal adjustment factors,” Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist with Oxford Economics, said in a report, according to CBS News.

The latest COVID-19 surge has weighed on the strong comeback from the coronavirus recession of 2020, the network reported. Jobless claims had fallen steadily for about a year, in late 2021 year dipping below the pre-pandemic average of around 220,000 a week.

In the first week of January, nearly 9 million people said they weren’t working because they had COVID-19 or were caring for someone who had tested positive, according to the Census Bureau. That’s triple the number from mid-December, according to CBS.

Overall, the job market remains tight as illness and care work keep workers out of the labor force, putting pressure on businesses. Employers posted 10.6 million job openings in November, the fifth-highest monthly total in records going back to 2000. A record 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November, indicating they are confident enough to look something better.

The unemployment rate fell last month to a pandemic low of 3.9%.

GM Plans to Broaden Electrification, Expanding Fuel Cells Beyond Vehicles

DETROIT – GM continues to accelerate its growth as a platform innovator and announced today new commercial applications of its HYDROTEC fuel cell technology. HYDROTEC projects, which are currently in development, from heavy-duty trucks to aerospace and locomotives, are being planned for use beyond vehicles for power generation.

GM is planning multiple HYDROTEC-based power generators, all powered by GM’s Generation 2 HYDROTEC fuel cell power cubes, including:

  • A Mobile Power Generator (MPG) to provide fast-charge capability for EVs without installing permanent charge points
  • The EMPOWER rapid charger to help retail fuel stations add affordable DC fast charging without expanding the grid
  • A palletized MPG to quietly and efficiently power military camps and installations

These fuel cell generators could ultimately replace gas- and diesel-burning generators with fewer emissions at worksites, buildings, movie sets, data centers, outdoor concerts and festivals. They could also back up or temporarily replace grid-sourced electricity for residential and small commercial enterprises at times of power disruption.

Each of these HYDROTEC-based power generators feature zero-emissions electric power generation output ranging from 60 kilowatts to 600 kilowatts, along with low noise1 and heat signatures2.

“Our vision of an all-electric future is broader than just passenger vehicles or even transportation,” said Charlie Freese, GM executive director of the global HYDROTEC business. “Our energy platform expertise with Ultium vehicle architectures and propulsion components and HYDROTEC fuel cells can expand access to energy across many different industries and users, while helping to reduce emissions often associated with power generation.”

Mobile Power Generator
GM is supplying HYDROTEC fuel cell power cubes to Renewable Innovations of Lindon, Utah to build the Mobile Power Generator. GM will combine its fuel cell hardware and software with Renewable Innovations’ power integration and management systems to create a generator that can provide fast-charging capability for EVs without having to expand the grid or install permanent charging assets in places where there’s only a temporary need for power.

Multiple development projects involving the MPG are already in process, including a demonstration of the technology as a mobile charging station for EVs, funded in part by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center. This version of the MPG is expected to first be demonstrated in mid-2022.

“As pioneers and innovators in the hydrogen power space, Renewable Innovations sees exciting opportunities across consumer, business, government and industrial markets,” said Robert Mount, CEO and co-founder of Renewable Innovations. “We’ve seen that there’s a need for EV charging in places where there’s no charging equipment, and now we’re committed to bringing the best technology and game-changing applications to market with GM to accelerate the company’s vision of a zero-emissions future.”

The California Energy Commission is funding a separate demonstration program of four additional MPGs through its Mobile Renewable Backup Generation Systems program to show how hydrogen-based mobile power can help offset the loss of energy during the planned power shutoffs used to mitigate wildfires throughout the state.

This demonstration is being led by the Electric Power Research Institute, the preeminent independent, non-profit energy research and development organization, collaborating with stakeholders like GM and Renewable Innovations to help ensure the public has safe, reliable, affordable and equitable access to hydrogen-generated electricity.

Retail EV Charging Stations
In addition to mobile EV charging, GM and Renewable Innovations have collaborated on the EMPOWER rapid charger. Intended to help retail fuel stations add more affordable DC fast-charging capability, the EMPOWER rapid charger will help deploy necessary fast charging without significant investment in nonrecoverable electrical infrastructure upgrades, like larger feed wires, transformers and potentially new substations.  

EMPOWER rapid chargers can be installed at existing fuel stations or along corridors frequented by travelers only part of the year, such as near national parks or vacation destinations.

The EMPOWER rapid charger, powered by eight GM HYDROTEC power cubes, consumes hydrogen from internal tanks and can DC fast charge as many as four vehicles simultaneously starting at 150 kW with an estimated target full charge time of 20 minutes3. More than 100 EVs can potentially be charged by the EMPOWER rapid charger before the unit would need to be resupplied with hydrogen.

Renewable Innovations plans to deploy 500 EMPOWER rapid chargers across the country by the end of 2025.

Palletized Mobile Power Generator System
GM is designing a separate, palletized version of the MPG and in partnership with GM Defense, will offer this and EV solutions to defense and other customers, such as the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC), which is currently evaluating the technology. GVSC is also exploring how this version of the MPG can power heavy-duty military equipment and camps. This prototype is equivalent in size to a 60-kW generator and produces nearly 70 percent more power than traditional diesel generators. This MPG variant also contains features not typically found on diesel generators, like battery backup and output regulation.

Powered by a HYDROTEC power cube, this MPG prototype converts offboard, bulk-stored hydrogen to electricity generated with no emissions in operation. It generates less noise than a conventional diesel engine at full load and emits water which can be captured and repurposed in the field.  

GM will produce HYDROTEC fuel cell systems using globally sourced parts at its Fuel Cell Systems Manufacturing joint venture with Honda in Brownstown, Michigan. Renewable Innovations will produce the trailer-based MPG and the larger, modular EMPOWER rapid charger at their facilities in the Salt Lake City metro area.

Yellen Tells Mayors COVID-19 Stimulus Was ‘Like a Vaccine’ to Economy

When Dr. Elaine Buckberg, the chief economist for General Motors, took part in the recent Detroit Economic Club Economic Outlook webinar, she was asked whether all the federal stimulus money that poured out of the federal government helped cause the rampant inflation the U.S. is feeling right now.

While pointing at the slowdowns in the supply chain as a primary factor in the highest inflation the country has seen in 40 years, Buckberg actually said the stimulus money actually helped.

“Stimulus has done a couple of things,” Buckberg told the virtual gathering. “First of all, it helped fill the gap and create strong demand. Consumers built a war chest of savings.”

Apparently, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen agrees.

According to the Associated Press, Yellen told a gathering of mayors from around the country that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill was “like a vaccine” she said prevented “catastrophic” economic damage that could have created the kind of financial problems seen at the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020.

Yellen spoke at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.

“The protection wasn’t complete, but it was very strong,” Yellen said, according to the AP. “It prevented communities from suffering the most severe economic effects of omicron and delta.”

The mayors’ conference, headed by Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, is focused on American Rescue Plan resources for cities, equitable pandemic recovery, the reduction of gun violence and homelessness and combating climate change, among other issues.

Yellen spoke about the Treasury Department’s implementation of the American Rescue Plan’s $350 billion State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which has provided direct fiscal assistance to states and local jurisdictions during the pandemic.

As of Jan. 6, the Treasury Department had distributed more than $245 billion of the $350 billion State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund for local  communities to do things such as expanding access to testing and vaccines, support public sector hiring and provide child care, among other projects, according to the agency. It has since broadened the scope of eligibility for projects under the fund.

“At the time, I think we all believed that state and local funding was important, that it was essential,” Yellen said, according to the AP. “In retrospect, though, that program in particular – and the ARP in general – proved absolutely essential. You can draw a straight line between the ARP’s passage and our economic performance during delta and omicron.”

Ford, ADT Form Joint Venture to Fortify Vehicle Security

Ford and ADT Inc. will invest in a new joint venture called Canopy that combines ADT’s professional security monitoring and Ford’s AI-driven video camera technology to help customers strengthen security of new and existing vehicles across automotive brands.

“The combination of our technologies and our deep security experience creates a new category of protection for work and personal vehicles,” said Elliot Cohen, ADT chief business development officer. “Vehicles represent the second-most-valuable asset for consumers, and helping to protect them extends ADT’s safe, smart, and sustainable solutions far beyond the home.”

Canopy plans to launch industry-first, multi-sensor security systems with available professional monitoring early next year. The first products to be manufactured and sold will be available in the U.S. and the U.K. for the industry’s highest-volume commercial and retail pickups and vans – including the Ford F-150, F-150 Lightning, Transit vans and E-Transit – and will be easily installable by customers to protect expensive work and recreational equipment.

“Thieves have been even more active during the pandemic and know business owners store valuable equipment in vehicles, often hauling more than $50,000 of gear. Canopy is here for those who’ve had enough of thefts that threaten their livelihoods,” said Franck Louis-Victor, vice president, Ford New Business Platform. “Key to Ford’s software-led transformation are new ideas such as Canopy and collaborating with other innovators such as ADT, which brings to vehicle security their leadership protecting families, homes, and businesses.”

The FBI estimates that stolen work equipment cost more than $7.4 billion in 2020 in the U.S., and theft of valuable work equipment is believed to be underestimated in stolen vehicle reports. Small business owners face even greater opportunity costs with the deferral or loss of jobs while replacing stolen items.

Canopy also plans to begin integrating camera security solutions in Ford vehicles next year for seamless protection inside and outside vehicles. Canopy will seek factory-vehicle integrations with other automakers over time.

Vehicle Security Revolution
Canopy’s first smart vehicle security system accessory offering will make use of acoustic sensors for vans, onboard cameras, radar, LTE, and GPS. The initial product will have a camera that can be mounted in either a van’s cargo area or on a pickup facing the bed. The platform will use AI technology to identify and report credible threats while reducing false alarm signals.

  • Customers will be connected to the system via the Canopy app to livestream video from the vehicle, get notified of suspicious activity, or review past events.
  • The system will trigger a smartphone alert of any indicators of potential criminal activity, such as breaking glass, metal cutting, or suspicious motion or sound near the vehicle.
  • Customers can warn potential thieves they are being monitored by speaking through the smartphone app, enabled by a two-way audio feature that will be available by next year.
  • The system’s AI is designed to distinguish true threats from benign acts – such as a cat jumping into a pickup bed or construction sounds near a vehicle – before alerting the owner or ADT monitoring agents of potential theft.
  • The system will alert ADT monitoring professionals if it detects a person loitering around or breaching the vehicle.

ADT monitoring agents can then contact customers, fleet managers, or police to take additional measures to help prevent theft. Credible threats will trigger additional responses, including audible alerts and programmable voice recordings and two-way audio in future updates.

The first-of-its-kind Canopy products will be sold through vehicle dealerships, major retailers, and online. Ford Pro will be an important launch partner delivering these solutions to commercial and government customers of all sizes, helping drive business forward and accelerate productivity at a global scale.

“Commercial customers around the world are laser focused on protecting investments from costly replacements that can impact their bottom lines,” said Ted Cannis, CEO, Ford Pro.  “Canopy will help Ford Pro deliver another service to fleets helping to improve total cost of ownership by staying productive and avoiding downtime associated with stolen tools and damaged vehicles – including the majority with mixed fleets since Canopy technology will be available across brands.”

More Innovation to Come
The Canopy team has been developing and testing its first technologies for two years as part of Ford’s New Business Platform innovation incubation group. They will now be headquartered in Detroit and London and led by Interim CEO Christian Moran.

Canopy also will seek relationships with other automotive, insurance, and technology companies to expand offerings, explore insurance benefits for use of the technology, and co-create new innovations.  

Ford and ADT’s investment in Canopy is subject to certain conditions, including regulatory approvals, and initial funding is expected to close in the second quarter of 2022.  The partners expect to invest approximately $100 million during the next three years.

Council on Underserved Communities Holds First Virtual Meeting

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Globe Newswire) — Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, joined John W. Rogers, Jr., Chairman of the Council on Underserved Communities, last week to hold the first meeting of the reconvened council.

“I’m excited for this kick-off as the CUC and its important mission align perfectly with the core of what we came here to do at the SBA and across the federal government in the Biden-Harris Administration: Ensure our economy works for everyone so that we can build wealth in communities across America, and strengthen our global competitiveness,” Guzman said. “I am hopeful in 2022 as I believe the SBA is strongly positioned to deliver on President Biden’s commitment to equity. And I know the CUC can be an impactful advisory group to advance the SBA’s work to meet our small businesses and entrepreneurs where they are and provide them with the capital, opportunities, knowledge, and networks to start and grow their American dream and build resilience — regardless of demographic.” 

The virtual meeting kicked off with introductions of the 15 members and a presentation by Guzman covering SBA’s efforts to uplift America’s small businesses since the start of the Biden Harris Administration. Following the overview of the SBA, the council members and viewers from the public heard directly from SBA program offices and their leadership around the work and priorities for the coming year.

Toward the close of the meeting, council members discussed their areas of work for the next two years, which will focus on amplifying the SBA’s programs and messages, expanding equitable access to capital and resources, and opening doors of opportunity to contracting and procurement.

“I look forward to working with Administrator Guzman and the White House to expand equitable access to both capital and customers for small and diverse-owned businesses,” Rogers said. “I am confident the Council will bring creative and impactful ideas to the table as we advise the Small Business Administration.”

Corp! NewsletterStay informed on Michigan business news