SPECIAL REPORT: Laws, Regulations Crunching Businesses Trying to Survive

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

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

Or are they?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a good thing, according to West.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gale Launches New Online Career Assessment Platform for Libraries to Help Job Seekers Navigate Today’s Economy

Gale, a Cengage company, has launched Gale Presents: Peterson’s Career Prep, a new online career assessment platform for libraries that provides job seekers with career planning and guidance resources to achieve their professional goals. Learn more at: https://www.gale.com/careerprep.

Degage Ministries to expand building and services for homeless

Grand Rapids homeless support agency Degage Ministries announces a $1.3 million public fundraising effort as part of its $6.7m capital campaign to expand its facilities and increase its capabilities to serve more meals, provide more wellness activities and add more beds to its women’s shelter.

U.S. First-time Unemployment Claims Drop to 860,000

National unemployment claims continued a recent trend of dropping.

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor Thursday, some 860,000 American workers filed for new unemployment benefits during the week ending Sept. 12. That’s down some 33,000 from the previous week.

According to the DOL, 40 states reported drops in initial claims. Another 659,000 filed first-time claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

In total, some 12.6 million workers continue to claim unemployment after peaking at 25 million in early May. The number of workers continuing to seek PUA sits at some 14.5 million.

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The most recent jobs report from the DOL showed that the U.S. had added 1.4 million new jobs in August, with the unemployment rate dropping to 8.4%. According to the DOL, employers have replaced about half the jobs lost since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heather Long, the economics correspondent for the Washington Post, told CBS News the unemployment numbers are “a small cheer.”

“It’s good to see those numbers come down a little bit,” Long told CBS. “The key to remember is we’ve recovered half the jobs. There’s still a long way to go

Some of the numbers:

  • California leads the nation by a large number with 230,225 claims last week. But that’s still down more than 13,000, the second-largest drop in the nation.
  • New York had 62,950 claims, down nearly 1,800.
  • Texas had the nation’s largest drop in first-time claims at 15,647. The Longhorn state had 49,644 first-time claims.
  • Georgia (42,080) was down 8,240 claims.
  • Florida (33,821) dropped by 6,435 claims.

Of the 10 states that had increases, Nevada led the way with a 2,583-claim increase. Hawaii technically fell into the “increase category,” but the state had only two additional claims.

“It’s like running a marathon,” WAPO’s Long said. “We’ve run the first half … the second half is the hardest bit, and that’s where we are.”

Financial Planning After a Market Decline

What should you discuss with your financial advisor regarding financial planning in response to market declines and future volatility?

Recent volatility has reminded us that markets do not always go up and sometimes can change rather dramatically and quickly.

During tumultuous times, it is human nature to experience fear and anxiety as the markets fluctuate.

So what could you be discussing with your advisors at this time? We believe it is important to take a goals-based approach when working with our clients. We follow a process that frames out both your short- and long-term goals, taking your risk appetite into consideration. We then apply a methodology primarily focused on implementing strategies across your balance sheet to help increase the probability of your achieving success, with success defined as having enough money to meet your lifetime goals.

With that in mind, the focus now should be on your goals. We think it is important to ask: “Have my goals changed?” If the answer is no, then it’s likely the plan you developed with your advisor is still appropriate. The plan we developed with you generally considers the long term and includes projections through the end of your life. Although our plans include stress testing for market volatility, now could be a good time to meet with your team to review your plan together.

As you revisit your plan with your tax, legal, and financial advisors, you may be able to take advantage of some opportunistic strategies. In other words, “When given lemons — make lemonade!” When asset values are depressed and interest rates are low, there are many planning tools that could be deployed, which, under the right circumstances, can produce benefits for your family. Below are some ideas regarding those planning techniques for you to consider with your advisors.

Tax Strategies — Roth Conversions
With the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act compressing the payout from traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs), now may be the time to consider converting to Roth IRAs. Although a Roth conversion will create a current tax liability, future appreciation would be excluded from income taxation. While asset values are significantly depressed, consider converting some, or all, of a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, since the tax bite will be much smaller.

Remember, we think this solution makes the most sense if you can pay the tax out of non-IRA assets.

Grantor-Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs)
The GRAT could be another helpful tool, especially during these volatile times. Assets transferred to a zeroed-out GRAT need only appreciate over the IRS Section 7520 rate (for April 2020, 1.2%) throughout the term of the GRAT to pass wealth to the next generation or trust for their benefit without gift tax (or using the lifetime gift/estate tax exemption). Even marketable securities can fund a GRAT. In certain circumstances, the risks may be limited to administrative, legal, and tax costs.

Defective Trust Sales
A defective trust sale is a freezing technique that takes advantage of the falling applicable federal rate (AFR). Low AFRs mean that business owners may have an opportunity to transfer ownership of their businesses to the next generation. Business owners may be able to take advantage of depressed values, so-called valuation discounts, and low interest rates to shift business interests to lower generations.

Life Insurance
With rates this low, irrevocable life insurance trusts can borrow to pay premiums. Split dollar plans to purchase larger death benefits may also be considered.

Lifetime Gifting
If you are making annual gifts to family members (or would like to work gifts into your plan), consider the following.

• Make gifts of marketable securities while values are depressed: In 2020, individuals can make gifts of $15,000 within the annual exclusion. Lower market values allow for more shares to be gifted and, when the market rebounds, the appreciation will be outside of the donor’s estate. The recipient of the gift receives the donor’s basis, unless the basis is greater than the fair market value of the property at the time of the gift; then, for the purpose of determining loss, the basis would be such fair market value.

• Contribute to 529 plans: Giving cash today to a 529 plan allows it to invest in the plan’s mutual funds while the market is down, providing for greater appreciation within the plan when the market improves.

• Create trusts: Gifting can also be used to create or add to trusts. Gifting assets in trust can remove the value of those assets, and the appreciation thereon, from estate tax.

• Consider using lifetime exemptions: Assets may be removed from the estate while values are depressed. When the market rebounds, the appreciation on those assets will be removed from the gross estate and may escape estate taxation.

Leveraged Gifting
A senior generation member could borrow against assets and gift that cash to a junior generation member, allowing the junior generation to invest in the market without basis issues.

These types of gifts could also provide a lifeline to junior generation members who might be struggling during the coronavirus outbreak with children at home, unemployment, or other financial needs.

It should be noted that when borrowing against investments, you should always consider the impact of market fluctuations on asset values and the possibility that declines in market value may result in margin calls and the requirement to add equity to the collateral pool.

Wealth Management Strategies Tax Loss Harvesting (Perhaps Offsetting Gains)
In a portfolio with large low-basis positions, recent market declines may allow large positions to be sold and the resulting capital gain to be offset by realized losses on other positions. If the portfolio doesn’t have offsetting positions, perhaps losses can be harvested for use in offsetting future capital gains. Don’t forget to avoid the wash-sale rules when making repurchases.

The wash-sale rule states that after an investor sells a security at a loss, they cannot buy the same security within 30 days before or after the sale date.

Refinance Your Debt
As discussed above, interest rates have declined and are at or near historic lows.

• Evaluate current mortgage structure(s); locking in today’s low rates could potentially lead to significant savings over time.

• While rates are low, consider moving floating rate debt to fixed-rate debt. Consider consolidation of high interest rate debt (such as credit cards and auto loans) into lower fixed-rate debt, such as debt secured by a residence.

• Review whether line of credit with lower interest rates would be useful if the current crisis continues for a long time, or may be used as “dry powder” to provide liquidity to make investments at market lows.

Exercise Stock Options
If you have stock options, consider exercising the options and holding the shares. The reduced spread between the strike price (the price at which the underlying stock can be sold) and the current share price may provide an opportunity to reduce the tax that would be due on exercise. Additionally, if you believe the company will eventually perform well, then holding the shares may prove to be a good investment purchased at a bargain price.

Borrowing to Pay Tax
Even though the U.S. Treasury has delayed the date when 2019 tax payments are due, as of this writing, not all states have followed suit. And, at some point, the tax will have to be paid. Rather than liquidating assets at a loss to pay tax, it may make sense to borrow to fund your tax bill and wait for the market values to return, at which time assets can be liquidated to repay the debt.

Emotions may run high in times of great uncertainty and, when reason is overwhelmed by emotion, decision-making often suffers.

Your PNC Wealth Management® team is here and ready to work with you and your advisors to help guide you through your choices by illustrating the potential impact of your actions and how they could affect your overall long-term plan.

New Podcast Brings the Story Behind Tom Monaghan and the Creation of Domino’s Pizza to Life

You may think you know everything you need to know about Tom Monaghan, the well-known founder of Domino’s Pizza, a long-time Michigan businessman, a native of Ann Arbor and former owner of the Detroit Tigers.

But a new podcast that focuses on the history of Domino’s, U.S. pizza wars and the challenges Monaghan faced in creating his former pizza chain will tell you more about this American entrepreneur and what he had to do to become an internationally known pizza guy.

Host David Brown and the staff of writers, producers and editors at podcast publisher Wondery put together a vivid telling of the Domino’s story in its latest season of “Business Wars.” The podcast, which has looked at everything from Ford vs. Chevy to FedEx vs. UPS, takes a deep dive into two famous chains: Pizza Hut and Domino’s.

Brown said he was intrigued by the Monaghan story and that of the Michigan pizza company that grew not only out of Monaghan’s spirit of competition but also because of the unique place where that delicious pie got started.

“Everyone loves to caricature Tom. But the truth of the matter is Tom did some really important things that I think case studies will be written about and in a way, these are are things that American entrepreneurs do on a daily basis,” Brown said. “Domino’s got too big for Tom, it really did, but, ultimately, it became an iconic business.”

Strong origins
On the podcast, Wondery goes into the background of both pizza companies. The story starts in the Midwest in 1958, where Pizza Hut’s first storefront in Kansas is an instant hit – two years before crusts begin to rise at the Monaghan brothers’ business that will become known as Domino’s.

The podcast goes through both companies’ origin stories, explaining how and why pizza franchises first exploded in the Midwest as opposed to the cities that housed many Italian immigrants. It also dives into their business models to find out what is in the sauces at Pizza Hut and Domino’s that enabled their success over the past 60-plus years.

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“What we like to do is to talk about the characters in a sense rather than go through the motions of telling you about the two businesses as they are now or giving you a sterile or stale history,” Brown said.

“One of the things Wondery is known for doing – and part of the fun of it – is giving the listeners an immersive experience. We recreate parts that are historically accurate – we don’t know exactly what was said, but we create vignettes that bring out the emotion of the story so as the listener can feel some of the emotional dimensions,” Brown said.

Everyday brands
The podcast highlights how much business impacts our daily lives, Brown noted. Over the past few years of working on Business Wars, Brown said he has realized just how much logos, marketing and entrepreneurism ties Americans together.

“Growing up as a little boy, I used to see logos and love to match that with the brand. To me, that was a fun activity,” Brown laughed. “As I got older, I realized that a big part of that is because many generations, us and worldwide, have grown up with brands and waymarks along their lives. Some have survived – such as Ford and Chevrolet. Others are huge symbols, such as Apple versus Microsoft.”

Brown is a great podcast host with his recognizable voice and understanding of journalism and business. He is former anchor of the Peabody award-winning public radio business program “Marketplace”, host of the hit podcast “Business Wars” from Wondery and a veteran public radio journalist for more than three decades.

Brown has reported national and international affairs for NPR and PRI’s Monitor Radio from bases in Atlanta, Boston, London, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Brown is currently completing his PhD in Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin and is an active member of the California Bar.

Brown also said the podcast gives its take on which franchise has fared better – but you’ll have to listen in to find out that answer.

“Every business story at its heart is really a people story – a story of people doing incredible things sometimes against all odds,” Brown said. “The restaurant business is enormously difficult and a fickle business. When you look back at what the founders – two brothers – did together, it’s pretty darned amazing.”

Facing COVID-19 Rise, GVSU Orders Students to Stay Home for 2 Weeks

Grand Valley State University students living on- and off-campus have been ordered to stay where they are for the next two weeks.

The Ottawa County Department of Public Health, in cooperation with Ottawa County and GVSU, has issued a “Staying in Place” order for GVSU students living and studying in Allendale Township to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The two-week order runs through October 1 and directs students in Allendale Township to remain in their on-campus or off-campus housing except to attend class, utilize food services, obtain groceries or medicine and medical care, for worship and religious practices, intercollegiate medically supervised athletic practices, or for employment. 

GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella said when Grand Valley made plans for the resumption of campus learning and residency, adjustments would be made when needed to ensure the continued health and safety of the Laker community. 

“All of us share the goal of keeping our communities safe,” said Mantella. “GVSU remains committed to following all public health guidance and to stopping the spread of this virus, and I want to thank all of our students who have been acting responsibly. The university has partnered with OCDPH from the beginning, and we ask our students to cooperate with this two-week order and do their part for their friends, family, and the greater community. We can slow down the spread if we work together.”

Staying in Place required actions:

  • All GVSU students attending classes at the Allendale Campus will be required to wear a mask at all times, indoors and outdoors, if in public both on and off campus. 
  • In-person gatherings with non-household members are strictly prohibited for the duration of this order. Under no circumstances are visitors permitted in on- or off-campus housing for the duration of the order. 
  • Students will be allowed to leave their room/residence for purposes of physical activity in groups of no more than two with strict adherence to preventive measures. 
  • Students can attend in-person classes, including labs and physical education classes with strict adherence to preventive measures.
  • Students can leave their room or residence to pick up food and other basic needs, go to medical appointments, pick up medication, attend religious practice activities or obtain COVID-19 testing with strict adherence to preventive measures.
  • Students can attend work with the approval of the employer if the work is essential and cannot be done remotely with strict adherence to preventive measures.
  • Students can have clinical rotations, student teaching or other off-campus experiential learning assignments to continue only with approval from the college dean and disclosure to the organization of placement and renewed approval by that organization with strict adherence to preventive measures.

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FAQs about the Staying in Place order can be found on the Lakers Together website.

Greg Sanial, vice president for Finance and Administration and interim director of the Virus Action Team, said it’s important to understand and accept the highly contagious nature of the virus. 

“Strict adherence to preventive measures is required, so students should take careful note of the new requirements for face coverings, distancing and contract tracing,” said Sanial. “Fully disclosing contacts is strictly for the purpose of keeping our community healthy. Please comply to keep friends and colleagues out of harm’s way.”

The Virus Action Team and Senior Leadership Team said the GVSU COVID-19 dashboard is now at Alert Level 3.

“This means extra vigilance is required of us all,” said Sanial. “Adherence to the order will help us reduce the positive diagnoses, especially in off-campus housing areas, and make sure the order is lifted in 14 days.” 

Mantella said students are expected to attend in-person classes on their schedules; she said campus operations will continue and offices will be open. 

Grand Valley has support systems in place to help students with a variety of circumstances, including technology, food and mental health issues. The GVSU COVID-19 Call Center is available at (616) 331-INFO (4636). Personal health-related questions can be directed to the GVSU/Spectrum 24-hour call center at (833) 734-0020. For other questions, email [email protected]

Large or Small, Cruise Lines Looking to Innovate to Draw Consumers Back to Traveling Open Waters

Great Lakes cruise lines, much like their international industry peers, are feeling the challenges of operating in a pandemic but have high hopes that their ships can be back in the water for 2021 and bringing new cruising options for eager travelers.

The cruise lines, ports, municipalities and travel bureaus serving the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway have released a list of safety protocols in effect for the 2021 cruising season. Organized by the international coalition, Cruise the Great Lakes, the group is focusing on getting the word out now so travelers can rest assured that 2021 cruising will be safe to enjoy.

Coalition board chair and Travel Michigan’s Dave Lorenz said the Great Lakes cruise lines are taking this time to boost safety protocols, create new services and think about what travel will look like in a coronavirus-conscious world.

“Small-ship travel will be seen as a logical cruise alternative to the big ships, so that works to our advantage,” Lorenz said.

The cruise industry also may see a rebound as innovations come about because of inventors getting creative during the coronavirus shutdowns and re-openings, said Leith Martin, Executive Director at the Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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Martin is on the steering committee of the Lee School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The competition aims to speed entrepreneurs in the development of innovations necessary to rapidly address the urgent problems facing the hospitality, entertainment, and travel industries resulting from COVID-19.

“The cruise industry was hammered at the beginning of this particular pandemic because there were very visible situations of ships not being able to port anywhere to let their passengers off. That image stays in people’s mind, and that is one reason why the industry has struggled,” Martin said.

“Cruises also put people in small spaces and in proximity to other passengers, so you’ll have air filtration issues,” Martin added. “But in the competition we’re hosting, we’re seeing different technologies being created to handle filtration and filter viruses out of the air. We’re seeing smaller, focused air cleansing systems that could be used in a single room, like in a cruise ship, which is interesting. … Managing ways to do that in more effective ways that could benefit the cruise industry.”

Old and new
What makes cruising the Great Lakes feel optimistic about the future is that smaller ships and local itineraries are likely to make passengers feel more confident about getting out there and traveling again, Lorenz noted.

“Our season doesn’t come until spring, so our operators have a lot more time to adjust to post-COVID as we know it and, because of that, their need to book people is a little behind what the big ship operators need to do in other places,” Lorenz said.

Among the challenges is the shutdown of lines such as Blount Small Ships, which has closed temporarily while the coronavirus situation is determined. Blount dropped out of the Great Lakes cruise association in the meantime, which creates challenges for the whole industry, Lorenz noted.

“Margins were so slim in that situation so it didn’t work for them. We hope they can come back later under a new organization,” he said.

But Lorenz is hopeful there will be “big announcements” soon in terms of new operators moving into the Great Lakes cruising industry and boosting not only opportunities for passengers but for the other travel destinations around the state, Lorenz added.

What also will boost travel and cruising is if a vaccine can be found and distributed, Lorenz added, giving travelers the confidence to get out into the world again. Many parts of the travel industry, especially hotels and convention centers, have been hit hard during the pandemic, Lorenz said, so they want to get back to business.

On the plus side, some travel sectors did well, especially those along the Great Lakes and travel centers in port communities, Lorenz said. He spent much of the summer traveling the state, especially to key tourist areas such as Mackinac Island, to talk about how safety protocols were going and to highlight the options available to people to get out with masks and social distancing.

Drive-In Restaurants Say Business is Holding Steady as Customers Cruise In for Comfort Food, Atmosphere

Restaurants of all sizes are feeling the pinch of the coronavirus pandemic, but drive-in eateries say they are noticing an uptick in sales and customer interest, especially as people look to “comfort foods” as a way to get through these unusual social and economic times.

Drive-in restaurants are the kind of eatery where you pull up to a specific parking spot, roll down your window and order your meal from a waitstaff who comes up to your vehicle. Everyone eats while, ideally, a cool breeze comes through the car, watching the cars come and go as you enjoy a meal in a historically socially distanced way.

Locally, Metro Detroit is home to a variety of solo operators as well as chain drive-in restaurants, giving consumers a wide array to choose from with their dining dollars. For example, there’s Eddie’s in Harrison Township, the Grand Diner in Novi, Jon’s Country Burger in Mt. Pleasant (a bit of a drive, yes) as well as A&W restaurants, including the iconic location in Berkley.

There’s good reason why these unique food destinations are seeing a boost in sales – people are eating more takeout than ever as well as looking for ways to support restaurants in a time when these slim-margin companies need it the most.

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In a new study, Bid-On-Equipment found that 43% of Americans feel unsafe dining inside of a restaurant – and that 65% are spending more than ever on takeout. Study highlights include:
• The average American is ordering 2.4 takeout orders each week – and spending $67 per week.
• 59% choose to order from local establishments rather than large chains.
• 40% of Americans are tipping less than 15% on their takeout orders.

A drive-in restaurant also is a bit of nostalgia. When you see the drive-in restaurant’s traditional menu, you’ll understand why these joints have stood the test of time. The menus tend to favor things fried, covered in chili or smothered with American cheese. The most popular dishes typically are sandwiches, hamburgers, bags of freshly fried potatoes and anything else you can hold with your hands.

Scott Grace is the second-generation owner of Daly Drive In in Livonia, the last location of this famous Metro Detroit restaurant chain left open. Today, the solo location is on Plymouth Road in Livonia and it is still serving everyone’s local favorites, Grace said.

Daly’s started with Bill Ihlenfeldt, who opened his first drive-in restaurant in1948. Located on what was then Jim Daly Road, it was called Bill’s Drive In. Shortly thereafter, he renamed it Daly Drive In, after its street location. Over the decades, Bill’s family opened other locations around Metro Detroit that became as popular as the original.

The Livonia location was opened by Bud and Doris Grace in March of 1959. It is now company owned and operated. Scott, who was born a month after the opening, jokes that his mother didn’t want to

The coronavirus has slowed business by about 20 percent, Grace said, but loyal customers young and old are still coming around for their comfort-food favorites. Grandparents are bringing their grandkids, he added, mostly so they can enjoy the outdoor eating as well as the food.

The biggest sellers lately are the fried mushrooms, cheese sticks and shakes, Grace said. But he knows as the weather cools the soups and chilis will pick up again. The biggest sellers of all are the hamburgers with the special Daly sauce as well as the Chee Chee, a sandwich made on a steamed bun with two slices of American cheese and coney sauce.

“We’ve been fortunate with how much the pandemic has hurt other restaurants that we had curb service. We never had to close,” Grace said. “All of our indoor sales just transferred outside under the canopy.”

Great Lakes Cruise Industry Issues COVID-19 Safety Pledge

Cruise the Great Lakes, an international coalition of cruise lines, ports, municipalities and travel bureaus, has recently published a Safety Pledge on its website. The group is focusing on getting the word out now so travelers can rest assured that 2021 cruising will be safe to enjoy.

Program Will Help Address Climate Impact on Public Health, Emergency Preparedness

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer believes climate change is already affecting — and will continue to affect — a wide rnage of areas, including public health and the state’s ability to respond to emergencies.

That’s why Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy announced the Catalyst Communities program, a plan her office called a “comprehensive initiative” designed to provide education, training, planning and technical resources to local public officials as they prepare for climate impacts on emergency response and public health.

“Michigan has seen and continues to experience the lasting effects of climate change and we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to protect Michigan families, environment and economy,” Whitmer said. “This program will give communities the resources they need to continue to implement real change that is seen and felt by Michiganders across the state.” 

The online Climate Academy training will kick off in November, but local officials can sign up now for the series of training classes and to receive more information. The program is a multi-tier instruction curriculum on adapting locally to the impacts of climate change on communities, mitigating harms and implementing clean energy solutions. After successfully completing the sessions, attendees will be better equipped to prepare their communities for potential climate impacts. 

Action on climate must be taken at all levels and local responses are key to ensuring that Michigan’s 10 million residents are able to cope with the stresses of changes that can no longer be avoided, EGLE Director Liesl Clark said.  

“The impact of climate change is real. We’re seeing it in our pink skies from West Coast wildfires and in mosquito-borne diseases as well as severe weather that is made worse by high lake levels,” Clark said. “Catalyst Communities will lift up the work ongoing in communities from Northport to Marquette and from Grand Rapids to Detroit. Catalyst Communities will support communities that want to do more and need to hear their options. And the program will create a place to learn for locals who want to take action and need to see what the path might be.” 

Participants will work to secure a resilient future for their communities into the next century by building emergency response preparedness, public health awareness, and economic revitalization solutions. These tools will help every Michigan community to succeed in a changing climate and the transition to clean energy. 

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The program, facilitated by EGLE’s Office of Climate and Energy under Dr. Brandy Brown, includes these four principal themes that move Michigan toward climate readiness: 

  • Emergency Preparedness: Offer guidance to communities on potential climate impacts with a focus on risk projection, resilient infrastructure planning and disaster recovery.  
  • Adaption Planning Resources: Provide up-to-date public health, climate resilience zoning, green financing and energy infrastructure guidebooks, as well as tools to ensure that every Michigan community is ready for the future. 
  • Economic Resilience: Provide advanced technological support that encourages rapid adoption of advanced energy technologies, all-sector building efficiency and pathways to training the workforce of the future. 
  • Integrating Equity: Ensuring that low-income residents and communities of color are provided with the tools to adapt to climate effects and that they benefit from climate initiatives like clean energy jobs and green infrastructure in neighborhoods. 

The Catalyst Communities Program continues Whitmer’s focus on preparing Michigan for the wide-ranging impacts of climate change. Shortly after taking office, Gov. Whitmer said the impacts of global climate change are being felt in Michigan and are projected to intensify in the future. In Executive Directive 2019-12, the Governor committed the State of Michigan to implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement, track progress toward climate action goals, and accelerate new and existing policies to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy deployment at the state and federal level. 

The New “PPP” for Small Businesses: Proactive. Positive. Planning.

There are key action steps that you, as a small business owner, should take in your quest to not only survive, but thrive, as you guide your organization into the “new normal” world of business.

Build and cultivate your “A” team
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those that empower others.” – Bill Gates
• Now is the right time to right-size and right-fit your organization. Think about developing a network of recruiters to hire the best. Be deliberate and fully vet your candidates. Be patient. The time you invest should pay off in the long run.
• Give recognition; be transparent and communicate frequently to share the “Good, Bad and Ugly.” Solicit input; listen and respond appropriately.
• Empower your employees with meaningful tasks that inspire growth. These individuals may well be the successors of your business.

It’s all about the numbers
“If you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business; it’s that simple” – Marcus Lemonis
• Know your numbers! If you don’t understand them, reach out to your professional advisors. They will help you benchmark and provide you with an objective picture of the health of your business
• Understand what the key metrics are for your industry. Develop a plan to monitor and react to these metrics on an ongoing basis.
• Plan for raising capital well ahead of time; the worst time to ask for money from your lender is when you need it.
• Know where and how you make your money by product line, service, location, division, etc. Be decisive and make changes when needed.
• Start tax planning now for 2020. Don’t forget that expenses associated with loans forgiven under the Payroll Protection Program are currently not tax deductible. Your taxable income may be higher than you think!

Keep it legal
“Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing” – Warren Buffet
• Insist on a buy-sell agreement. This is the equivalent of a pre-nuptial contract for businesses. It is nearly impossible to unwind businesses peacefully without this written understanding.
• Protect vital business assets (trade secrets/key employees) with confidentiality agreements. Consider key-person insurance and non-compete agreements. Realize that your most important business assets (human capital) walk out of your door every day (literally or figuratively).
• Have your attorney conduct an annual legal audit to review contracts, purchase orders, customer, vendor, employee and contractor agreements.

Look to the future
“Begin with the end in mind.” – Steven Covey
• Develop exit strategies. Prepare your business to continue and succeed without you.
• Know what your business is worth; it is likely your largest asset.
• Identify, grow and train qualified successors. These may be family members or employees. The stronger your team, the more your business is worth.
• Join, network and be active in your industry associations and with other similar businesses. You never know if you might find your next growth opportunity within this group.

As a small business owner, it is up to you to lead. Take the initiative to protect your business and help it reach its full potential. For more action steps see the May/June issue of Corp! Magazine.

“To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bank CEO: Pandemic Boosted Customers’ Use of Digital Tools, Changing the Way People Will Bank Going Forward

The banking industry — as well as Citizens Bank, in particular — is going to see fewer traditional bank branches in lieu of digital tools, advanced technology and “advice centers” for banking customers looking to borrow, deposit or learn more about services, according to Citizens Bank’s Chairman & CEO Bruce Van Saun.

Bruce Van Saun

Van Saun spoke Monday virtually to the Detroit Economic Club in a wide-ranging conversation that talked about the financial impact of the coronavirus on the banking community, how his individual company is handling the return to workplaces as well as how CEOs are handling stress during one of the most unusual times in U.S. financial history.

The Detroit Economic Club had planned to host Van Saun in person in April, but the onset of the coronavirus and subsequent quarantines prevented that. Van Saun met online with participants as well as doing question-and-answer sessions Monday with Citizens Bank’s Michigan President Rick Hampson to talk about 2020, future plans and his personal reaction to the events of the past six months.

One of the biggest changes Van Saun spoke about is what he described as the “thinning” of the Citizen bank-branch network in the months and years to come. As customers went to digital tools such as depositing checks via their smartphones, Citizens Bank officials realized they could shift some branches to advice centers and take those funds devoted to physical locations to invest in new technology.

Van Saun said he expects these systemic changes to be long-lasting both at Citizens Bank and across the banking industry. The plan to shift from in-person branch banking to advice centers accelerated by three to five years because of the new ways people were banking, as well as how they wanted to receive services during the pandemic, Van Saun said.

“Any crisis presents risk and opportunities. To me, you have to seek the opportunities,” Van Saun said during his online comments.

Moving forward
Van Saun said Citizens Bank will center on its digital agenda, look to innovate with new revenue streams that meet customers and business needs as well as boost customer service in an effort to remain competitive against a growing number of new financial companies.

“The No. 1 thing is to take great care of your customers – then there’s no reason to switch” to a competitor, Van Saun said.

Banks, including Citizens Bank, need to focus on their role as a “trusted advisor” to individuals as well as business clients, Van Saun said. For individuals, they want ways to handle life’s journey as well as tools for saving and borrowing. Businesses want help managing liquidity as well as help finding cash flow. Giving these customers the tools they want and the digital access they need will set any bank apart, Van Saun said.

Citizen Bank focused on its Paycheck Protection Program or PPP during the pandemic as well as boosting investments in small business, business people of color and putting more money toward low- and mid-income communities both as part of its diversity and inclusion effort and because banking needs to be in those spaces, Van Saun said.

As far as going back to work, Van Saun said Citizens Bank is following a graduated or step program to bring people back into the office. The first phase was inviting people to come back in; about 20% of the workforce did that. The second phase, which began Monday, encouraged people to come back in – he expects 20-50% of the workforce to do that. The third phase will require people to come back into the physical offices.

Personal change
The pandemic also was a time to focus on being a strong leader, Van Saun said. That means empowering his team to make decisions as well as communicating frequently. He did that through employee town halls on the phone as well as one-on-one interactions.

Personally, he spent a lot of the pandemic at work but in his free time, Van Saun said he focused on family – his adult children moved home for a time – as well as long dog walks, golf and tennis to stay physically fit. Having a “go with the flow” attitude helped as well as thinking about the long-term perspective, he said.

Going forward, he hopes to give customers and his employees choices, such as deciding to use digital tools and advice centers so they can empower themselves. Much like an airline’s customer can buy a ticket that suits their needs as they want, so should a banking customer have access to everything a banker does.

“The trick is making a profit, too,” Van Saun said. “We want to do more with our customers and really help them (as well we) generate revenue.”

Bradford Company wins ACG Western Michigan growth award

Holland manufacturer Bradford Company is the 2020 recipient of the Outstanding Growth Award from Association for Corporate Growth Western Michigan. The annual award honors a local company that demonstrates sustained growth in sales, profitability, employment and community involvement.

Community-Building Creator Looks Back on Five Years to See the Power of Supporting Non-Profits, Neighborhoods

For the past five years, Chanel Hampton has worked daily in her role of Community Champion at Detroit-based Strategic Community Partners to shout out the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion at the top of her voice.

Chanel Hampton

The firm’s five-year anniversary comes at a time when Hampton’s work with non-profit organizations devoted to helping neighborhoods, people of color and at-risk communities has never been more important. But it also comes at a time when her calls for action are finally being heard in the wake of tragic deaths of people such as George Floyd.

And, most importantly, it comes at a time when business owners and non-profit organizers including Hampton herself are struggling to balance work, family and friends within the context of a global pandemic. To say that it has been a life-changing five-year journey would be an understatement.

“When we launched five years ago, we started as a capacity-building firm committed to equity. Five years ago, people would ask: ‘What do you mean when you say equity?’,” Hampton says. “Unfortunately, people are getting a sense of that and more (in recent months). In so many ways, we don’t live in an equitable world.”

But what cheers her is that people are reaching out – companies are asking for diversity, inclusion and equity training. They are seeking advice on how to achieve their long-term goals as non-profit organizations with Hampton’s advice. Most importantly, they are learning about how they can still connect with SCP and its work through virtual experiences.

One such event is the inaugural Culture for Change Virtual Conference, which SCP is hosting Sept. 14 through 17. The interactive conference will offer 10 sessions across four days, focusing on skill-building moments focusing on personal leadership development; managing and leading; and organizational culture. The event was going to be in person before coronavirus but the SCP team pivoted to get it done, Hampton said.

“Through our work with community-focused organizations, we’ve seen first-hand the tremendous impact these groups can have. However, an organization is more than just a name; it is a collection of people who envision change and work toward a common mission for their community,” Hampton says.

SCP “cares deeply about people and recognize that management and organizational culture are critical components of the mission-driven employee experience. Culture for Change aims to provide leaders with the tools they need to strengthen their organizations, develop equitable work environments and ultimately drive change with and in their communities,” Hampton says.

SCP history
The brand has committed its services to providing excellent strategy and execution to community serving organizations with an unapologetic community and cultural context. SCP has built a robust array of partners, including The Obama Foundation, Detroit Public Schools Community District, The Skillman Foundation, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and many other community-based organizations and leaders.

Recently, Hampton and her team launched a community-impact incubators that is helping five Detroit-area non-profit organizations “go from good to great,” Hampton said. “They’re known in the community, but we’re helping them get bigger, learn and grow.”

Throughout the pandemic, the group has continued to meet monthly for intensive lessons, conversations and strategy sessions, Hampton says. There have been many important moments along the way that she will cherish.

With coronavirus and the untimely deaths of people of color, “it’s finally clicking for folks why we have been so committed and unapologetic about serving the community,” Hampton said. “There’s a storm that’s been brewing, and now people are seeing it.”

One of her biggest accomplishments has been helping others see themselves the way she and her team see them.

“We’ve been helping our partners dig deep into their strategic plans – some of them have gotten the largest grants in the history of their organizations because of our work together,” Hampton said. “Over the past five years, SCP has helped organizations get $10 million directly because of the work we did with them. It was truly a collaborative effort.

“My question for myself is not how are we successful as a business but how we show how Black businesses can thrive,” Hampton adds. “Sometimes, it just takes that one person to believe in what you think is a wild vision. One of the greatest gifts of doing this work is being able to see people’s visions come to life. It can be transformative in a person’s journey.”

Five-year view
All in all, Hampton says she can look at Strategic Community Partners as it celebrates its first five years as a testament to what she holds dear: The dream that is becoming a reality of creating a more equitable society with and in communities standing on their values of passion, excellence and integrity.

Hampton also is celebrating her own anniversary of sorts, working toward her lifelong mission to serve communities under her decade-long expertise embodying her lifelong passions for Detroit, justice, education and equity. Her journey also includes a newfound appreciation for self-care and giving herself time to enjoy her success and that of her firm.

“I’ve been telling my team and friends that I don’t want to come out of quarantine the same person,” Hampton says. “There are some habits I need to unlearn and do better. One is self-care.”

That means taking time for herself, reading more books and hanging out on her newly remodeled outdoor deck area, checking in with friends on the telephone and connecting more to the drive that got her into this business to start with.

“The work is very personal for me so it is easy to give every waking minute to my community and this work, so the opportunities to connect and check in has been really beautiful,” Hampton said. “I think I’ve actually built stronger relationships during quarantine.”

Facebook ‘Cowboys’ Debate Ends in Understanding at Sheriff’s Office

Like millions of people following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year and, more recently, the shootings in Kenosha, Wisc., Travis Porta and Jionni Ivy were getting caught up in conversations over racial injustice and police brutality on social media.

Livingston County Sheriff’s Department Uniform Services Commander Mike Nast (left) demonstrates the Milo Range revolver to Travis Porta (center) and Jionni Ivy.

After a period of time expressing often opposing views on Facebook, the two decided to stop arguing over right and wrong and go straight to the horse’s mouth for some answers.

That’s how Porta and Ivy, an account executive with United Shore who grew up in Novi and now lives in Ann Arbor, wound up in the office of Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy last week. Porta, who lives in Hartland and is familiar with the sheriff’s office, arranged a sit-down for he and Ivy with Murphy. Corp! Magazine was invited to be present at the meeting.

The idea: Learn more about the issues law enforcement officers face, particularly in these times of heightened tension between the law enforcement world and communities of color.

“Obviously, we know what’s happening in our society today … it’s no secret what happened in Minneapolis and what just recently happened in Kenosha,” said Porta, the owner of Grace & Porta Benefits of Brighton. “(Ivy) posted some stuff, I posted some stuff, we’ve sent stuff to each other. We decided that instead of being what we started calling ‘keyboard cowboys,’ let’s get together.”

Meeting of the minds
And so they did. Porta, a veteran of the business and community scene around the county, reached out to Murphy, in his first term as the county’s sheriff but with more than three decades’ experience in the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department, to see if he and Ivy could come in.

“I came in with the mission of trying to see how the training goes down and what officers are learning and how they’re trained,” Ivy said. “I got a little view of it, I got an idea of that.”

Murphy, who says he’s “huge” on transparency and openness, readily agreed. He not only sat down for nearly two hours with both men, but he arranged for a tour of the facility and some hands-on experience with the department’s Milo Range training software, which uses computer-generated scenarios that gives deputies training on handling a variety of “bad guy” scenarios.

But while Murphy was happy to sit down with the two men and discuss their concerns, he knows such meetings often have more of an effect than that.

“I know (Porta), but to be perfectly honest, if (a stranger) called up and said, ‘I’m having some issues right now and I’d like to come in and talk to you,’ I’d say, ‘Let me grab my schedule.’ That’s just how I am.

“I’m a firm believer in the ripple effect,” Murphy added. “That cop who goes out and has contact with somebody, and it’s positive, that pays huge dividends down the road. This (meeting) is going to pay dividends. There’s a little selfishness here, not for my office but for cops in general.

Social media attitudes
“I just responded to an email from a very good friend who is way opposite on the political side of things,” Murphy said. “Part of my response to her was people … will say things on social media that they will not say if they’re doing this (face-to-face talk).”

Murphy knows the damage attitudes on social media can do. Two months ago, he was part of a community forum on race and law enforcement, the idea of which was to answer the question, “What can we do?”

Travis Porta (foreground) and Jionni Ivy get a tour of the Livingston County Jail from Sheriff Mike Murphy.

“You can throw out any topic you wanted right now and (multiple people) aren’t going to agree,” the sheriff said. “That’s just the way it is. But we need to be able to respect the fact we’re not going to agree, and just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean we’re going to hate each other or whatever.”

Murphy believes everyone is biased to some degree, biases created by individual life experiences. Whether it’s race, sex, religion or even cars, “you’re a product of your environment and your life experiences,” he said, and bias is a part of everything.

Why is that important? Murphy said implicit bias is one of those things being thrown around in the police world and, he believes, contributing to a negative view of law enforcement officers.

But LEOs are getting “a ton of training on that right now,” Murphy said.

The stories numbers can tell
Murphy doesn’t deny there’s enough evidence to believe Livingston County might have a racial bias problem. He estimated that of the county jail’s approximately 260 inmates, perhaps a third or more (maybe as many as 100) of them are black.

But he also pointed out that maybe 90 of the jail’s inmates are federal inmates, brought to Livingston County from Detroit. He also pointed out that Livingston County is also easily accessed from nearly every direction via US-23, I-96 and M-59.

“That, coupled with the population of transient folks … when you start to paint that picture, it starts to make sense,” Murphy said. “I’m not a huge statistical guy. I’m a firm believer that if you have an outcome, I can build the statistics to prove or disprove it. You want to show cops stop more black people? OK, I can get the numbers to prove that. You want to show me that’s not true, I’ll get the numbers to do that, as well.”

Murphy believes people – the media included – settles for the easy, paint-by-numbers approach.

“We live in a sound byte world,” he said. “Nobody digs deeper, nobody wants to understand what’s behind the numbers.”

The conversation drifted toward one of the springboards for the meeting: The protests that have erupted since Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in Floyd’s death, had a history of excessive force complaints. CBS News reported over the weekend that prosecutors want to introduce those incidents in his trial.

That prompted Ivy to ask Murphy whether Chauvin would have still been a cop had he been a Livingston County deputy.

“Would he have lost his job?” Ivy asked.

“Yes,” was Murphy’s simple answer.

Records review
However, the sheriff didn’t want to delve into personnel decisions in other departments, but was willing to point out that his department, in the wake of the Floyd incident, looked at past records to determine whether there was a problem here.

The review went back five years and looked at “all of our use-of-force issues,” both at the jail and on the road, Murphy said. Every use-of-force incident has to be documented, reports that run through various levels of supervision.

“We’re very big on accountability,” Murphy pointed out. “We’ve had pretty good numbers, especially considering the number of contacts we have.”

Ivy asked whether officers who are found to have aggressive tendencies, or who routinely have to deal with high-stress situations, would benefit from psychological evaluations.

“I know it would be expensive,” Ivy said, “but would it be worth it?”

Murphy explained the department is having that conversation about making such evaluations mandatory right now, and downplayed the cost.

“I think that’s one of those things you probably can’t put a price tag on, because you don’t know what it’s going to save you down the road,” he said. “We’ve had the conversation, and I think we’ll get there in the next couple of years. We’ll have a doctor come in and talk to everyone, make it mandatory so no one thinks they’re being singled out.”

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Undersheriff Jeff Warder pointed out that such evaluations are already mandatory for detectives dealing with child criminal sexual conduct cases or child pornography, traffic safety officers – “Because of the things they see,” he said – and undercover officers.

“We already make it mandatory (for them) because of the things they have to respond to,” Warder said.

The conversation shifted into the “defund the police” movement, which really is more of an effort to redistribute funds to include mental health issues. Murphy acknowledged mental health issues – on both sides of the law – play a big part in what’s going on in the law enforcement world these days.

The LCSD, the sheriff said, offers counseling, there’s a peer support group, and the county offers an employee assistance program (EAP). The problem, according to Murphy, is that it’s taken a long time to get cops to participate and, more importantly, believe in such help.

“When we got in the business, it was old-school that you don’t ask for help … When nobody knows what to do they call the cops and expect the problem to be solved,” Murphy said. “We were kind of the answer people, and we still are to a lot of degree, but we realized we’re human beings, too, and we need to take care of ourselves in the mental health side of things.”

Help end the stigma
Ivy, who graduated from Novi High School, wondered how the county was handling school resource officers, positions that were filled when he was in school but frequently are not used now. Ivy said such positions could help dispel some of the stigma that “all cops are bad.”

“I’m at a bit of a crossroads because I grew up with officers in my school … I had a great relationship with the officer in my school,” Ivy said. “I know not all cops are bad. But the stigma that’s going on today is that all cops are bad or no cops are bad, there’s no in-between (on social media).

“I came here so I could emotionally ease up the tensions,” Ivy added. “I have very great memories. Emotionally, I wanted to do this for me so that I don’t have to feel afraid, when I know in the back of my mind that this is really how it is.”

SROs have been an on-again, off-again proposition in a lot of schools. Currently, SROs are in use at Howell, Brighton and Fowlerville schools, while Livingston County has three deputies assigned to the county’s community outreach team.

Those deputies work in concert with SROs, but they also work in the schools that don’t have SROs, and they work in conjunction with other nonprofits and service providers.

Community policing works
“It’s really a true community policing effort to try to address any issues before they become police issues,” Murphy said. “That helps my guys be better, too, in understanding what’s available in the community. We need to get back into more community policing, that street cop relationship-building, because that is the key. You shouldn’t have to be scared to see a cop when they walk in. We’re not that big, bad evil person.”

The SRO was a hot idea years ago, when districts and departments had the money to pay for them. Warder said those programs have been slashed as budgets have gotten tighter, to the detriment of the community.

“Community policing became, in the eyes of many, a luxury. Budgets got cut,” Warder said. “(communities) said, ‘this community policing project worked out well when we had the money to pay for it, but now we don’t have the money to pay for it.

“Now we’re in the social environment we’re in, and there’s all this talk about funding police officers, about defunding police departments,” he added. “That’s not the answer, because that’s not going to work. It will become a lawless society, you can’t have that. We can’t build community relations if we don’t have officers to build them with. It’s kind of a double-edged sword.”

Both Porta and Ivy felt like the meeting accomplished their goal: More of an understanding about what it’s like from the law enforcement perspective.

“I just felt like social media has really hurt our society from a communications standpoint,” Porta said. “You watch the news media, you’re either left or you’re right. I disagree with that because there’s middle ground. How do we get rid of that stigmatism, how do we get rid of the ‘all cops are bad’ mentality? I feel like I could learn some stuff from Jionni, and hopefully he learned I’m not a bad guy just because I have a different point of view on something, and vice versa. We can agree to disagree and still be friends.”

The meeting included about an hour of time on the department’s Milo Range training computer, which puts up computer-generated “bad guy” scenarios and forces officers – in this case Porta and Ivy – to make snap decisions about the scenes. Armed with a replica handgun with laser technology, the men were forced to decide whether the people on the screen were threats.

Ivy said he found the meeting, which lasted more than three hours including the training time on the computer, helpful to building his understanding of the law enforcement point of view.

While he doesn’t believe Michigan has the kind of problems found in the Minneapolis case, he still found the meeting helpful.

“It’s not that we really have that much of an issue here in Michigan,” Ivy said. “I came in with the mission of trying to see how the training goes down and what officers are learning and how they’re trained. I got a little view of it, I got an idea of that.

“I thought it was very helpful,” he added. “Two guys of opposing political views who are ultimately friends in the end … It brought us together, and that was a good thing. There is common ground, we can still hold our views, but now we can see each other’s, too.”

Domino’s Commits to Raise $100 Million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

ANN ARBOR (PRNewswire) — Domino’s Pizza, Inc., the largest pizza company in the world based on global retail sales, is announcing its commitment, together with its franchisees, to raise $100 million over the next 10 years for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The commitment is the largest in the history of St. Jude.

In honor of the historic pledge, St. Jude will name its newest housing facility The Domino’s Village, which will be located on the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital campus. The housing facility will feature 140 fully-furnished apartments, with one, two, or three bedrooms, designed to accommodate different lengths of stay and family sizes. Construction planning for the new facility is underway and it is anticipated that the facility will open for patient families in the spring of 2023.

The Domino’s Village will be a housing facility on the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital campus. The housing facility will feature 140 fully-furnished apartments, with one, two, or three bedrooms, designed to accommodate different lengths of stay and family sizes.

Domino’s, with the support of its franchisees, named St. Jude its national charity partner in 2004. Since then, Domino’s and its franchisees have raised more than $68 million for the kids of St. Jude, primarily through the annual St. Jude Thanks and Giving campaign. Customers also can round up their order total and donate the change to the kids throughout the year on dominos.com.

“St. Jude and its Thanks and Giving campaign have become part of the Domino’s culture, and we are proud to commit to the organization for the long term,” said Ritch Allison, Domino’s chief executive officer. “Everyone at Domino’s is honored to have the opportunity to bring to life a building that will offer community, comfort and care to patient families at St. Jude. We hope it stands as a physical representation and reminder to all on the St. Jude campus that Domino’s and customers of the brand care, and we will continue to support them.”

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The Domino’s Village will offer patients and families convenient access to treatment facilities on campus. Similar to other St. Jude housing facilities, The Domino’s Village will be a home away from home for patient families, offering a peaceful respite with living, dining and play spaces for patient family residents to enjoy.

“Domino’s, in partnership with its employees, franchisees and customers, is the model of the power of corporate purpose to change the world, and has been since 2004,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “This new, generous gift is the largest commitment in the history of our organization, and every Domino’s employee, franchisee and customer should be proud to be part of this selfless act of making the world a better, more compassionate place. The Domino’s Village will provide a home-away-from-home for the thousands of kids and families who come to St. Jude from around the world. They will forever be transformed by the generosity of Domino’s in their greatest time of need.”

St. Jude treats children with cancer, blood disorders and related life-threatening diseases. St. Jude treats about 8,500 patients each year, from the U.S. and around the world. In addition to housing and food, St. Jude offers an on-site school and numerous other services for patients and their families. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food, because they believe all a parent should have to worry about is helping their child live.

EAM Consulting Group Expands Sandler Training® to Southeast, Central, and West Michigan

With 10 years serving the Troy area, performance development company EAM Consulting Group has expanded its Sandler Training® services to both Grand Rapids and Lansing. The new locations have also stepped up to provide virtual services for clients in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edible Arrangements Metro Detroit Group shares fresh-fruit favorites with donation to Focus: HOPE

Metro Detroit area seniors and low-income families recently were treated to a bounty box of seasonal strawberries and cantaloupe as well as apples, oranges and bananas thanks to a donation from The Edible Arrangements® Metro Detroit Group.

Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Lodge again named ‘Greatest’ in the Great Lakes Bay Region

Both the Bavarian Inn Restaurant & the Bavarian Inn Lodge have been named “Greatest in the Great Lakes Bay Region” by Great Lakes Bay Magazine. The Bavarian Inn Restaurant was voted best in the “Family Dining” category. The Bavarian Inn Lodge was voted one of the best in the “Banquet Hall” category.

State Launches First-in-Nation Program to Offer Frontline Workers Tuition-Free Path to Community College

Michigan frontline workers who don’t have college degrees or high school diplomas are going to get the chance to go to college, thanks to what Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called a “first in the nation” program offering tuition-free educational opportunities.

Whitmer, along with leaders in education, business, labor and workforce development, Thursday launched the nation’s first program offering tuition-free college to an estimated 625,000 Michiganders who provided essential, frontline services during COVID-19 Stay Home, Stay Safe orders between April and June 2020.

Futures for Frontliners, inspired by the GI Bill which provided college degree to those serving their country in World War II, offers Michigan adults without college degrees or high school diplomas who provided essential services during the pandemic a tuition-free pathway to gaining the skills needed to obtain high-demand, high-wage careers.

The funding is not only available to those in the medical field, but also essential workers in manufacturing, nursing homes, grocery stores, sanitation, delivery, retail and more.

“This initiative is Michigan’s way of expressing gratitude to essential workers for protecting public health and keeping our state running,” Whitmer said. “Whether it was stocking shelves, delivering supplies, picking up trash, manufacturing PPE or providing medical care, you were there for us. Now this is your chance to pursue the degree or training you’ve been dreaming about to help you and your own family succeed.”

To be eligible for the program, applicants must:

  • Be a Michigan resident.
  • Have worked in an essential industry at least part-time for 11 of the 13 weeks between April 1 and June 30, 2020.
  • Have been required by their job to work outside the home at least some of the time between April 1 and June 30, 2020.
  • Not have previously earned an associate or bachelor’s degree.
  • Not be in default on a federal student loan.
  • Complete a Futures for Frontliners scholarship application by 11:59 p.m., Dec. 31, 2020.

Frontline workers are encouraged to visit www.michigan.gov/Frontliners to explore career opportunities, a list of local community colleges and get started on their application – even if they don’t already have a high school diploma.

The program is a $24M investment funded by Governor’s Education Emergency Relief (GEER) Fund – part of the CARES Act, and supports the state’s Sixty by 30 goal announced at the Governor’s first state of the state address to increase the number of working-age Michiganders completing an a industry certificate, college degree or apprenticeship.

Whitmer believes a more educated workforce is essential to help businesses grow, make Michigan a more competitive state to attract jobs of the future and help families navigate a changing economy and increase income.

Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio pointed out the “vast majority” of good-paying jobs continue to require at least some education beyond high school.

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“Futures for Frontliners gives those who helped save lives and kept our communities operating during the height of COVID an opportunity to increase their skills and income and helps us close the state’s skills gap,” Donofrio said. “For Michigan’s economy to recover and grow, its critical we continue to provide expanded opportunities to all.”

Advocates for additional career training say Futures for Frontliners also helps them off-set training costs and provide another avenue for retention and long-term career growth.

“Michigan manufacturers have been on the front lines in defense against the COVID-19 threat, creating essential products necessary for daily life; from food and pharmaceuticals, to transportation and even toilet paper,” said John Walsh, President and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. “The Futures for Frontliners program will recognize these truly-deserving heroes, investing in their personal future as well as the economic future of our state.”

Rachel Hurst, corporate affairs manager for Kroger Co. of Michigan, said Kroger, which employs nearly 20,000 frontline associates in Michigan and beyond, said the company is “proud and thankful” for each employee who “stepped up to feed our customers and our communities” during the pandemic.

“We’re excited for them to have this hard-earned opportunity to continue their education with support from the Futures for Frontliners program which pairs well with our Feed Your Future program,” Hurst said.

Henry Ford Community College President Russ Kavalhuna said the college is “proud to support” the program. “We believe this program represents a unique, first-of-its-kind opportunity for people who have earned a college education,” Kavalhuna said. “They put themselves at risk to serve Michigan residents during a pandemic. We will put their futures at the forefront now.”

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