Language-Access Expert: Businesses Need to Step Up on Access Because ‘We’re All in This Together’

Language access, an issue of national importance across the board, is taking on additional importance for businesses, government and other organizations as they learn to adapt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Across the United States, there are a growing number of cases of companies facing health crises because they did not take language access into account when sharing information about the pandemic. That has some language-access advocates worried and working long hours to inform the public and business owners of the issues U.S. workers will face if language access isn’t addressed.

A particularly dramatic example is the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, where federal investigators said in late April that a “failure to communicate” in coronavirus information packets resulted in some 783 workers testing positive for the virus. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention memo, 40 languages are spoken at the plant, but plant officials only sent home info packets written in English to its workers.

Michigan’s Bromberg & Associates describes itself as a Language Service company, and President Jinny Bromberg and her staff are working hard to talk about language access, the work being done at the state levels and the national impact of this work.

Bromberg said one of her main concerns relates to individuals who have Limited English Proficiency as well as Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients, who are among the most vulnerable. That concern relates to these patients trying to work with telemedicine and trying to advocate for their healthcare with unaddressed language barriers.

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As a Michigan-based company, Bromberg said her staff is “seeing it first hand as we translating all of the EOs and other COVID related content,” she said. “We have been working with the State of Michigan, other government agencies, school districts and businesses on providing information in a variety of languages from Arabic to Yupik.”

Important interpretation
Founded in 1999, Bromberg & Associates covers all areas of the language industry from translation to interpreting (Onsite, Video Remote & Telephonic) to website translation and localization. The Hamtramck-based company also offers multilingual desktop publishing and AV services; language training; cultural training and more.

Bromberg said her firm works with more than 60 languages locally and 200 languages worldwide. Because there is little face-to-face translation right now, her staff has been working through telephonic and video-remote interpreting, something they can do easily through their in-house platforms they created.

For example, a telephonic interpretation is often done through an 800-telephone number, like a three-way conference call, Bromberg said. The account holder calls in on an app or phone, and an interpreter is also on the line as the account holder connects to the person who needs an interpreter, like someone who may be limited in their English proficiency.

These kinds of services are unique because the platforms are encrypted and HIPPA compliant, so you can talk to your doctor with safety and security, Bromberg said. These platforms also were used before coronavirus, but she added that they are especially important now in light of the travel and in-person restrictions in Michigan and other states.

Another important factor for businesses to consider is that there are multiple federal laws that mandate language assistance by federally funded organizations for people who cannot read, write, or speak English very well or at all, including Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

While not all businesses are federally mandated or legally required to provide interpreters or translated materials, offering language-access options is a smart and responsible practice for customers and business-to-business conversations, Bromberg said.

Emergencies often heighten society’s social and demographic disparities and inequities. Low-income communities, people with limited English proficiency, and communities with limited easy-access to government and health resources are on the front lines of needing to obtain quick, simple-to-understand information and the access that they need to safeguard their health and safety.

Back to business
As businesses, especially large manufacturing plants, get restarted, thinking about language access even more is an important step in the process of reopening, Bromberg said.

Generally, Bromberg said, Michigan is a good example of a state that is working hard to make sure everyone has language access. One way this is evident is in the sign-language interpreter that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has on all of her press conferences. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo failed to do this for a time until a lawsuit required the state to start.

“The job that (ASL interpreters) do is so important it cannot be overstated. Sign-language interpreters deliver a message to a population that will not have that message otherwise so that is essential,” Bromberg said. “They are heroes in their own right.”

The bottom line is helping everyone, especially people who are doing their best to learn the language and those with disabilities, Bromberg said. It is key to remember that is can take the average adult up to five years to learn and master a new language, so we need to be flexible and offer people more grace than we may have as a society before coronavirus struck.

“We’re all in this together – that’s the reality,” Bromberg said. “If we’re not all on the same page, that will impact us.”

Michigan Senate, House Reports Paint Bleak Fiscal Picture

One chamber calls it what it is – a huge budget deficit – while the other simply refers to a rollback in projected revenues.

But both the Michigan Senate and House fiscal agencies agreed in separate financial reports released Thursday that the fiscal picture in the state in this time of the coronavirus is not a pretty one.

The Senate Fiscal Agency projected a $1.4 billion deficit in the state’s general fund and, combined with a projected $1.2 billion deficit to the school aid fund, concludes some $2.6 billion in cuts are going to have to be made.

And, while it doesn’t call it a deficit, the House Fiscal Agency’s report suggests cutting revenue projections for 2020 fiscal year down by more than $3 billion.

The reports were released a day before a state revenue conference to set revenue projections both for this year and next. And both reports, not surprisingly, blame the high cost of fighting the COVID-19 crisis for the budget problems.

“During 2020, both the U.S. and Michigan economies are expected to experience recessionary conditions, largely driven by COVID-19 disruptions primarily during the first and second quarters of 2020,” the Senate report reads. “Both the U.S. and Michigan economies are expected to then exhibit growth during 2021 and 2022, although Michigan is generally expected to grow more slowly than the nation as a whole.”

Michigan’s first COVID-19 cases appeared in early March. On March 23, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her first Stay Safe, Stay Home order closing all but essential businesses, banning large gatherings of people, closing facilities such as gyms, restaurants (to dine-in) and movie theaters.

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With cases (now approaching 50,000) and deaths (nearly 5,000) from the virus, Whitmer extended the stay-home order through May 28, although she has opened small portions of the economy, including landscaping, real estate, construction and manufacturing (manufacturers started Monday, the Big 3 are back May 18).

But the cost of fighting COVID-19 has had a deleterious effect on Michigan’s unemployment. With so many businesses shuttered, the state’s unemployment rate has risen steadily; the House Fiscal Agency report predicts a rise to 13.1 percent this year.

Since March 15, more than 1.7 million Michiganders have filed unemployment claims. The state has handed out some $5.62 billion in benefits thus far to some 1.4 million claimants.

State officials point out that some 92% of eligible claimants have either received benefits or been approved to get them.

 “While we appear to be outpacing most other states in paying benefits and processing claims, our focus remains on helping those who still need one on one assistance to receive benefits,” said Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio. “No one will lose a dollar of benefit they are eligible for and we will not rest until everyone gets the benefits they deserve.”

With Congress currently debating a fourth round of coronavirus relief – President Donald Trump called a $3 trillion proposal from the U.S. House “dead on arrival” Wednesday – Whitmer has been telling anyone who’ll listen that the proposal must include benefits to state and local governments.

The next relief package isn’t in sight, and state budget decisions are going to have to be made long before another round of relief comes from Congress.

At one of her recent coronavirus briefings, the governor acknowledged hard choices were going to have to be made, whether the next relief bill included money for states or not.

“By the end of May, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions,” Whitmer said. “Even if the feds come through, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions.”

Career Expert: Embrace the ‘New Normal’ So Your Teams Can Thrive

Old-school companies that love workers sitting in their offices, quietly working from their assigned seats, checking in constantly and never working remotely? Heads up: Linda Taliaferro says you need to change and get with the new times.

As businesses of all sizes slowly prepare for the lift of the stay-at-home order, employees are starting to prepare for physically returning to the workplace. And that’s fine, Taliaferro says. But it is time for some flexibility and compassion alongside that kind of workplace.

Instead, Taliaferro says she is advising her employer, her teams and her clients from her side hustle to embrace what’s coming. Coronavirus has people looking to stay home and continue to work in a way that’s both productive and acceptable. And the sooner employers get on board with that better normal, the better.

Taliaferro has worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies, including her current role as Vice President of Global Quality for Troy-based mobility supplier Meritor. At Meritor, Taliaferro is responsible for quality oversight at 28 sites in 18 countries on five continents.

Throughout her career, Taliaferro learned first-hand the challenges of climbing the corporate ladder and how various hindrances can prevent good people from reaching their full potential. She also has seen people, especially people of color, deal with various obstacles and question what was holding them back.

As a result, Taliaferro’s mission and passion are to flip the script so that more well-deserved people are seated at the table. Her passion for helping people get a seat at the table propelled her to create The TEE, The Extra Effort. The TEE has allowed Taliaferro to help educate more than 1,000 established and emerging professionals and get them where they want to go at work.

Her latest mission because of the coronavirus is to help people adapt to the new workplace, learning about how organizations must change and workplace cultures must shift in the aftermath of the pandemic. The biggest stretch will be for old-school corporations, Taliaferro said, where people must learn to work differently than they ever have before.

Coronavirus may have hit in 2020, but its impacts will go into 2021, 2022 and beyond, Taliaferro believes.

“To be frank, this was long overdue,” Taliaferro said. “We have different generations coming into the workforce, and they’re asking questions. My daughter, who is in law school, often talks to me about why (businesses believe) people should be in the office from 9 to 5.”

As a manager, Taliaferro said she had to learn how to be flexible to keep her younger employees inspired and recharged. In the age of coronavirus, old-school companies are going to have to think the same way: How can you engage your employees? How do you provide a team environment if people are working remotely? How do you keep talent?

Shifting focus
For example, Taliaferro is holding Thursday “global chats” for her team at Meritor, and she plans to continue to do that even when or if they get back into a traditional office setting. Being flexible and intentional is a key part of that conversation.

“That shift is happening,” Taliaferro said. “There is an appetite now for a conversation around flexible workplace where people don’t have to be in the office to be productive. But (companies) are going to have to have an open mind and a new way of thinking. Just because you work remotely doesn’t mean you are less productive. In fact, in some cases, people are being more productive now that they’re at home full time.”

Another important factor: Businesses need to make sure their employees who work from home or have flexible workforces give their workers the technology they need. That means greater infrastructure if they’re in the office or access to tools like Zoom for everyday meetings. People want to be connected, and a team that has the tools they need are collaborative as well as happy at work, Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro also recommends bosses and mangers take this opportunity to “walk the talk,” she said. Workers want to see management leading from example – so that means that CEOs and managers must embrace these new workplace norms.

“Is this an uncertain time? Yes. But will we be able to get through it with strength and perseverance? Yes,” Taliaferro said. “But you have to get to the other side as a team. You need to show your team what that looks like by walking it out. You have to use Zoom. You can sit in on those morning coffees and 5 p.m. virtual happy hours. Embrace that. Truly engage and connect.”

Be intentional
Doing Facebook Lives and Teams meetings with your employees shows a leader’s ability to shift and adapt, Taliaferro said. She believes in that one word – shift – so much that she is calling it her word of the year.

Finally, Taliaferro wants people to understand that coronavirus hasn’t changed their goals. People who want to move up in the world or become CEO? You can still do that, she said. You just have to be more creative.

“Being remote does not equal no career growth,” Taliaferro said. “Put in the effort. Reach out. Connect to a mentor. These types of qualities (to adapt) show your readiness to be a leader. … Can you do it the same way you would have a year ago? No. But you can still interview for a job and try it.”

The bottom line, Taliaferro says, is that life has changed. But being intentional, having a focus and being flexible has not.

“This pandemic is massive. But if it hadn’t happened, something else would have. Your career path will always challenge you,” Taliaferro said. “We have to be able to run straight into those challenges. Once we understand them, we need to do the shift necessary and still move forward. … You can’t shrink. Ten percent of success is what happens to you; 90 percent is how you deal with it.”

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.”

Facing Massive Deficit, State Furloughs Workers to Save Salary Costs

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks furloughs at Wednesday's coronavirus press briefing. (Courtesy State of Michigan)

With a massive budget deficit – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday it could be $3 billion this fiscal year – facing Michigan, Whitmer announced state workers will be asked to take furlough days over the next several months in an effort to save wage costs.

Whitmer said Wednesday Michigan would take part in the federal Unemployment Insurance Agency Work Share program to help offset those budget costs caused by the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Impacted state employees – more than 31,000 of them — will take two temporary layoff days per pay period beginning Sunday, May 17 through July 25.

Whitmer said the resulting savings could reach up to $80 million in decreased wage costs.

“It’s clear we’re facing unprecedented challenges that will lead to serious budget implications for the state of Michigan,” Whitmer said. “Utilizing this federal program keeps state employees working so they can continue to provide critical services to Michiganders and protects their paychecks so they can continue to support their families.” 

The federal work share program allows the state to keep employees working with reduced hours, while employees collect partial unemployment benefits to make up a portion of the lost wages.

State managers at the higher levels won’t participate in Work Share but will take one layoff day every other pay period, resulting in an approximate 5% reduction in gross pay.

In late April, the state temporarily laid off more than 3,000 employees to save the state’s general fund an estimated $5 million.

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Impacted employees will retain their health insurance and other benefits and will be automatically enrolled into the unemployment process.  

Whitmer had previously said she was taking a 10% pay cut and directed her executive team and cabinet appointees to take a 5% pay cut for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Today’s layoffs do not impact anybody working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. Law enforcement, the prison system, veterans’ homes, and other key health and human services all remain fully staffed with on-site employees.

 The moves come as Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, continue to express cautious optimism over the declining spread of the coronavirus in the state.

As of Wednesday, Khaldun said, the state was reporting 48,391 cases and 4,714 deaths. But, she pointed out, the percentage of positive tests had dropped to 6% on Sunday, an all-time low.

“This means our efforts are working,” Khaldun said. “People who have adhered to the governor’s stay home, stay safe order and social distancing measures have saved lives.”

Whitmer, who has allowed landscapers, construction companies, real estate workers and manufacturing facilities to go back to work, didn’t announce any other relaxation of the stay-home order.

The factors that will determine a progression into the fourth phase of the six-phase MI Safe Start program will include whether cases and deaths decline sharply, percent of daily positive cases continuing to decrease, health care capacity continues to strengthen and robust testing and containment protocols are in place.

“As we begin to carefully phase in sectors of our economy and as more Michiganders return to work, those who aren’t able to go back yet need to continue to stay home, to stay safe and, when you have to leave your home, be smart, “Whitmer said. “The only way we’re able to take these next steps is if we continue to take care of ourselves and one another.”

How We Pivoted: Detroit Parent Collective Pushes Pause on Expansion to Focus on Mental Health Support

Detroit’s first ever combined co-working and co-op preschool, Detroit Parent Collective, was set to expand to Midtown Detroit in a new partnership with Wayne State University. You know what happened next.

The coronavirus pandemic arrived in Detroit in mid-March, shutting down this huge opportunity for the collective. Instead of waiting for the stay-at-home Order to be lifted, Director and Founder Krista McClure started looking for ways to continue to serve families across Metro Detroit.

“I’d first begun to explore a partnership with a local hospital. Certainly, there’s a need for childcare and under Governor Whitmer’s announcement in mid-March which allowed for hospitals to operate a disaster relief child care center for their employers, I was eager to step in and support them,” McClure said.

“Our proposal was greatly received and led to a few conversations with a Detroit-based hospital; however, it was ultimately determined to be too high-risk,” McClure explained. “With the doors still open to future possibilities with the hospital, we knew this wasn’t the end-all but just the beginning.”

Knowing there would be a demand for mental health support services for the Metro Detroit community, Detroit Parent Collective consulted Nature’s Playhouse, a Ferndale-based center which provides all-natural play and wellness classes, workshops, birth education, in-home lactation services, counseling, fitness, support groups and more.

Together, they began to offer tele-health services free of charge to anyone who needs support during this critical time. Its eight-week series began May 11, and that first session was a success. Soon, Detroit Parent Collective will begin offering childcare to essential workers and healthcare professionals to support these workers during the pandemic.

“When we were placed on ‘pause’ due to the infamous coronavirus preventing us from launching our expansion site in Midtown, we knew just how serious this virus was to our community – and its families,” McClure said.

Perfect partners
Nature’s Playhouse team consists of LMSW clinicians and operates in compliance with HIPAA. This was critical in the collective’s selection of a partner, McClure said. Sarah Doyle, the owner of Nature’s Playhouse, earned her Master of Social Work degree from Wayne State University and became an active member of the School of Social Work alumni board. She joined the School of Social Work in 2012 as an academic advisor after working for over 10 years with at-risk youth and families in a variety of settings.

For kids, Detroit Parent Collective consulted Journey to Healing to provide storytelling with a parent-led artistic activity for children ages four to six years old.

“Nature’s Playhouse has been a supporter of Detroit Parent Collective since the beginning of time and it’s such an honor to do meaningful work together during this crisis in an effort to support the community at large,” McClure said.

Detroit Parent Collective is dedicated to offering a supportive co-working environment, together with high quality onsite childcare. Driven by its commitment to a social impact model, DPC is inclusive to Detroit area families with a special emphasis on bridging societal divides in all their forms.

McClure, who is a parent herself, believes that community and collaboration is key to surviving during these challenging times. As a result, this is not the first time the Detroit Parent Collective has stepped up to help during the coronavirus crisis. In March, it was able to deliver more than 1,500 diapers, 39 packages of wipes and formula to a local shelter. What makes that donation so powerful was that 25 families from both Birmingham, where McClure lives, and Detroit, where her business is, and one Royal Oak / Macomb Township resident contributed to that effort in one day, McClure said.

Detroit Parent Collective is located at 8418 McNichols Rd W. in Detroit, Michigan. The new satellite location will be located at 695 W. Kirby St. Detroit, Michigan.

Historic Ford Estate Shares Its Floral Bounty with Essential Healthcare Workers

When you have a beautiful tulip garden, but there is a stay-at-home order and your gates are closed, what do you do?

Kelley Maricle, the horticulturalist at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford estate in Grosse Pointe Shores, also is a skilled florist. Maricle made arrangements from the home’s beloved flowers, and the home’s staff shared them with frontline workers at Ascension, Beaumont Health, and Henry Ford Medical Center – Cottage.

The historic estate was the home of Eleanor and Edsel Ford, and is a National Historic Landmark. Its gardens, designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen, draw people from around the state to visit and admire their beauty.

“It’s a small gesture of gratitude, but we hope these brighten their day,” the estate’s officials said on social media.

Billions Flow, Billions Remain in Paycheck Protection Program’s Second Phase

At least one business, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meritage Hospitality Group, is turning down millions of dollars for which it qualified under the federal Paycheck Protection Program because, officials said, guidance in the program is “unclear.”

And, over the course of the two phases of the PPP plan, originally approved in March as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), several large businesses – notably among them the Los Angeles Lakers – returned money that wasn’t meant for them (the program is meant to help small businesses meet payroll and other expenses).

But as the second round of PPP loans make their way through the system and money is disbursed to businesses, officials at the U.S. Small Business Administration say those issues made up a very small percentage of applications, and they’re pleased with the way the program is now running.

“We have eliminated those issues,” said Rob Scott, regional director of the Great Lakes Region of the SBA. “When you stand up a program at the speed we did it … our eligibility was a little loose and some of those businesses were able to qualify. But it was less than 1% of the overall pot.”

The PPP provides forgivable loans to small businesses so they can maintain their payroll, hire back employees who may have been laid off, and cover applicable overhead. In the first round, the program ran through its $349 billion allotment in just 13 days.

The second round, funded at $310 billion, started April 27, and in three weeks has handed out some $190 billion in loans. According to Scott, there is still some $120 billion available. According to data, the rate of loan approvals has slowed from some 442,000 to 52,000 per day.

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Scott said that’s because the size of the average loan is smaller – it was over $200,000 in the first round, compared to $73,000 now – and the money is being stretched farther.

There’s also a June 30 deadline coming up to use the money – it was mandated in Congress’ original legislation, according to Scott – and that may be scaring some businesses off.

The PPP program was designed to provide eight weeks’ worth of payroll to be used by the June 30 deadline. That looming deadline, Scott said, may be making businesses “leery of taking the loan” because they won’t be able to comply with the eight-week deadline necessary to trigger loan forgiveness.

But Scott said the eight-week deadline for using the PPP money is likely to be extended.

“Supposedly, Congress is going to fix that,” Scott said. “When Congress passed the CARES act and allocated money for the program, they were looking into a crystal ball and estimating most states would be open in eight weeks. No one could have foreseen that some states aren’t going to be open, or only open in a limited capacity.

“The deadline does need to be modified,” he added. “The thought process is that the deadline is going to be extended, hopefully soon. We certainly want to push the program to anyone and everyone who needs it.”

Meritage Hospitality Group CEO Robert Schermer isn’t waiting. In a statement published in several media outlets, Schermer said “as a result of shifting rules, unclear guidance and stabilized restaurant sales, the Company chose not to accept loans or participate in the (Paycheck Protection) Program.” The company said it would seek other federal aid in the form of tax benefits.

Meritage owns hundreds of Wendy’s franchises, Twisted Rooster and other restaurants across multiple states.

Scott said he understood the frustration over some of the guidance issues, but that their concerns are being taken into consideration and addressed.

“I think it’s a mistake (to decline the loans),” Scott said. “We stood the program up in six days, so we are literally building the plane as we fly it. I think businesses need to understand we’re taking their feedback, incorporating it into the guidance. We’re trying to help them. If they feel it’s going to be punitive some way, that’s their decision.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of businesses in other states are perfectly comfortable accepting the loans:

  • California businesses have received some $36 billion for more than 376,000 applications.
  • Some 222,000 Florida businesses have received $13.4 billion.
  • Texas has received $13.9 billion for nearly 205,000 applications.
  • New York has had 190,000 applications approved and received $18.8 billion.

Despite his state’s position atop the list of approved loans in the second round, Gov. Gavin Newsom said California got short-changed a bit in the first round.

“The first round of dollars, Californians did not fare as well as we should have in terms of the percentage of the loans we were able to draw down and the amount of dollars we were able to draw down,” Newsom said during a recent visit to a Sacramento gift shop, according to ABC-7. “We are doing much better in this second round.”

Businesses in the Great Lakes Region – which includes Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota – have seen more than $24 billion approved in the second round, for a total of more than $89 billion since the program’s inception.

Illinois ($6.9 billion) and Michigan ($5.8 billion) are the region’s top funders in the second round; Ohio ($19 billion overall) joins them in the region’s top three overall.

Manufacturers Back on the Job as Stay Home Restrictions Ease

Hundreds of thousands of workers were back on the job Monday, or at least headed that way, as the manufacturing industry began to reopen after restrictions were lifted by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

One of the tasks at hand? Prove to the governor that manufacturers could work both safely and productively at the same time following the removal of restrictions under Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order.

Like other non-essential businesses across the state, manufacturing had largely been shut down since mid-March, when Whitmer first issued her stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Only about 4-5% of manufacturers were classified “essential” and allowed to remain open.

Until Monday. That’s when Whitmer relented, after being convinced by manufacturing, business and labor leaders that their segment of the state economy – manufacturing represents some 20% of the state’s Gross Domestic Product – could be opened.

John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturing Association, said he’s been working with Whitmer and other leaders to get the manufacturing industry open.

“We want people to know we can work together safely and productively,” Walsh said. “Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. We were able to work with (Whitmer) to show that, following OSHA and CDC guidance, we could (go back) safely.”

It’s the latest step in Whitmer’s reopening strategy, using a six-phase projection she unveiled last week. The state is currently in Phase 3 (flattening of the coronavirus curve), when the epidemic is no longer increasing and the health system’s capacity is sufficient for current needs.

She has allowed businesses such as landscapers, real estate agencies and construction workers to get back to work. Manufacturing started Monday, and the auto industry is set to resume next week.

Walsh said he and other leaders have spent the three weeks since Whitmer’s extension of the stay-home order trying to convince her team that manufacturing could reopen safely. In fact, Walsh said, the 4-5% of businesses that were deemed essential were already doing that.

The other factor, according to Walsh, was the thought Michigan could start losing out on supply-chain business. There was a lot of pressure, he said, on manufacturers who’d been deemed non-essential.

“We were able to make the point that we were going to start losing business to competitors elsewhere if we weren’t able to start back up. Those two things were the key drivers.”

Whitmer said manufacturing was allowed to resume because the people in the state “are doing their part” to combat the coronavirus.

More: Whitmer: Six-Phase Plan ‘Critical’ to Reopening Michigan’s Economy

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The number of positive cases has been declining – as of Monday Michigan had 47,552 cases and 4,584 deaths from COVID-19 – to the point the state is at its lowest percentage since the beginning of the crisis in early March.

“The aggressive actions we have taken as a state … are working because the people of Michigan are doing their part,” Whitmer said. “We’ve got to remember that continuing to stay home and stay safe is the key … so that we can re-engage sectors of our economy sooner.”

Obviously, the shutdown has been costly to Michigan companies. Walsh talked of a Livonia business that pre-COVID-19 did some $5 million in business a month. Since the shutdown, that revenue has dwindled to some $100,000.

Walsh said owners have still been paying for health insurance and some benefits, and that many employees were on unemployment until the business could get a Paycheck Protection Program loan (available to help with payroll and other expenses through the federal CARES Act), and they’ve “been able to use that instead of unemployment.”

Owners, Walsh said, have “done everything they can to survive, and they will.”

Reopening isn’t going to be a magic bullet for the state’s roughly 323,000 manufacturing employees – “It’s going to be more than this week to get comfortable. It’s going to take time,” Walsh said – and it’s happening slowly. Auto suppliers and other manufacturers will start by getting their facilities open, retraining personnel as necessary and then restarting production.

The Big 3 aren’t starting until May 18. And they’ll have to start, like everyone else, by implementing enhanced safety measures to keep their employees healthy and confident of the safe environment in auto plants around the state.

“Above everything else, our top priority has always been to do what is right for our employees,” Mike Manley, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler, said in a release Monday. “We have worked closely with the unions to establish protocols that will ensure our employees feel safe at work and that every step possible has been taken to protect them.

“We have drawn on our collective global expertise and best practices to rethink our production processes to put in place comprehensive protocols to keep our workforce safe,” he added.

Walsh said the MMA has done webinars, town halls and group phone calls to talk about what it’s going to take to restart. The MMA started providing information and suggestions “weeks ago,” Walsh said, generally using OSHA and CDC guidelines.

Because of that level of communication, he said, he believes businesses will be prepared to meet the needs – personal protective equipment and other safeguards, etc. – to safely reopen. There will be a cost, Walsh acknowledged, but perhaps not a tremendously daunting one.

It helps, he said, that the state understands some of that equipment may not be readily available at first.

“We think it’s achievable,” Walsh said. “We’re going to keep working with MIOSHA on enforcement … because that’s going to be the gray area. The implementation isn’t going to be bad. I had 20 businesses on a phone call (Tuesday), and all of the questions were reasonable questions. Nobody’s hair was on fire.”

So, what’ll be next? At her Monday coronavirus press briefing, Whitmer wouldn’t say. She did say that the 14-day period that’s been used recently “is just about right” to determine the results of loosened restrictions. “We recognize there may be instances where we move a little faster,” Whitmer said. “There may be instances where we have to move a little slower. The thing you can’t plot on a calendar is human behavior. That’s why it’s so important that everyone continues to do their part. That’s how we continue to turn this dial and take the next step into the next phase.”

As Hotels Prepare to Re-open, the Industry Looks to Partner with Health, Technology Experts

The hospitality industry, especially hotels and restaurants, eager to serve customers again are creating new programs and procedures to make sure people feel comfortable staying with them in the age of coronavirus.

A good example of this is Rochester’s Royal Park Hotel, which recently announced it will re-open May 18. Its plan includes three phases, which it hopes will allow its guests and workers to feel safe and secure about being inside the hotel and using its amenities, officials said.

The first phase of the hotel’s opening plan will be to offer overnight accommodations, carryout and curbside pick-up from PARK 600, along with a “Work from Our Home” daily self-meeting package. Customers also can ask for special cleaning as well as sanitizing products as desired, said Sue Keels, Royal Park Hotel general manager.

“We believe we were among the first to close our doors and do the right things (for our customers and employees),” Keels said. “We made that bold move because we wanted to be leaders. But we also want to be leaders on the other side, so that’s why it’s important to us to look at the future.”

Royal Park Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel near downtown Rochester’s Main Street. It features 143 guest rooms and suites as well as event facilities accommodating up to 1,200 guests. It also has on-property dining at PARK 600 restaurant as well as full concierge services.

Royal Park Hotel wants to have “best practices” for the industry, so it is working with its employees, health officials and its partners at WorldHotels & BWH Group, to ensure the hotel is providing the highest level of safety and sanitation,” Keels said.

As a testament to Royal Park’s longtime commitment to these standards, the hotel recently received AAA’s Best of Housekeeping award for 2020. The property was recognized as one of only 25% of AAA members that exceed the standards of cleanliness.

Cleaning crews
Maintaining a clean environment as well as strongly communicating that effort will be important to employees and vendors in the reopening of businesses, said Trisha Plovie, Senior Regional Vice President of Robert Half in Detroit.

Robert Half recently conducted a survey of more than 1,000 professionals to gauge worker sentiments regarding the post-pandemic return to the office, given that many stay-at-home orders have changed how millions of us work each day.

In the survey, employees said they don’t expect to return to business as usual. When asked about measures they expect their employer to take following COVID-19, top responses included: Allowing employees to work from home more often (79%); having better cleaning procedures (79%); holding fewer in-person meetings and trainings (70%); and staggering employees’ work schedules (55%).

How the office is cleaned, for example, is really important to workers, Plovie said. “Everybody wants to make sure the environment they’re walking into is a safe environment and we’re controlling that environment,” she added.

National standards
In early May, The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) introduced Safe Stay, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols designed to prepare America’s hotels to safely welcome back guests and employees as the economy reopens. AHLA officials said these protocols “represents the top priority for the industry, the health and safety of guests and employees.”

These iniatives include enhanced cleaning standards throughout the hotel, including guest rooms, meeting spaces, common areas, and back-of-house spaces; the use of “superior cleaning products” with a greater concentration of bacteria-killing ingredients, in accordance with CDC guidelines; and social-distancing practices and reducing person-to-person contact Increased transparency throughout the guest journey.

Nearly two dozen hotels, including those around Walt Disney, have signed up to follow these protocols and the list is likely to continue to grow, AHLA officials said.

New initiatives
As the Royal Park Hotel reopens, it is making some significant changes, Keels said. Here are some of the ways it is moving forward:

• Investing in a state-of-the-art Clorox Total 360 electrostatic sprayer system. It is clinically tested to clean & sanitize 99.9% of viruses and bacteria including hard-to-reach surfaces.
• P&G hospital-grade cleaning and disinfecting products are being utilized in all areas of the hotel. This is a practice the hotel has had in place for years, but is now increasing the frequency of use.
• Hotel lobby, elevators, restaurant, meeting space and other heavily trafficked areas will be equipped with sanitizer stations for guest use.
• Social distancing will be strictly enforced. Plexiglass sneeze guards have been installed in the lobby along with social distancing tape and signage throughout.
• Check-In has gone digital. Offering mobile keyless entry and text messaging capabilities for communication. Guest safety and peace of mind are of the utmost importance.
• All guest rooms will be ionized prior to servicing upon departure to purify the air of bacteria and allergens.
• Duvets are laundered after each departure and rooms are disinfected and sanitized with P&G’s hospital-grade line. In addition, knock & drop sanitation kits to spray down luggage and other belongings will be available for those who would like the additional peace of mind.
• PARK 600 will be utilizing disposable menus and napkins. There will be fewer tables and chairs to ensure proper social distancing, and every table and chair will be sanitized prior to seating the next reservation. As well, DoorDash delivery service and curbside pickup will be available.

Royal Park is maximizing indoor and vast outdoor spaces for dining, as well as for meetings and events.
Meetings and events will offer customized plated meals and individually wrapped options. Each event will have its own sanitizer station and will be monitored for proper social distancing.

In the coming months Royal Park will look to open for dine-in service both indoor and on their outdoor terrace at its PARK 600 restaurant. Also, Keels said the hotel’s events will look to resume based on the executive orders set forth by the governor.

Concorde Investment Services recognized as top ‘Financial Advisers’

Concorde Investment Services (Concorde), a nationally recognized private firm offering a full spectrum of services and support for financial professionals, announced that the firm has been recognized by InvestmentNews as a 2020 Best Place to Work for Financial Advisers.

FOURMIDABLE Celebrating 45th Anniversary in 2020

FOURMIDABLE, a diversified, national real estate management company specializing in managing public housing, senior and family government assisted, market rate, tax credit, rural development and condominium communities, is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.

Whitmer: Six-Phase Plan ‘Critical’ to Reopening Michigan’s Economy

In the last eight weeks or so, Michigan has passed through two phases of the COVID-19 pandemic: Uncontrolled growth and persistent spread.

According to the MI Safe Start Plan (see the entire plan here) she’s using to re-engage the state’s economy in light of the fight against the coronavirus, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday Michigan has moved into the third stage, which is why she’s slowly reopening the state economy.

Whitmer, who Thursday extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 28, said the state has “come a long way” in the last two months – “It seems like a lot longer in many ways,” she said – which is why she said she’s been “so aggressive” in the fight against the virus.

At one point, she said, Michigan – the country’s 10th-largest state – had the third-highest case total and still has the third-highest death total.

“Because of this, Michigan has had a uniquely tough time with COVID-19,” she said. “That’s why we’ve had to be so aggressive.”

At her coronavirus press briefing Thursday, Whitmer detailed the six phases of her MI Safe Start Plan to re-engage Michigan’s economy. The governor said she has worked with leaders in health care, business, labor, and education to develop the plan.

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The phases include:

  • Uncontrolled growth, with increasing numbers of new cases every day, overwhelming state health systems. “That’s where we were eight weeks ago,” Whitmer said Thursday.
  • Persistent spread, when the state continues to see high case levels with concern about health system capacity.
  • Flattening, when the epidemic is no longer increasing and the health system’s capacity is sufficient for current needs. “That’s where we are right now.”

This is the stage Whitmer said the state is in now, which is why she has reopened some segments of the economy. Thus far, Whitmer has allowed construction, real estate activity, landscaping work, manufacturing (May 11) and automakers to resume (at 25% capacity, beginning May 18).

She’s also allowed motorized boating, golf (practicing social distancing), and other outdoor activities that can be done safely.

“We know that, even in this phase, we’re still safer at home,” Whitmer said. “While we can re-engage in more things, we’ve got to be smart about it.”

  • Improving, when cases and deaths are clearly declining.

“This is where we hope to move next, in short order, depending on how well we all continue to be vigilant,” she said.

  • Containing, with continued case and death-rate improvements, with outbreaks quickly contained.
  • Post-pandemic, when community spread is not expected to return. “It’s going to be awhile, let’s be clear about that,” Whitmer said. “The good news is we’re starting to move forward.”

Whitmer said she’s been “working closely” with health care experts and epidemiologists to “closely monitor” the state’s progress. Moving forward, she said, she’s working with leaders in business, labor and education “to determine the best way to move forward each day.”

“All of us know the importance of getting people back to work and the economy moving again,” Whitmer said. “The worst thing we can do is open up in a way that causes a second wave of infections and death, puts health care workers at further risk, and wipes out all the progress we’ve made.

“Case studies abound that those who resume life as it was … can go right back into a second wave, and that wave can be as deadly or worse than the first, and certainly as economically damaging as the first,” she added. “That’s why this staged recovery is so critical. We have to continue to move incrementally and measure our data every step of the way.”

Remote Job Seekers Still Need to ‘Dress for Success,’ Practice for Virtual Interviews

Whether you’re an employee who was laid off, an intern who is looking to start a summer gig or a mid-career worker hoping to jump into a new field, anyone who is looking for a new job is going to have to learn how to interview online.

An estimated 33 million people across the United States have lost their jobs in the past two months due to quarantines or other work-related issues as a result of the coronavirus. Moreover, about three quarters of the U.S. workforce are doing their jobs remotely, something that is likely to continue as states slowly reopen to in-person work as a result of COVID-19.

Anyone who is looking for a new job is going to face an all-remote recruitment process in the weeks and months to come, predicted Trisha Plovie, Senior Regional Vice President of Robert Half in Detroit. That’s why home-based job seekers must adapt to this “new normal,” as well as the ups and downs of starting a new job remotely, Plovie said.

It is a strange, new world for many workers, Plovie added, “but it can lead to great opportunities.”

“What’s not changed is the high level of communication you need to possess,” Plovie said. “Just because we’re in the comfort of our homes doesn’t mean we should be any less professional than we could be with that interviewer.”

More: Traditional Brick-and-Mortar Retail, Restaurants Go Virtual: ‘We Had to Change and Evolve’

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So where do you start? Plovie offered these tips on how to search, applying for an interview remotely, best practices for video interviews and how to get those all-important first days on the job to go smoothly when you’re working behind a screen rather than an office desk.

  • Get your resume up to date. Think of all of the skills you bring to this new workforce, especially those soft skills. You’ll want to highlight what kind of online experience you may have as well on that key document.
  • Surf the leading online job boards. There are a number of job websites that offer a lot of remote work opportunities, Plovie said, including FlexJobs and AngelList. These sites are well-established places to find remote jobs across a number of industries that are hot right now.
  • Talk to your friends, family and professional contacts about who is hiring. If you’re on a family Zoom call or hanging out on a watch site like Netflix, drop in there that you’re looking for remote work, Plovie said.
  • Check out your local staffing company, LinkedIn or chamber of commerce. These groups are still meeting online, and you may have a chance to introduce yourself during Skype meetings or Zoom calls and see who is hiring, Plovie said. “It’s about screening in versus screening out,” she said. “You may not know where your next job is coming from – LinkedIn is still a great resource, for example, because (companies) are still posting jobs there.”
  • Don’t be afraid of temporary jobs. These short-term gigs can teach you new skills and introduce you to people that may help you find your way, Plovie said. These jobs also can become long-term relationships that could help build your career.
  • If you get a job interview, it is going to be all about video interviewing. Make sure that you’re up to speed on latest technology: Teams, Skype, Zoom and the rest. Check them out before the time to talk starts to make sure you can work all of them for a successful interview.
  • Practice with someone in your family – video interview with someone else or use your smartphone to try a Facetime interview. Plovie said. You want to make sure your skills are sharp and you’re prepared. Find a quiet space, which Plovie said can be challenging right now. Let your family know you’re going to be busy and clear any background distractions to the best of your ability.
  • Dress professionally when you do get that new job. Prepare your suits and business-casual outfits for the new workforce and make sure you look the part you want to play within that organization.

Detroit Country Day School Announces Three Appointments to Board of Trustees

Detroit Country Day School has appointed three new members to the school’s leadership board. Dr. Steven Kalkanis of Henry Ford Health System, CEO of Reverie, Martin Rawls-Meehan, and public school education veteran Dr. Sabrina Smith-Campbell will join the DCDS Board of Trustees.

Manufacturing, Automakers Cleared to Resume, Stay-Home Order Extended to May 28

Michigan’s manufacturing sector, automakers and automotive suppliers can get back to work starting Monday under an executive order signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Thursday.

In the same order (see it here), Whitmer extended the state’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order through May 28.

“This is truly good news for our state,” Whitmer said. “It’s a major step forward in our MI Safe Start Plan to re-engage our economy safely and responsibly.”

Under the order, the Big 3 automakers, in agreement with the UAW, will begin phasing in work on May 18, Whitmer said, starting at 25% capacitiy and phasing up from there.

Whitmer called it “a really important moment” in the state’s move through the six phases of the crisis.

“Manufacturing is an important part of our economy, there’s no doubt about that,”she said. “As we’ve done the risk assessment, we feel comfortable that with these safety protocols, we can safely re-engage. This is a sizeable part of our economy, but it is an incremental step.”

Whitmer has previously allowed landscapers, nurseries, the construction industry and real estate activity to resume.

Under Executive Order 2020-77, manufacturing facilities must adopt measures to protect their workers from the spread of COVID-19. That includes conducting a daily entry screening protocol for workers and everyone else entering the facility, including a questionnaire covering symptoms and exposure to people with possible COVID-19, together with a temperature screening as soon as no-touch thermometers can be obtained. They must also create dedicated entry points at every facility, and suspend entry of all non-essential in-person visits, including tours. 

John Walsh, President and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, pointed out that Whitmer has worked with leaders in business and labor “to ensure our workers can return to the job safely.”

“The safety of our workers is our top priority and I am confident that Michigan manufacturers are prepared to deliver on the worker protections included in today’s order,” Walsh said. “We believe the manufacturing industry has a big role to play in Michigan’s economic recovery and we’re ready to lead the way. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the governor to bring the manufacturing industry back up to full strength.” 

Manufacturing facilities must also train workers on, among other things, how COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person, signs and symptoms of COVID-19, steps workers must take to notify the business or operation of signs and symptoms of COVID-19 or suspected or confirmed diagnosis, and the use of personal protective equipment. 

All businesses in the state—including manufacturers—must require masks to be worn when workers cannot consistently maintain six feet of separation from others, and consider face shields for those who cannot consistently maintain three feet of separation from other workers. 

The governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order remains in effect until May 28. Under this order, Michiganders still must not leave their homes except to run critical errands, to engage in safe outdoor activities, or to go to specified jobs. 

Whitmer said she understands the frustrations of not opening everything, but insisted her moves are designed to prevent reoccurrence of the virus.

“I know Michiganders are eager to get back to work,” she said. “It’s crucial to stay smart.”

Executive Order Designed to Expedite Unemployment Benefits for Thousands

The path to payment may have gotten easier for thousands of workers trying to get unemployment benefits.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed an executive order (see the full order here) extending and building upon her earlier executive orders expanding eligibility for unemployment benefits during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The order expedites benefits for tens of thousands of Michiganders who have filed for unemployment benefits by allowing the state to review only an individual’s most recent job separation, which is the cause of the current unemployment, to determine the individual’s benefit entitlement. 

“Nobody should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a crisis,” Whitmer said. “Michiganders everywhere have lost work because of COVID-19, and we must ensure they receive the benefits they’re entitled to as quickly and efficiently as possible.This order will take us one step closer toward that goal by temporarily eliminating red tape as we continue to flatten the curve of this deadly disease.”

More: More Than 33 Million Americans Have Filed for Unemployment in 7 Weeks

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The Executive Order also extends Executive Order 2020-57, which: 

  • Expands the state’s workshare program, offering more tools to employers to reduce layoffs and restart their business. 
  • Extends unemployment benefits to workers: 
  • Who have an unanticipated family care responsibility. 
  • Who are sick, quarantined, or immunocompromised and who do not have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off. 
  • Extends unemployment benefits to workers who voluntarily left a job after accepting new employment but were unable to start their new position due to the pandemic. 
  • Allows anyone with an active unemployment claim to receive up to 26 weeks of benefits. 
  • Suspends the requirement for individuals seeking unemployment to request a registration and work search waiver from their employer. 
  • Allows Unemployment Insurance Agency retirees to keep their retirement benefits if they return to work to process unemployment claims or serve on the Occupational Health and Safety Commission. 
  • Expands cost-sharing with employers to reduce layoffs. 

The move comes as nearly 70,000 more Michiganders filed for unemployment last week. Since March 15, more than 1.2 million Michigan workers have filed unemployment claims.

Traditional Brick-and-Mortar Retail, Restaurants Go Virtual: ‘We Had to Change and Evolve’

In January, the Szott Auto Group got a new truck to help bolster its off-site delivery service, a nicety the dealership offered and accounted for about 30 percent of its car purchases.

Then, coronavirus shut down most businesses to the public – and that number turned into 100 percent in a matter of hours. To adapt, Thad Szott said his leadership team connected with employees to get everyone on board for this shift, refined the auto group’s website to help car buyers make detailed decisions and created new protocols to work with customers such as hands-free paperwork.

“We closed our showrooms, so everything had to be done virtually,” said Szott. “As a group, we were a little bit ahead of the curve. We were already delivering 30 percent of our vehicles off-site without people ever stepping foot in our dealership. But to go to 100 percent overnight? We had to change and evolve.”

Companies large and small are learning to evolve in this COVID-19 pandemic, but it is a much more nuanced shift for some brick-and-mortar businesses that traditionally don’t sell online. Experts initially had thought consumers would postpone larger financial purchases, such as cars, homes and fine dining given the challenges of making and completing these normally expensive purchases.

However, there are examples of businesses such as Oakland County’s Szott Auto Group and Birmingham restaurant Hazel, Ravines and Downtown where they are defying expectations and continuing to see business grow through online sales and touch-free delivery options, giving consumers a static-free experience that encourages them to buy.

Consumer conundrum
Consumers are a tricky lot generally, economists and experts say. Some may not want to buy anything during the pandemic experience, either because of fear, job loss or a loss in job hours. Other consumers may be ready to buy, using their economic-stimulus checks or savings to make impulse purchases, such as household items or comfort food.

“Economists call it elasticity or how flexible consumers are to changes in price,” said Dr. Patrick Gourley, assistant professor of economics and business analyst in the College of Business at the University of New Haven in West Haven, Conn.

“For example, gasoline is relatively non-elastic. Whether the price goes up or down, you will buy the same amount. But donuts? They’re more elastic. You don’t need it,” Gourley said. “With housing, people are more flexible – you might have to move for work so you need to buy or sell. But cars? They’re elastic. You may want it, but you don’t need it today so it is easier to put it off.”

Gourley said he believes some consumers will be more willing to buy if there are incentives, especially with big-ticket items. Other shoppers, like him, may wait to see if there are good sales on things they have been waiting to buy, such as his desire to buy a new tent.

“There’s got to be something if they want their sales to go up,” Gourley said.

Sophisticated sales
Finding ways to make a purchase easier is key to what has helped businesses including real estate, restaurants and auto dealerships busy during the coronavirus quarantine. Much of the success in selling for these industries has been their rapid utilization of technology – they created online tools that helped their customers make a purchase, especially when it is a large one.

Hazel, Ravines and Downtown in Birmingham is traditionally an upscale, fine-dining restaurant, but it had huge success recently with its curbside carry-out and local delivery thanks to a great website and loyal customers, said co-owner Beth Hussey.

“It was five times the response we expected and planned for,” said Hussey. “And we used the unbelievable volume of last summer’s (successful menu takeover) Hazel’s Lobster Pound as a guide.”

She said the restaurant sold an incredible 1,600 lobster rolls and 100 lobster roll kits at nearly $100 for each kit, bringing the total to about 2,000 rolls alone. Half of those sales came in on Friday, which made pick-up options busy. But customers were patient and everyone got fed thanks to some quick re-ordering of ingredients from kind vendors, Hussey said.

Figuring out demand was possible because of the restaurant’s brand-new online ordering system – staff could see how many orders were coming in and that it was larger than expected. It also helped that Hazel Ravines had this perfect curb cut right in front of its location, allowing three cars to park at a time and safely allow for curbside carry-out to ensure safety.

To make the following weekend orders more efficient, Hussey said they also enhanced their phone system to handle any rush in call-in orders.

Optimizing online
Szott said having the staff buy in completely to buying online was a key first step to transitioning the auto group. Everyone in sales to service to delivery stepped up, and that has made all the difference, he said.

“We had to get an energetic culture with the team,” Szott said. “We know how to do it; we just have to do it every time. That meant getting in touch with consumer demand.”

Thankfully, buyer leaders never fell off – people just started sending emails and texts more than telephone calls, Szott said. That meant the Szott sales team had to follow up in that same manner, allowing customers to set the tone and timing of the conversations. So if a customer wanted to talk cars on Facebook Messenger, that’s what Szott did.

“That was a key message to our team: Be flexible on the way people want to communicate. Figure out what the best way is and stay on that platform until they say elsewise. We want them to be comfortable, whether that’s on their tablet, phone or computer. We’ve embraced that and encouraged it,” Szott said.

The sales team followed up with video messages, showing the car that the customer was interested in in real time. That kept the sales process moving forward and kept customers engaged, he said. The dealership also updated its website with real-time information for customers so they could see a payment plan, trade-in value on another car and everything else they wanted quickly and easily.

That branded delivery truck also has been essential. The delivery truck brings a sanitized vehicle to the customer with the necessary sales paperwork on the passenger seat. The customer reaches in, signs it and puts it back into the delivery truck to take back to the dealership. No one makes contact and everything is hands free, Szott said.

“Customers wanted it, but our employees also wanted that same process,” Szott said. “They want to feel comfortable and safe as well as a way to do social distancing and still deliver.”

More Than 33 Million Americans Have Filed for Unemployment in 7 Weeks

The U.S. Department of Labor will issue its April jobs report on Friday, and the numbers are not expected to be pretty after unemployment claims continued to pour in last week.

Although numbers are down in many states, another 3.1 million Americans filed claims in the week ending May 2, sending the total number of people filing for jobless relief past 33 million.

The weekly total, according to information provided by the labor department, dropped some 677,000 from the week before.

First-time jobless filings related to the COVID-19 crisis have fallen for the sixth consecutive week since hitting a peak at the end of March, suggesting that the wave of unemployment caused by the pandemic has crested.

But economic pain is likely to continue. The number of workers continuing to claim unemployment benefits reached 22.6 million for the week ending April 25.

More: MEDC Hands Out $10 Million in Small Business Relief Program

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More: SPECIAL REPORT: Laws, Regulations Crunching Businesses Trying to Survive

“The initial surge of unemployment claims has slowed, but the unrelenting deluge of these figures is still concerning,” Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, said in a release from the Society for Human Resource Management. “The outlook for the labor market remains frightening. Not only does the pace of layoffs remain at unprecedented levels, but hiring intentions remain depressed. On Indeed, new job postings were 45 percent below last year’s trend as of May 1.”

Some trends:

  • California led the country in filings last week, with more than 318,000. But that number was down nearly 7,300 from the previous week.
  • New Jersey was one of the states that actually saw an increase, rising by more than 15,000 claims to a total of 87,540.
  • Florida saw a huge dip, with its 173,191 total down some 260,000 from the previous week.
  • Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania all recorded drops of more than 30,000 claims over last week.
  • In Michigan, nearly 69,000 workers filed claims, down 13,000 from the previous week.

With “tens of thousands” of claimants waiting line for their benefits, according to the state, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Wednesday allowing the state to review only a worker’s most recent job separation, which is the cause of the current unemployment status, to determine their benefit entitlement.

“Nobody should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a crisis. Michiganders everywhere have lost work because of COVID-19, and we must ensure they receive the benefits they’re entitled to as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Whitmer said. “This Executive Order will take us one step closer toward that goal by temporarily eliminating red tape as we continue to flatten the curve of this deadly disease.”

When the U.S. government does release its April report Friday, experts say it’s likely to be the worst on record since World War II. The Associated Press reported the unemployment rate is forecast to reach at least 16 percent, the highest rate since the Great Depression, and economists estimate that 21 million jobs were lost last month. If so, it would mean that nearly all the job growth in the 11 years since the Great Recession ended has vanished in a single month, the AP said.

Milwaukee businesses named ‘Best and Brightest to Work For’

For the last six years, companies around the Milwaukee, Wisc., area have competed for the title of “Best and Brightest Companies to Work For,” and this year was no different.

More than 240 people were on hand recently for the sixth-annual Milwaukee’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For event, at the Wisconsin Club as dozens of companies were honored, including three “elite” winners.

The event kicked off with morning keynote speaker Steve Lowisz, CEO of Qualigence International, talking about “People are our most important asset.” A panel of best-practice winners shared their knowledge on “The Best and Brightest Areas for Employers to Focus On, including top leaders acting on feedback, the immediate supervisor, identifying and retaining top performers and compensation and benefits solutions.

The panel discussion was moderated by HRBoost CEO Nicole Martin and featured Carrie Adams, group HR manager for Enterprise Holdings; Tracey Barrett, Vice President, NVISIA; and Kevin Ralofsky, President and CEO at Verve, a Credit Union.

The afternoon keynote speaker was Eric Coryell, Founder, Core Connections, who gave an interactive presentation on “Creating Accountable Teams.”

Awards show host Ben Wagner of WISN ABC-12 News Milwaukee, presented the awards.

“With the war on talent hitting the doorsteps of the Best and Brightest, this achievement means even more than it did a year ago,” said Jennifer Kluge, President and CEO, Best and Brightest Programs. “As we continue to raise the bar, these companies rise to the challenge through cultural innovation, maximizing their workforce potential.”

Elite winners:
Best of the Best – Small Business
The Starr Group

Best of the Best – Medium Business
Primex Family of Companies

Best of the Best – Large Business
Cielo

Winners

7Summits
ALDI
AllianceStaff LLC
American Deposit Management
Ansay & Associates, LLC
Apex Systems
Best Version Media
Brew City Marketing
Brunch
Coakley Brothers and Brothers Interiors
Core Vision IT Solutions
Dowco
EmPower HR
Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Fiduciary Real Estate Development
GGMM – GoGeddit Marketing & Media
Glenroy Inc
GMR Marketing
Good Foods Group
Good Harvest Market
Guy & O’Neill, Inc
Health Payment Systems
Impact Networking
InCheck
IndependenceFirst
Kesslers Diamonds, Inc.
Lightburn
Little Sprouts Play Café
M3 Insurance
MacGregor Partners
Marco
Mpirik
New Resources Consulting
NVISIA
Parasol Alliance
Quest CE
Rev Pop Inc
River Run
RoCoco Inc.
Saggezza Inc
Senior Helpers
Sentinel Technologies, Inc.
Service Express Inc.
Spectrum Investment Advisors
SRH
Superior Support Resources, Inc.
Tall Guy and a Grill Catering
The Phoenix Company
The Salvation Army
TKO Miller
Total Quality Logistics
Vantage Point Corporation
Verve, a Credit Union
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