Leading Through COVID-19: An Economic Development Leader's Perspective

Posted in Blog on March 27, 2020

Building Processes Thoughtfully and Quickly

March 27, 2020

Congratulations - you have been awarded $300,000 to distribute to small businesses in Allegan and Ottawa counties. This was the big news we received from the MEDC that was officially announced today. We are very grateful for the ability to administer the Michigan Small Business Relief grant program locally.
Here are the basics.

  • Grants are a maximum of $10,000.

  • You must have 50 employees or fewer. 

  • You have to have been in business for at least three years to apply.

Give our team until March 30 to start taking applications. When the application is live it will be housed at https://www.lakeshoreadvantage.com/covid-19. There will be an FAQ up on the program as well as financial documentation you should have ready to apply. You will have until April 6 to apply.

We are taking time to put the grant program in place the right way. We want to be sure we have a solid review committee made up of our Chambers and banking partners. We are very grateful for those who have said yes to being part of this process.

Given nearly 20,000 companies in Allegan and Ottawa counties meet the basic requirements listed above, we are going to use technology to help with some of the initial vetting. Thank you to BizStream for stepping up to help us on that end.

We know this grant will only scratch the surface of the needs. Our team is trying our best to get up to speed on all the federal programs being rolled out soon. We also encourage you to connect with your banking partner. Many of those programs will go through existing financial institutions.

Stay tuned for more information and thanks for your patience.


Virtually Connecting is Still Connecting

March 26, 2020

Today was a day of firsts. We know the demand is so strong for information. Yet, at the same time, business leaders are completely overwhelmed by the myriad of COVID-19 emails flooding their in-box.
Our team has relied heavily on two key local experts when it comes to the essential services designation. Our two counties’ Emergency Managers, Nick Bonstell (Ottawa County) and Scott Corbin (Allegan County), have really come to our rescue. 
We decided it wasn’t fair just to decipher and pass along their words of wisdom. Instead, we thought, "Let’s try a webinar."  We are so glad that these two in-demand leaders agreed.
We have been reluctant to take on webinars because the face-to-face connections with our businesses, partners and investors have really been a key ingredient to our region’s success. Our work is all about relationships. Unfortunately, face-to-face just isn’t an option under the executive order. 
We posted information about our webinar on Monday. Within just a few days, we had more than 100 people sign up to "attend." 
Technically, we learned from this experience to make our next webinar even better. We hope our attendees also learned from Scott and Nick. You can find the recorded webinar HERE.
Next week, we will take on another webinar topic: the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s new Small Business Relief Programs. Keep an eye out on our website for more information soon. Until then, stay healthy!


Grey Skies, with Some Clearing Tomorrow (the webinar should help) 

March 25, 2020

Grey is not an easy area for our team or the businesses we support to live in. There are lots of grey areas in the Governor’s stay at home Executive Order.  We have fielded many questions today along the lines of:

  • Q: Are my employees essential services?

    A: Go HERE and you get to make the determination unless your customers determined this for you by issuing you a voicemail, letter or email. This is the correct answer, right now.
  • Q: Who designates an employee "essential"? 

    A: Employers self-designate at this point after reviewing the above website.
  • Q: How do I self-designate my employees? 

    A: You can put it on your website, issue a letter, email or voice message, but you must do it by March 31. We have a few templates HERE.  We aren’t lawyers so check in with your attorney too. 

In order to help answer these questions and see things with less grey, we called in reinforcements. Tomorrow at 3 pm, we will have our first webinar with Allegan and Ottawa counties' emergency response managers. You can find info HERE
Let’s hope tomorrow is a little more blue sky and a little less grey.

Mission Impossible

March 24, 2020

Surprise! You have one business day and the weekend to apply to administer the brand new Small Business Relief grant program.  There are no dollars for administering this program. You probably can only help about 40 small businesses in your area with thousands in need. What do you do?
Our team of course said YES, we are up to this mission. We didn’t go at it alone. We worked side-by-side with our partners at the Right Place to finalize our regional response action plan. 
Now, we wait for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) review committee to give us a decision. If we receive funding, we will engage our nine area chamber organizations to help us with the process of vetting and reviewing grant applicants. 
As soon as we learn more about the rules and application for the other new MEDC program, the Michigan Small Business Relief Loan program, we will fill you in.  We expect to get details by the end of the week.
Until then, I want to commend the team at the MEDC and the Michigan Strategic Fund board for putting these programs in place with lightning speed. They realized, like our team, there is no mission that is impossible if we all work together.

What Weekend?

Monday, March 23

There was no weekend for our team and many of the employers we support. Much of the last two days has been spent research and preparing for the announcement we anticipated would come and providing advice to employers in need.
Today, the Governor asked most of us to stay home. We all should respect and follow this Executive Order found HERE
We all also should pay great respect to workers who are the most critical to our nation’s infrastructure and fabric that don’t have the option to stay home. We are so grateful for our health care and service sector workers for their tireless hours that have kept us healthy and fed.
Our community is home to manufacturers of critical products like infant formula, soy protein, ibuprofen, hospital workstations and furniture. These are some examples of critical items needed during these unprecedented times to nourish and make healthy residents of Michigan, the nation, and the world.
Our manufacturers have been very nimble and ready to quickly respond to needs. In just a few days, we also have seen companies switching over product lines to make new or more of critical need items like hospital masks, air filtration devices and hand sanitizer. 
If you see your neighbors that you know are part of our critical infrastructure, give them a wave, thumbs up, horn honk or virtual high five. Our team is leading the standing ovation for those employees who are keeping our state, country and world’s fabric together until we all can breathe a sigh of relief.

Essential Services Employers

March 21, 2020

Getting calls from companies with urgent needs is a regular occurrence in the economic development world.  We have a very smart and experienced team; usually one of us knows the answer or how to get it. In today’s post COVID-19 world, our learning curve is steep. 

Yesterday late afternoon, a member of our team got an urgent call from one of our company contacts who was not able to get product in from two suppliers in Illinois and California until they had documentation that said they were an “essential manufacturer.”  They asked: How does their company get this documentation?

We know that those states who have "shelter in place" orders are allowing only employees from certain essential services companies to go to work. Our state does not have this in place currently, so how or from whom does a company get a certification?

We began calling state elected officials, the Governor’s office and lobbyists.  We looked at each of the two states' websites. Each has a different definition of an “essential service.”  Then a member of our team suggested calling one of our local legal firms. We are very blessed to have an in-kind relationship with Barnes and Thornburg.

They have had the same conversations with their clients from across the U.S. and have offices in both California and Illinois. The finding, at least at this point, is that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)  is on first base with this designation. 

FEMA is taking requests from companies to become a FEMA-Critical Function Company. They means FEMA is working through the requests to determine critical function qualification and to issue the necessary designation. 

The Department of Homeland Security has categories for Essential Services Employers. Many of our employers fit these criteria. Review THIS LIST to see how your company fits in. Then, if you have questions or believe your services are critical and should be listed, send a request: FEMA-NRCC-NBEOC@fema.dhs.gov

At this point, it’s just an email with no guidelines, but it’s something in this changing world.  We will keep digging for the answers and hope they get a little clearer in this ever changing world.


Lakeshore Advantage Team Focus This Week & a Bright Spot

March 20, 2020

Lakeshore Advantage Founders can recall that our organization came to be when this community found itself flat-footed after a surprise closing of the Lifesaver’s plant resulting in an immediate loss of hundreds of jobs.
Today, our community finds itself facing an unprecedented challenge, along with the country and rest of the globe. While the challenge is much different than in 2002, the Lakeshore Advantage team is ready and privileged to come to the rescue in service to our business community. 
Our team has quickly pivoted and mobilized. Here is what we are focused on:

  • Keeping a real-time pulse of our large and medium size employers’ realities and most pressing issues. We have collaborated with national economic development research firm Blane Canada and have rallied our chamber partners in the region to deploy a brief yet poignant business poll that will be sent weekly to our employers.

  • Immersing ourselves to understand the grants and loans that are coming so that we are ready to support the coming needs. We are encouraging our small businesses and nonprofits to apply ASAP as applications are now open to eligible Michigan businesses affected by COVID-19. More information is available HERE.  

  • Engaging with the nonprofit sector to focus on populations of residents that are immediately affected and need assistance. I commend the teamwork that has gone into the single non-profit voice of action for donations, volunteers and resources found HERE.  

  • We were virtually at the table with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as they work through a $20 million program to help the small business impacted by COVID-19. We just learned the Michigan Strategic Fund Board approved this program Thursday. You can find information HERE

I want to leave you with a bright spot from yesterday. Plascore (one of our large employers that makes honeycomb core, panels and composite strutures for clean rooms) realized through this process that they were significantly short-staffed with their facility cleaning crews. After reaching out to a few area restaurants that had made some layoffs, this company was able to hire 15 former restaurant employees at full time.  The new cleaning crew is getting rave reviews from their employees.  This is one of my bright spots that we will work to highlight in these turbulent times.

The current situation is changing rapidly, and we are listening closely. What a week! 

Prepared for Crisis

March 19, 2020

I rarely toot my own horn, my parents didn’t raise me that way. However, I think my past experience has prepared me to thrive in this time of crisis.  Specifically:

  • I was the Director of Communications at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation on Sept. 11, 2001. I remember vividly creating the communication strategy internally and externally. 

  • I was the head of business retention also at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation when General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. I worked with the team to develop a business diversification fund that dedicated $10 million of resources to our manufacturers. 

  • My husband and I worked side by side to create two successful restaurants. Unfortunately, a tragic event and the automotive meltdown forced us to close. This has helped me truly understand the challenge of small business owners in this time of crisis.  

All of these challenges have taught me:

  1. Expected the unexpected. Make a plan and be ready to modify the plan.
  2. Build a first class team that is ready for anything.
  3. Pray for discernment and wisdom, and have faith. 
  4. Rely on people who are smarter than you for advice and guidance.  

I can check the first two items above off the list. The third, I have to tell you, I am missing my church community and worship where I know HE is present and listening. For the fourth, be prepared for calls and outreach from our team to get all your great ideas and insight. If you don’t get a call, look for a survey in your email in-box. Please take time to complete and share your wisdom and needs.   
Speaking of making a plan, today the Michigan Strategic Fund approved a $20 million Business Relief Program which includes grant and loan to help our small business overcome these trying times. You can find more information HERE. Our team will be diving into these programs once the specifics are identified and share all the details with you as soon as they are available.
Stay healthy!

Why did I wait so long to use Zoom?

March 18, 2020

Our team has been able to stay connected through the Zoom Conference tool while we try to keep our social distance.  Daily we have a standing call with an array of items to accomplish.
Please follow our social media sites (on the footer of this web page). We will be sharing a business quick tip and/or a local word of business advice. It is our hope that these short bits of information will provide knowledge to our leaders facing an uncertain future. I know we all have been overwhelmed with COVID-19 communication, you can assure when we communicate I will have a direct value to the primary business leaders we serve.
Throughout the course of the next week, our team will be calling top employers and investors to get a pulse check. We are hopeful if you get one of our calls you will take 20 minutes or so to share your knowledge. The overriding sentiment is that we want you to know we are here and ready to work as an extended member of your team.
A key partner in our work is the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. I participated in an exciting call today. The MEDC is in process of rolling out new programs to provide near term grants and loans to small businesses most hit by the Governor’s Executive Order and COVID-19 closures. As soon as I get the specifics likely in early April, we will make sure our employers have access to these new resource programs.

Now is time for our team to swing into action 

Tuesday, March 17 

Please note many of the primary employers we support are still producing products.  Some have had to make accommodations for workers who do not have childcare or sent their non-essential office workers home to work remotely. We do realize as time goes on and restrictions increase, they may face additional challenges.
Step one of our team is to continue expertise in Business Intelligence Data gathering. We utilize a program called Synchronist that is also used for other economic development groups throughout the U.S. 
The Synchronist team pulled together a conference call of 40+ economic development organization to discuss coordinate a survey response. If we all agree to some of the same questions then we can compare and contrast throughout the U.S.
We had already reached out near our Chamber partners in Allegan and Ottawa County to see if they would be willing to promote this survey to their members.  Currently 6 local Chambers of Commerce have said yes to the partnership.
This new national opportunity has had us pump the breaks initially to get the questions right and coordinated. The group also agreed there may be multiple surveys/outreach needed as this crisis progresses.
Our plan is to finalize the survey next week and push it out to our employers, coordinating also with distributing the survey with local chambers. We will share the data as it is compiled and can be helpful to access true business needs.
I also learned at the non-profit daily call that nearly 300 people have signed up to volunteer in just two days.  Our community is rallying together to support those in need.

School closure and no toilet paper

Monday, March 16 

Day 1, school closure, remote workers and no toilet paper.  In just a few days, our world went from hearing about COVID-19 on the other side of the world to facing it in our state. 

Our team has been honored to be part of a non-profit needs group that began its work the preceeding Friday.  Led by Patrick Cisler of the Lakeshore Nonprofit Alliance, the first call had more than 30 nonprofits join forces.  The primary motivation was to make sure kids and seniors had their basic needs met.
Within just a few days, the Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland, Grand Haven Community Foundation and United Way had all contributed to the immediate relief efforts.  A website which had been beta tested for a crisis like this went live at https://www.careottawacounty.com/  This site is designed to be the one-stop shop for volunteers and donations.
I was floored that no one dug their feet in the ground and said "can we send them to our site instead?"  Rather, all the non-profits agreed this portal made sense and were bought in. This is a testament to the work the Lakeshore Non Profit Alliance and the Community Foundations have done to add value and connections within the nonprofit space. This group now has daily calls to provide updates on response and needs.
The prior week, our team had a gathering of key Human Resources leaders.  Many of these leaders who had facilities in other countries shared the challenges they were facing, new policies they had to put in place and best practices regarding coronavirus. 
These leaders agreed to share this information with the full group. In addition, this made a great basis for the start of our team’s COVID-19 Business Resource Directory found HERE.  We will be updating this daily with other items we receive that can benefit our business audience.