One Year Later: Economic Development Impact and Employer Perseverance in a Global Pandemic

Posted in Blog on March 09, 2021


One Year Later: Economic Development Impact and Employer Perseverance in a Global Pandemic

Emily Staley, Vice President of Marketing & Communications

Lakeshore Advantage sent out our first “COVID-19 for Business Resources” e-newsletter on Friday, March 13th. It was the first of 23 e-blasts over the next three months filled with information to help businesses navigate the impact of this virus. 
The following weekend, Jennifer Owens heard rumblings of a Shelter in Place Order coming from her contacts at the governor’s office. On Monday, March 23 just after 8am, we sent a special announcement e-blast to our general business community: “How to Be Prepared in the Case of a Shelter in Place Order.” It gave employers a three-hour head start on what an essential worker is, and how to know if your employees are classified as essential workers, before the governor’s Shelter in Place Executive Order was instated. 
“Economic Development Organizations are on the frontlines of helping companies navigate the economic fallout of this crisis.”  - The Rockefeller Institute of Government

Lakeshore Advantage shifted into high gear, with instant outreach to area primary employers. As economic development professionals, we were honored and privileged to be on the front lines to help businesses. We asked companies weekly what their immediate needs were and were nimble enough to provide that direct support. The immediate needs were PPE, and advocacy and information for “mitigating the risk.” Guidance on returning to work safely and financial resources were also requested.  Lakeshore Advantage hosted weekly webinars and flash briefings to share information. We assisted with PPE navigation, maintained a COVID-19 website resource for businesses and built a return to work toolkit for employers that was accessed 2,400 times in its first month. 

These times were unreal and unlike anything we’d ever seen. Jennifer Owens maintained a daily blog in the first month of the pandemic onset. We recognized the amazing work being done by courageous essential workers and employers by sharing bright spots in our weekly webinars and through this op-ed written by Jennifer Owens HERE. We updated a COVID-19 Resources page daily, and wrote blogs distilling information needed for employers that included Families First Coronavirus Act, unemployment benefits, applying for disaster financial relief and emergency management. 

Lakeshore Advantage, along with strategic partners, administered two rounds of small business grants. Over 450 small businesses in Allegan and Ottawa Counties received grants, injecting more than $3.6 million into the local economy.   
We polled Human Resource Managers to understand the challenges they were facing with summer ending and employee challenges of returning to work. We pivoted how we serve our startup community.   
How we delivered information and events was different. Our Events Manager became an expert in Zoom. Kelsey Sivertson wrote a blog about personal and professional growth realized in this time while assisting with a virtual event. We were able to gather once in person with our Fellows-level investors in an outdoor space with social distancing, masks and safety precautions in place. 
Data drives our work at Lakeshore Advantage. Each year, Lakeshore Advantage and research partners interview 120 companies to obtain a real-time pulse on our region’s economy. In 2020, we conducted this interview twice – comparing pre-pandemic and post-pandemic onset responses. The 2020 Business Intelligence Report highlights how COVID-19 shifted mindsets, growth plans, business expansions and the bottom line for companies in Allegan, Muskegon and Ottawa Counties. The report includes information on 14 business expansions in 2020 that created or retained 652 jobs.  We have been working in partnership with Ottawa County and Allegan County in preparation for essential manufacturing worker vaccine rollout. We created an employer vaccine intake form that has been adopted by multiple counties across the state and have been sharing data with the counties weekly regarding employers who want to partner on employee vaccination. 
March 3, 2021 was a great day. We sent an appointment sign up link out to 70 area food processing and agriculture employers to encourage their employees to make appointments for the essential food workers vaccine clinic to be held Friday, March 5 on behalf of Ottawa County Department of Public Health. 900 essential food workers will be vaccinated on Friday. This is a small victory toward defeating this virus that upended our lives nearly a year ago.  
As we see the light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines being proudly made and distributed in West Michigan, we reflect on the year we’ve had. There has been immense personal and professional learning and growth, managing new challenges, processes, expectations, pivots, disappointment and opportunities. Being nearly one year since the global pandemic changed the course of the world as we know it in West Michigan, Jennifer Owens shares her insight in this letter to the editor, as it appeared in Grand Rapids Business Journal HERE.  
As Jennifer states in her guest column, the last year has deepened our sense of appreciation for the work we are privileged to do, the partners we get to do it with, our investors who support our work and make it possible, and the primary employers we serve in this community.