It will likely take some time before we can fully comprehend the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business community across the Great Lakes Bay Region.
A few businesses will manage to come back strong. Some will mark their rebound in staggered stages. Still others will be too financially devastated to make a return at all. Undoubtedly, though, those that can manage to resume will find that the new business of business is anything but business as usual.
“We will be looking at a very different new normal — from the way we work to gathering for meetings and events,” said Tony Stamas, president and CEO of the Midland Business Alliance.
Businesses are required to have a COVID-19 response plan outlining how they plan to keep employees and customers safe as they return to work, Stamas said, adding that his organization is helping its members by providing a toolkit with resources for sourcing the personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfecting best practices, social distancing guidelines and more.
“Luckily, our community has proven many times that it is innovative and resilient,” he said. “Many local businesses have been able to pivot their operations to serve their community in this time of need. The MBA team has been able to utilize technology to host meetings and events to continue to offer Midland businesses opportunities for connection and education.”
The Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce also provides a safe practices “playbook” on its website to assist business in the process of reopening.
“We really think that it will be different for different kinds of businesses,” said chamber President and CEO Veronica Horn. “Obviously, restaurants will most likely have more stringent requirements: face masks for employees, gloves and masks for food service workers. For retail, we’ve seen plastic barriers up at checkout counters already. I think that for a while we’ll also see social distancing.”
Michigan Retailers Association President and CEO Bill Hallan said his team is working round the clock to share information with members on how to comply with changing federal, state and local requirements and reopen safely.
“These practices are likely here to stay for a while because, even if Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer relaxes operational requirements for retailers, customers may still be apprehensive and request certain safeguards,” Hallan said. “Michigan Retailers Association has been working diligently to assure Gov. Whitmer and Michigan residents that retailers are adaptable and are ready to implement various safety procedures to get back to work and get consumers back into their stores.”
Ideally, the pandemic will be a learning experience for the business world, Horn said. The chamber’s purpose is to bring businesses together to create a better community for all and, going forward, part of that betterment will include emergency preparedness plans, she added.
“These plans, which will be unique for each business, should include actions that take into account both the health and safety as well as the economic well-being of our residents, employees and visitors,” Horn said. “We need to … be ready for the next time.”
Stamas said a timely but cautious reopening of the economy will hopefully prevent a second wave of the virus; however, if it does come, at least businesses should be better prepared.
“With that said, having another complete shutdown of our economy like we are currently experiencing would obviously be devastating to many businesses,” Stamas said. “I hope that we can learn from this experience … to allow many businesses to remain open safely, even through a second wave.”
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