Street Talk: GROW’s growth track

Greener pastures.

Grand Rapids Opportunity for Women issued its 2020 annual report on June 15, highlighting data on the organization’s banner year of lending and program development, as well as anecdotes from small business owners who received COVID-19 relief funds from GROW.

GROW deployed 55 microloans, totaling more than $585,000, to small businesses located in Kent and Muskegon counties and developed two loan programs specially designed for business owners who were impacted by COVID-19 and faced barriers to accessing traditional capital and federal grants.

Ana Olson, owner of Los Amigos Mexican Bar and Grill in Muskegon, was a recipient of GROW’s Muskegon County Recovery loan in 2020, a loan product created in collaboration with The Community Foundation for Muskegon County.

“The money gave us peace of mind,” Olson said. “We were at rock bottom, and when we got the loan, we were so grateful. … Because of GROW, I was able to secure funding and improve my business in these uncertain times.”

With the pandemic prohibiting in-person interactions, GROW’s long-running Business GPS series came to an end. The organization instead offered 41 free webinars that addressed the emerging needs of business owners related to COVID-19, as well as strong business foundations. Hosts and topics included “Preparing Your Retail Business for the Holiday Season” with Michelle Krick, retail consultant, fashion expert, wardrobe stylist and personal shopper; “The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Engaging Remote Workers,” with Lorraine Medici, director of training and development at Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids; “From Response to Recovery: How to Shift Your Cash Flow and Business Plan” with Laurel Romanella, professional EOS implementer; and more. Webinars saw more than 500 attendees and are available for viewing on GROW’s website,

Additionally, GROW introduced Initiate Prosperity, a premier online business training platform with more than 300 resources on management, marketing, money, startups and COVID-19 that is available free to GROW clients.

The report includes a look forward from GROW CEO Milinda Ysasi, who was appointed in April to take on the organization’s top job after the retirement of Bonnie Nawara.

Ysasi writes that GROW will be fortifying its role as a community development financial institution (CDFI) in 2021. CDFIs are certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury to inject new sources of federal capital into low-income communities and individuals who lack financing. Qualifying organizations are driven by a mission to offer affordable financial products and services that meet the unique needs of economically underserved communities. According to the CDFI Fund Award Book, 375 organizations received a total of $187.3 million in awards. GROW was the only CDFI awarded in West Michigan.

Step forward

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently proposed an investment of $105.8 million to modernize facilities used by the Michigan Army National Guard (MIARNG) to address inequities in the facilities provided to female service members.

“Michigan women have put their lives on the line to serve our country for generations and it’s time they get the respect and recognition they earned,” Whitmer said. “While I am proud to declare June 12 Women Veterans Recognition Day, we need to make sure our women veterans have the year-round support to employment and educational opportunities, health care, mental health services and housing when they return home. With this proposed investment, we are also demonstrating to our female service members that we are serious about ensuring equity within our state.”

The $105.8 million — $50.9 million state and $54.9 million federal — is contingent on the Michigan Legislature including it in the budget bills that are still being worked on and negotiated with the governor.

MIARNG has 37 facilities that would be improved with this investment. When many of these buildings were constructed, the structure and composition of the MIARNG force was primarily male, and facilities like restrooms and showers were designed with that in mind. Today’s force is much more diverse and has nearly 1,500 women serving. However, very few of the facilities they use for drill and other activities have been updated to reflect their needs.

Armories in West Michigan that would receive funding include:

  • Big Rapids Armory – $1.5 million with $750,000 federal and $750,000 state funds
  • Montague Armory – $1.5 million with $750,000 federal and $750,000 state funds
  • Greenville Armory – $1.5 million with $750,000 federal and $750,000 state funds
  • Belmont Armory – $1.5 million with $750,000 federal and $750,000 state funds
  • Wyoming Armory – $4.5 million with $2.25 million federal and $2.25 million state funds
  • Kalamazoo Armory – $11.1 million with $5.5 million federal and $5.6 million state funds


Job jumpers

Twenty-seven percent of U.S. employees plan to leave their employer as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, according to a new national employee survey from Eagle Hill Consulting. More than a quarter (29%) of workers expect to leave their job in the next year.

The numbers are even higher for millennial workers. Thirty-three percent plan to leave post-pandemic, while 36% expect to leave within the next year.

These results indicate that employee intentions to seek new employment are not subsiding. In November, 25% of U.S. employees said they plan to leave their employer once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

The research also finds that burnout is problematic for more than half of the U.S. workforce (53%). Again, the numbers are higher for millennials, with 60% reporting burnout. In terms of the causes of burnout:

  • Fifty-two percent of respondents say that workload is the top cause.
  • Forty-four percent say it’s juggling their personal and professional life.
  • Forty-one percent indicate a lack of communication and feedback is a cause.
  • Thirty-seven percent attribute burnout to time pressures.

These burnout drivers are at their highest levels since Eagle Hill began surveying employees on this issue in April 2020.

The findings indicate that employees who report burnout are three times more likely to leave their organization after the pandemic as compared to colleagues who are not burnt out: 39% versus 13%.

“The talent turnover tsunami is here,” said Melissa Jezior, president and CEO of Eagle Hill. “With vaccination rates climbing and workplaces re-opening, employees increasingly feel confident looking elsewhere for a job. And that is highly problematic for employers given the acute labor shortage.”

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