Street Talk: Ready for the office?

Home work.
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Michigan’s top executives are cautiously optimistic about 2021 economic conditions and looking forward to a return to in-person work later this year.

A newly updated and expanded survey of Michigan’s business leaders conducted by the statewide roundtable Business Leaders for Michigan reflects a relatively more confident view of the state’s economy during the next six to 12 months, with most anticipating their employees will be able to return to in-person work during the third quarter of this year.

Around 84% of survey respondents expect the state’s economy to remain the same or improve during the next six to 12 months, a six-point increase from the last survey in Q3 of 2020.

“As vaccine distribution ramps up and economic confidence continues to expand, there’s reason to be optimistic about the future,” said Jeff Donofrio, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. “We have the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine that adds to Moderna and Pfizer and that continues to show people there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Once we can move past COVID, the economic recovery can really take hold. Yet even with robust growth and continued federal stimulus funds, it could still take years for employment to recover to pre-pandemic levels.”

The three biggest factors influencing Michigan’s future economic growth are the speed and acceptance of vaccinations, the availability of federal stimulus dollars, and employers’ projected future capital investment and employment. The executives surveyed say they anticipate growth in both areas of business investment, with 88% predicting stable or expanded employment and 91% expecting steady or increasing capital investment.

Nearly half (48%) of business leaders expect the U.S. economy to improve during the coming year, with another 35% believing it will remain about the same.

“Despite this confidence, there’s still uncertainty around how quickly we can reach herd immunity, the impact of new COVID variants on the economy and the ability of government to support economic recovery,” Donofrio said.

“I think there’s likely an infrastructure bill coming right behind (the next stimulus package) that could be a pretty massive amount of spending, and both those things are good news for helping the economy rebound and recover.”

Nearly 55% of executives surveyed say at least half of their staff members are still working remotely, though 84% expect employees to return to in-person work by Q3. While most employees are expected to return, remote work will continue to be a part of doing business, with more than half of employers expecting to have greater than 10% of their workforce working remotely moving forward.

“Michigan’s large employers are planning a return to in-person work,” Donofrio said. “However, many are still evaluating remote work operations for some employees.” He said Business Leaders for Michigan staff have been working from home since the pandemic began and expect to come back to the office in Q3 as well, “right in line with where our members are.”

Donofrio said the likelihood of Michigan’s population being impacted due to the ability for some workers to live anywhere has not yet been fully studied, but he believes the state could capitalize on the shift to virtual work by touting its natural beauty and vibrant cities through the state’s Pure Michigan destination marketing arm. He added the job market is now bigger for those who want to stay in Michigan but work elsewhere.

“Michigan was one of those states that actually gained population early on (in the pandemic) because of folks either coming back home for jobs or finding places to remote work in Michigan,” Donofrio said. “I think it’s yet to be seen how that’s going to play out and if Michigan can really capitalize on some trends that allow it to bring some new professionals into our state or potentially take advantage of opportunities that might be elsewhere for our residents to be able to grow in their careers.”

Home homage

To celebrate her recent move to Grand Rapids, national architectural artist Leisa Collins completed the first stage of her Historic Homes of Grand Rapids collection.

She is now displaying these paintings on her website so others can enjoy the “unique beauty of these older homes and to increase awareness of the need to protect and preserve them.”

The series, which includes 70 paintings in total and is broken into neighborhood areas, is now available for viewing on her blog, leisacollins.com. It covers an eclectic mix of homes, from modest bungalows and Cape Cod cottages to regal Queen Annes, Stick Victorians and Italianates in Heritage Hill and Cherry Hill historic districts.

Tudors, Colonial Revivals, Italianates, Mid-Century Modern and Craftsman homes also are part of the mix that spans 20 different architectural styles.

“It was the historic architecture that drew me to Grand Rapids,” said Collins. “I have traveled all over the USA, and I am impressed with the level of pride the residents here display in regards to preserving their architectural past. After all, once these treasures are gone, they can never be replaced and that will be a tragedy for everyone.”

Collins also features Grand Rapids homes in the pages of a coffee table book that will be released next month called “Hand Painted Homes: An Artist’s Pen and Watercolor Journey Across America.” In the book she combines her passion for architecture with her love of travel, exhibiting over 650 paintings of homes and historic building in all 50 states.

Her journey to commemorate American homes began a decade earlier. Alarmed at the hundreds of historic homes and buildings being torn down across the country weekly, she embarked on a mission to use her artistic skill to honor the beauty and legacy of American homes and buildings before it is too late.

To involve herself in the community, Collins has taken on a project to help with the restoration of the 140-year-old Hermitage Church in East Hills and is working with Grand Rapids preservation legend Carol Moore.

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