Street Talk: Restarting common sense

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The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is angling for a “smart restart” to the Michigan economy.

The chamber announced at John Ball Zoo during a May 19 press conference formation of a Smart Restart agenda approved by the chamber’s board of directors in support of “a responsible reopening” of the local small business community amid COVID-19.

In April, the Grand Rapids Chamber presented a phased restart plan to policymakers with a framework based on geographic- and activity-based risk to create pathways for regions to responsibly reopen as quickly and safely as possible. Building upon this, the priorities highlighted in the Smart Restart announcement included policies that the chamber believes impacted business will need to move forward: property tax deferment, employer liability protections, regulatory flexibility and common-sense compliance.

“Recovery is critical, because as the engines of our economy, our businesses create the value, service and activity that generate the resources that make our communities run and thrive,” said Rick Baker, Grand Rapids Chamber president and CEO.

The chamber said the Smart Restart proposal calls attention to the importance of keeping talent top-of-mind and stresses the significance of the Going Pro Talent Fund, addressing child care deficits and the great need for employers to re-skill after COVID-19 as employment options shift.

Locally, the chamber is exploring partnerships with Kent County and other stakeholders to provide small business owners with a “PPE kit” to ensure best practices and guidance for a successful and safe return to work.

Lastly, the Smart Restart pointed out that capacity limits and consumer confidence will make it difficult for restaurants and bars to serve enough patrons to earn a profit. With summer approaching, the chamber is exploring working with local government to designate “social districts” to allow businesses to extend their liquor license to outdoor public spaces, such as a converted park, parking lot or street. This would permit the service of customers while allowing social distancing and safe practices to continue.

“Being forced to close has put the John Ball Zoo in an unprecedented time in terms of revenue losses averaging $1 million per month in both April and May,” said Peter D’Arienzo, CEO of John Ball Zoo.

“Should we remain closed, those numbers double to $2 million of lost revenue per month in June, July and August. The John Ball Zoo family of employees and the broader community is at the center of what we do. We are ready and prepared to welcome the community back safely once we are allowed to do so. Our team has worked hard and is excited to demonstrate the additional measures we have put into place to ensure the safety of our guests, employees and the nearly 2,000 animals who call John Ball Zoo home.”

Added Baker: “The Grand Rapids chamber represents one of the most incredible business communities in the world. Our collaborative spirit, along with the work ethic of West Michigan, will help guide us into a brighter future together.”

Survey says

A recent poll finds Michiganders plan to ease back into social activities like going out to eat and attending concerts or sporting events as restrictions are lifted or loosened in Michigan.

The poll was conducted April 20-24 by Warrior Market Insight. It was commissioned by Great Lakes Wine & Spirits (GLWAS), a statewide distributor of wine and spirits, after the distributor was contacted by several restaurants seeking to gauge consumer sentiment on returning to some normal activities.

“The poll drew from a panel of consumers and a social media campaign” said Mark Barron of Warrior Market Insight. “In total, over 1,000 Michigan residents responded to the survey from 64 of the state’s 83 counties.”

“This poll shows strong support for the state’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve in Michigan. It’s clear those efforts are paying off as regions of the state are beginning to open,” said Lew Cooper III, co-CEO of Great Lakes Wine & Spirits. “The poll also paints a sobering picture of how reluctant Michiganders are to return to some normal activities before a COVID-19 vaccine or antibody tests are available.”

When asked about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order, issued on April 9, nearly 49% of respondents were neutral on the restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, while 17% felt it didn’t go far enough. Meanwhile, 12% of those surveyed felt the order went too far. More than 70% of respondents approved of plans to reopen the economy in phases.

The poll also gauged Michiganders’ comfort with returning to normal activities, like going out to eat at a restaurant, catching a movie or attending a sporting event.

When asked how likely they would be to resume these activities within the first week the stay at home order is lifted, respondents said:

  • 77% would be unlikely to see a sporting event, while 11% would attend one
  • 76% would be unlikely to go to a bar or nightclub, while 14% would likely go
  • 74% would be unlikely to go see a movie, while 15% would be to likely to see one
  • 62% would be unlikely to visit a restaurant, while 32% would be likely to visit one

Respondents grew slightly more comfortable resuming those activities within the first month the stay-at-home order is lifted. The largest change in activity after the first week was respondents’ willingness to go back out to restaurants.

  • 70% would be unlikely to see a sporting event, while 17% would attend one
  • 67% would be unlikely to go to a bar or nightclub, while 21% would likely go
  • 63% would be unlikely to go see a movie, while 25% would likely see one
  • 38% would be unlikely to visit a restaurant, while 51% would likely visit one

Those surveyed approve of bars and restaurants providing hand sanitizer (80%), installing physical barriers (74%), requiring social distancing between groups (70%), requiring servers to wear masks (67%) and taking customers’ temperatures at the door (46%).

However, it likely won’t be until a vaccine or coronavirus antibody tests are available before respondents said they would feel more comfortable returning to large gatherings, like sporting events (65%) or concerts (67%).

“This poll shows Michigan’s restaurant and entertainment industry will be slow to rebound from the economic impact of this pandemic, but it will rebound,” Cooper said. “It will be important for bars and restaurants to closely follow guidance from public health officials to ensure a safe environment for customers as we adjust to the ‘new normal’ created by this pandemic.”

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