Reopening Michigan: Where do we go from here?

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The lifting of the remaining capacity and mask restrictions is cause for celebration for in the business community, which finally feels the 16-month pandemic is behind it.

With this celebration, excitement and a red-hot economy also comes trepidation and more uncertainty, however. Even though they are now fully open, numerous businesses still are struggling to stay afloat and there are many more working hard to keep their doors open in the face of labor and supply shortages.

I am so proud of the way the business community has responded to all the challenges of the pandemic, but there are still lingering issues that need to be addressed quickly, efficiently and with intentionality. The pandemic exacerbated the talent shortage, shined a new light on racial inequities and shuttered businesses that make our community vibrant.

With COVID-19 in check, talent has consistently been the No. 1 issue for our member businesses. The past year’s “she-session” has removed more than 136,000 women from the Michigan workforce who put their careers on hold to address needs in their homes. It forced business closures, left many employees without their livelihoods, and the dramatic impact COVID-19 had on the education systems has affected nearly every industry’s talent pipeline.

The Grand Rapids Chamber is an advocate in addressing these issues through policy-oriented solutions such as expanding the Going PRO Talent Fund and increasing access to child care through the nation-leading Tri-Share Childcare Pilot Program. We also are encouraged by the alignment we’ve seen with the legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on how to invest $1.4 billion in dedicated federal child care funding. The areas of proposed investment match our longtime child care goals like increasing the eligibility threshold, increasing the reimbursement rate and providing stability. We will continue to urge them to work together on a solution that is strategic and sustainable.

Housing supply and affordability is another key piece in addressing the talent issue and is foundational to the success of our communities and economy. It impacts access to jobs, employee retention and attraction, health outcomes, student success, quality-of-life and much more.

That is why we have led the Housing Michigan Coalition to create and expand tools for local governments to support the development or rehabilitation of housing supply that is attainable for more citizens. The coalition’s bipartisan legislation recently passed the Michigan Senate, and we will continue to urge the Legislature to move quickly to expand access to and support the creation of attainable housing.

Going forward together we can collaborate as successfully as we did during the pandemic to address the issues around child care, inequities, public health and talent in a way that will positively impact the generations to come.

This is the time to act, invest and use tools that will lead West Michigan to be a more prosperous and thriving region for all.

If you’d like to learn more about our work and get involved with the Grand Rapids Chamber, visit www.grandrapids.org or contact info@grandrapids.org.

Rick Baker is president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

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