HAVLICEK: Helping businesses survive unpredicted difficulties

I’m Arthur Havlicek, president and CEO of the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber. We are a member-based organization working to grow and promote businesses within the region. As you can imagine, the bulk of our recent efforts have been focused on helping businesses survive the unprecedented difficulties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. This week, I’d like to share some of those efforts with you.

The earliest and perhaps most visible effort of ours is the Buy Local Berrien! Facebook group we created to encourage patrons to support local small businesses throughout the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Order. In the four months since, Buy Local Berrien! has evolved into a fun and free community resource where patrons can share experiences and recommend their favorite local establishments. The best part is local restaurants, retailers, and entrepreneurs can advertise their products, specials, and services to an ever-growing online audience of nearly 10,000 highly engaged members.

We have been vocal advocates for safely re-engaging Michigan’s economy at the state level, including joining the Michigan Chamber in releasing a Relief and Recovery Agenda. Our board chair and owner of the Coloma/St. Joseph KOA, Mark Lemoine, even traveled to Lansing where he testified in front of the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic and advocated on behalf of struggling businesses in our region.

At the local level, we took meaningful steps to help businesses through the re-opening process in the form of the Berrien ReOpens Coalition, a collaborative effort between the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber, Cornerstone Alliance, Kinexus Group, the Berrien County Health Department and the Berrien County government to launch berrienreopens.org. Our goal was to assist companies of all sizes across the region in a planned, thoughtful and safe way to restart the local economy by consolidating information in one location and providing useful resources to the business community.

We are proud that this effort helped businesses implement new workplace controls, purchase personal protective equipment for their employees and change their operations in a way that will reduce the spread of the virus, limit exposure risks, and cut off potential routes of transmission. Not only does this keep people safe, but studies indicate the retailers who emphasize safety, offer convenience and show a sense of purpose are in the best position to succeed now and post-pandemic.

This inspired us to launch our most recent initiative, called Southwest Michigan Safe, which encourages public, private and nonprofit entities throughout the region to pledge to uphold a basic set of health and safety recommendations. Entities that have taken the pledge are entitled to visual reinforcements and are listed online at swmisafe.org.

From helping employers navigate the maelstrom of executive mandates to launching community-wide initiatives, we have worked tirelessly to ease the burden on employers during this difficult time. Our pledge is to continue pulling on every available lever until area businesses stop surviving and start thriving again. In doing so, we can build a more sustainable and resilient Southwest Michigan economy in the process.

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