COVID-19 Update: Updated Economic Outlook, Kroger Makes Shopping Changes, Nonprofit News, and More

Seeking to limit the spread of COVID-19, here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the pandemic as well as announcements from local, state, and federal governments, and international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
map of Michigan coronavirus cases
Courtesy of Bridge, as of April 5

Seeking to limit the spread of COVID-19, here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the pandemic as well as announcements from local, state, and federal governments, and international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

Economic Outlook
The University of Michigan’s Economic Growth Institute has outlined steps small- to mid-size businesses can take to endure through COVID-19. The first step is understanding which parts of the supply chain are affected the most.

Identifying them early can prevent other areas of the chain from falling. While most everything fell quickly due to COVID-19, the defense sector is still operating, and many companies can use their operations to make emergency equipment.

Experts at the institute work with Jacquart Fabric Products in the Upper Peninsula and helped them shift from making hats to making medical masks and garments.

Other companies associated with the institute include Petoskey Plastics, which usually makes garbage bags and is making personal protective equipment; Akervall Technologies in Ann Arbor, which makes sports mouth guards for and has shifted to making face shields; and National Filters in Harbor Beach, which makes air and oil filters for hydraulic and automatic equipment, and the filter material can be used for respirators. National Filters is also making surgical masks.

The institute also consulted with companies during the Great Recession. “So far, it’s been a little more urgent and sudden as far as the pandemic goes,” says Steven Wilson, associate director of the institute. “During the Great Recession, we worked with 211 companies within a couple-year period, really helping them to get into different markets. This is the same, but we’re doing it in a more accelerated fashion as far as getting emergency equipment made right away.”

Wilson says the institute tries to help organizations think ahead in difficult times. Wilson supports the federal stimulus package and says it will help with recovery in the long run.

“Small businesses are hard workers, and they can battle through this,” he says. “I would expect the majority to make it through, especially those tried-and-true in Michigan that have been through the automotive cycles, and things get pretty tough at the bottom of those. Surprisingly, they can hang on through those.”

Finally, Wilson says to not panic. Times are difficult now and there’s no way to tell how long the virus will last. However, it will end, and the economy will recover.

Cincinnati’s Kroger Family of Cos. has adopted customer capacity limits to further encourage physical distancing in stores. Beginning today, the retailer will begin to limit the number of customers to 50 percent of the international building code’s calculated capacity.

The chain will use QueVision technology to monitor the number of customers per square foot, which has decreased from one person per 60 square feet to one person per 120 square feet. The QueVision technology already provides a count of the customers entering and exiting stores.

Other measures Kroger has taken to protect employees and customers include adding plexiglass partitions at registers and floor decals to show where people should stand. The in-store radio is also encouraging customers to practice good hygiene and spatial awareness.

Associates are also getting face masks and gloves and are asked to take their temperature at home before coming to work. They are encouraged to stay home if they are sick. The retailer started testing temperature checks in its distribution centers several weeks ago and is beginning to expand them to stores.

It is also piloting one-way aisles in select markets and waiving prescription delivery fees. Stores will close early on Sunday, so associates have time with family on Easter.

Front Line, Restaurant Support
The city of Detroit has announced that Detroit police, emergency medical services, fire, health care employees, and other front-line workers will receive free meals through a partnership with the city, Angel Share, and business and community leaders. The initiative will also help Detroit restaurants and caterers whose businesses have been impacted by the crisis.

Restaurants can sign up here, and city staff will evaluate the submissions and select restaurants that will supply the meals. The city staff will order the meals and coordinate with first responder liaisons to arrange deliveries. Those interested in donating to the initiative can do so here.

The website went live Monday, and meal deliveries are expected to begin Wednesday. More than 10,000 meals are slated to be delivered throughout April.

“We need to support our first responders and our struggling restaurants, and Feed the Front Lines Detroit does both of those things,” says Duggan. “It’s going to take everyone working together in new ways to get through this crisis, and I can’t thank all of our partners enough for their commitment to those on the front lines of our COVID-19 response.”

Ford Annual Meeting
Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn has published its 2020 proxy statement, which outlines three company proposals and two shareholder proposals. It also announced its annual meeting will take place virtually on Thursday, May 14.

Company proposals include the election of 13 directors, an advisory note on compensation of this year’s named executive officers, and ratification of the independent registered public accounting firm.

The annual meeting will take place at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Shareholders can listen, vote, and submit questions here. The proxy statement and details of the virtual annual meeting can be viewed in the “Financial and Filings” section here under “Annual Reports and Proxy Statements.”

Artificial Intelligence Offerings
Southfield’s Stefanini Group, a global technology company, is offering a free artificial intelligence platform for companies to integrate into their websites to answer employee questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. Stefanini’s artificial intelligence solution, Sophie, will answer questions through the new platform, Sophie C-19.

The platform has been trained with public coronavirus data to provide users with up-to-date information about the virus. Sources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and John Hopkins University. It will also offer at-home activities and virtual entertainment, as well as an updated number of coronavirus cases and progress in the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine. More information about the platform is available here.

Grief Support
Hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice are offering virtual grief support sessions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The support groups offer the same content as in-person sessions. Attendees can join by phone or computer and may register for more than one session. More information on the sessions and how to join are available here for Hospice of Michigan and here for Arbor Hospice.

In related news, The Wayne State University School of Social Work and the College of Nursing in Detroit has launched a crisis hotline for metro Detroit first responders and health care professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The line will be staffed by licensed social workers, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners, and psychologists, who will offer emotional support for first responders who are experiencing grief, ethical dilemmas, fears about the well-being of themselves and family members, and more.

The phone number to the hotline is 1 (888) 910-1636. Counselors will be available from 5 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Calls will be free and confidential, and callers will not be asked to provide any identifying information.

Project leaders from WSU’s social work and nursing programs will train and debrief volunteers and organize work shifts.

The Dorothy A. Judson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids has released a report detailing how nonprofits are expected to fare through the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers analyzed IRS 990 form data and identified trends in the sector that nonprofits can expect to contend with. They are:

The center is using IRS data to further explore other financial aspects of the nonprofit sector, including cash on hand, changes in revenue sources, and what past economic shocks show about nonprofit organization creation and failure rate.

More information about the study is available here.

Create the Future Design Contest
The Create the Future Design Contest, produced by Tech Briefs, will provide a global forum to share ideas for new products and technologies that could generate jobs, improve public health and safety, protect the environment, and otherwise benefit society. The top prize is $20,000.

The economy will need innovative ideas to get back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic.

More information and participation details are available here. People can enter as individuals or teams in seven categories: aerospace and defense; automotive and transportation; consumer product design; electronics, sensors, and Internet of Things; manufacturing, robotics, and automation; medical; and sustainable technologies and future energy.