Detroiter's Think Big: A Small Business Podcast

COVID-19 Tele-Town Hall with Chad Livengood

March 30, 2020 Detroit Regional Chamber Season 1 Episode 7
Detroiter's Think Big: A Small Business Podcast
COVID-19 Tele-Town Hall with Chad Livengood
Show Notes Transcript

Chad Livengood, senior editor of Crain’s Detroit Business shared trends and insight he is seeing from covering the coronavirus outbreak through the rapid changes since the start with Brad Williams, vice president of Government Relations for the Chamber. 

Sandy Baruah:   0:01
Good afternoon, everyone. This is Sandy Baruah from the Detroit Regional Chamber. Thank you for joining us for today's Tele Town Hall. Today we are very pleased to have with us Chad Livengood from Crain's Detroit Business. Chad, has been one of the leaders in our journalism community covering not just the political world here in Michigan and the business world here in Michigan, but he's been a real leader in covering the stories related to covid-19. So Chad, welcome.

Chad Livengood:   0:34
Thanks for having me, Sandy. I appreciate it.

Sandy Baruah:   0:37
Great. So, Chad, we had some news overnight. You actually broke it. We actually lost a member of our Michigan Legislature. Can you spread a little light on who we lost and the story there?

Chad Livengood:   0:54
Yes. So, State Representative Isaac Robinson, the first term Democrat from Detroit who represents kind of, ah, central part of the city and then in Hamtramck. He went to DMC receiving hospital early Sunday morning with troubled breathing, according to his mother, former state representative Rosemary Robinson, and he passed away at DMC Hospital by 11 a.m yesterday morning. Very tragic loss, um, and it was a suspected case of of covid-19 though that's not been confirmed by medical professionals, but that's according to his mother. Um, and she said that she had been telling him all weekend "Hey, you need to go seek medical treatment"  and he had, sadly resisted, according to her. So it is a very, very tragic loss. Uh, that's obviously hit the Capitol in the Legislature and Detroit as well. Isaac Robinson was an attorney, uh, and a longtime labor activists and political strategist for Teamsters, and very heavily involved in the labor movement in the city. Went to Northwestern Law School with Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein. So ah, big loss. And also just kind of adding to, um, you know, we have already lost some police officers in Detroit and and the ramifications of this of this of this pandemic really

Chad Livengood:   2:35
starting to

Chad Livengood:   2:35
hit home for a lot of people.

Sandy Baruah:   2:38
Chad, you know, based on obviously some of the higher profile people that we have lost in this crisis Ah, people like the representative, people like (inaudible). It really seems that this, uh, what we were led to believe that this was primarily an old person's challenge doesn't seem to be playing out so much here in Michigan.

Chad Livengood:   3:02
No, I mean, Isaac Robinson was 44 years old and a lot of life ahead of him and we've obviously also seen some people there with a Detroit student, Detroit native, 25 year old gentlemen who was, uh, set to graduate from Western Michigan University in a couple weeks with a chemical engineering degree 25 years old, and he passed away over the weekend as well. So this is hitting people at a whole lot of different age ranges. Um, just for some perspective of right now the state is publishing that age range data on a daily basis, or accumulative data, just to kind of also help inform the public about this that right now 20% of the cases of people ages 50-59 at the highest category but 17% or 40 to 49 ,13% are 30-39, and 19% are 60-69, and, uh, approximately 22% are people 70 and up. So it's hitting age ranges. Um, fairly evenly right now.

Sandy Baruah:   4:19
You know, Chad, I'm thinking about how ah, you do your job. You know, when you were at the at the news and now that you're a Crain's. You are out and about. I mean, you're getting the story from the powers that be, uh, in front of the powers that be talked to us a little bit about what it's like to have to do your job in stay at home mode and what it's like to actually publish a kind of, you know, the critical news publication for the business community without being able to be in the office or in front of people as you normally are.

Chad Livengood:   4:58
Yeah, I mean, I'm pretty used to showing up to the capital of State for press conference with the governor, or getting into some CEO's office for an interview and so this is a completely different challenge is a lot of logistical issues. I've got a family, a wife and daughter to care for throughout the day as well. Um, and and I had to really rely on a pretty vast source network. Um, like last night, I got a tip from of somebody in Detroit that Isaac Robinson had passed away and, um, I couldn't find Isaac's mom's phone number in my phone. Uh, so I just went on the Campaign finance Network, search engine and pulled up her old campaign finance report and sure enough, there was your cell phone and I called her up and got a hold of her. Um, so this is just kind of attached resourcefulness of journalists like myself day in, day out. I mean, this was after I had already spent most of day writing about other things like this. Like the updates. I mean, there's just been a fire hose of news and information. Uh, and I tried to use my social media network. Um, just get that out even if we're not publishing on Crain's website, uh,  at least try to get information out because there's a lot of people that are just generally looking for information we've Crain's opened up it's, uh, paywall for all the, you know, wide ranging public health, um, and news related to this crisis. Some business stories that are specific to our readership remain behind our paywall, but we really had to, you know, this is people looking for information and I said to our staff this morning on our 9:30 Zoom meeting that we do every day that we have to start thinking about that we, along with other news organizations in Michigan are now getting supplying information for a national audience, particularly as this pandemic, uh, spreads and worsens in southeast Michigan.

Sandy Baruah:   7:21
You know, this is a little bit of an aside, but as someone who has grown up worked in in the public sector for a long time, I have this great respect for journalism and I hope I hope more people really uh, have a better understanding of the importance, that critical role, that original journalism, not just content collectors play our society. So thank you and your colleagues chat for the important role, especially the important role you are playing right now. Hey, let's move to ah, the business impact. Tell us what you are seeing out there and I know, you know, in terms of large businesses, small businesses How are you seeing companies respond? How do you see companies weathering the storm or not? Um, out there? 

Chad Livengood:   8:17
Yeah so obviously we have this tremendous of people in retail and service sector by in the initial week of the shutdowns. Um, some restaurants have have found ways to adapt. Others tried take out for a week and realized this is just not paying the bills, enough to keep the lights on, so they closed down. I think it's a very, very unanswered question right now about how much of that service sector will immediately spring back to life. When we get out of this, the storm right now in the manufacturing side, obviously a big tree hit you know voluntarily shut down, and they've had lots of several gaps within ah, of workers who are in plants every day and, um, but then the real question for Southeast Michigan is the supplier base, and how will they how they handle in it? Obviously, there are still some that are working that are deemed critical. They're making it, you know, the car parts, truck parts for for, you know, utility trucks and other things that have to have the supply chain. Um, but, you know, we have also seen this pretty innovative quick moves. Ah, that would kind of dump the arsenal health. Um, where manufacturers large and small, obviously starting with General Motors, uh, and then tax Gideon working on ventilators together to down to Detroit. Denim, Um, a high end, uh, denim sewing facility on the of the east side of Detroit in the river town district. Making face shields and all kinds of obviously, the initial stories were pretty encouraging about distilleries pivoting from making, using their grain alcohol to make to make hand sanitizer. But everybody was in the hand sanitizer business. And then all of a sudden, they're running out of out of ingredients for that on their supply chain problems. But now, now you see a lot of other manufacturers that are are starting to find ways to produce shields and other types of protective equipment. Um, I wrote about, ah, last year about Stormy Cromer, the iconic Ironwood upper peninsula company that makes these wool caps that everyone in the U. P. And a lot of people below the bridge also have myself included. They started making face masks and hospital gowns and getting orders from all across the country. There's a business I featured yesterday Crain's called Adaptive Energy. They are a fuel cell company in Ann Arbor off of State Street and their owner. He's based in San Francisco, obviously kind of stuck there a venture capital guy named Ranveer G. Who's attended Crain's Detroit Homecoming in the past. Ah, and he bought this little fuel cell company a year ago or so, he first got his employees making hand sanitizer. Um, and then they you've got a bunch of chemical engineers and mechanical engineers. They started looking at the specs from the University of Wisconsin on how the build face masks and now they are ramping up production of face masks and then they also he also had a friend, the doctor at Columbia University Medical Center,  at New York Presbyterian, ground zero, basically of the pandemic, who said they needed intubation boxes, acrylic plastic boxes to put over a patient so they can protect against the patient, spitting or sneezing or coughing on the nurse and doctor while they're working on him and now they're making those boxes and they made a prototype last week of the box, and they have made a prototype of their shield and they overnighted it to the doctor at Columbia University. There there is just a numerous stories of this going on at small level and and big level, and Dustin Walsh wrote pieces for Crain's this week that kind of looks at whether, when we get out of this can we utilize these new skills, uh, to diversify some of those automotive aerospace manufacturers for their long term medical needs.

Sandy Baruah:   13:07
Well, all of these industries ultimately are related in automotive mobility, aerospace, medical. I mean, there's really a convergence going on, so that's a that's a great thought. We need to be on that, uh, speaking of the automotive sector diversifying to become the arsenal of health. There has been a national controversy driven by the President regarding General Motors efforts here. Can you give our audience a little bit of a perspective as to ah what the heck was going on with that?

Chad Livengood:   13:41
Uh, you know, you're guess is as good as mine, Sandy. I mean, I think the president was reacting to, ah, worsening crisis. I mean, just a week ago or so he was teasing out the idea of reopening the economy in time for everybody to get in the church pew on Easter, and then yesterday was a complete different message. Um, that, you know, he extended these social distancing guidelines or encouragement since there's no national order yet at this point, but try to mitigate for another 30 days, which suggests that we're going to be in this, um uh, lock down of some sort or another month at least. So, yes, there was obviously a lot of back report. General Motors was moving quickly to try to figure out how to do this on the fly and the President seemingly got a little antsy about it and and decided to you to invoke the defense protection act and to order the company to produce ventilators and ventilators are going to be. This is this is the thing that is probably leading to a lot of sleepless nights for a Gov Whitmer right now, um, they Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the state. Uh, former Detroit health director um, she said today the state needs 5000 to 10,000 ventilators and the state currently has 1700 ventilators in in stock across hospitals in this state. And this These numbers are astronomically larger for New York state you saw just recently Governor Cuomo was putting a call out for states that don't have huge infection rates yet to send their ventilators to New York and I would expect that we would probably see this from Michigan as well. Basically a movement of machinery to the places where it's most needed basically, and the Governor is using the term front lines, now and also with that she also is putting out a, um, a call for anybody with retired doctors and nurses. People used to be nurses, um, other types of medical professionals due to come on and help staff this this 900 bed field hospital. They're building right now inside TCF Center, which could be a couple weeks still from being complete, but it just adds to the urgency that there is essentially, when the governor says it's all hands on deck, it really is a rivaling a warlike response. Um, and because they don't have the Dr. Khaldun admitted today Michigan does not have the staff right now, hospitals don't have staff to loan out to staff the 900 that hospital inside of our convention center.

Sandy Baruah:   16:58
Yeah, that's I've heard that from other health professionals. We can get the space, but, you know, how do we get how do we get the personnel, Chad, In your reporting, as you're talking to businesses of both leaders of large businesses and owners of small businesses what is your sense of the support for the governor's actions so far? Are they on the same page with her doing what is necessary to practice social distancing or are they kind of ah, you know, mumbling under the breath that hey, I need to keep my business open.

Chad Livengood:   17:31
Um, you definitely see with small businesses some grilled frustration. I had a phone call a bar owner in Detroit last week, and you could tell this is sinking in that this will bankrupt this individual. Um, if goes on much longer, especially since they cancelled St. Patrick's Day, the bestselling bar day of the year. But that's just one example. There are obviously different businesses in weather things differently. DTE can whether differently, because DTE is an essential business, they have a service that people have to have right now. Gas and electricity. But yeah, your small businesses. That's why I said earlier, it is really unknown. How many of these come back in relatively short order and just turn the switch back on. So there's obviously going to be more and more financial panic. Um, in some of these in some of these businesses, that's why you got some of them that these manufacturers they'll take the, uh, the Stormy. Cromer. There was a saw the MEDC put out, one about a ski, um, a custom ski manufacturing company. Up north somewhere. I've never even heard of it, but they, uh, they they're starting to make a face mask. I think this is just, you know, trying to help out beat goodwill for, uh, for the cause and some of this is for plain ol' survival right now, if they could find a way to make a few extra bucks to basically keep employees working or move themselves from nonessential and not working to essential, Um, in helping the quote unquote war effort, um, then that's what they're gonna have to do.

Sandy Baruah:   19:25
Okay. Ah, one last question before I toss it over to Brad Williams, our Vice President of government affairs. There was a story. It seems like an old story now, but it's probably only 48 hours old. About some expected PPE equipment that was headed to Michigan but got lost or didn't occur, got diverted to the federal government, which has now been found. Are you aware of any of the backstory there or what might have happened with that particular situation? 

Chad Livengood:   19:58
Well it's two things is going on. There was this this shipment of, like, quarter of 1,000,000 face masks that got lost, in like over a period of a week or two. Um, and that was the story of the Detroit News that I wasn't on that one of directly. But the news' other issues the governor brought up on  Friday in an interview in WWJ when she said that vendors of the state had contracted with had, uh, had been told not to send supplies to Michigan, she continued to talk about this later that evening on CNN and was asked about it yesterday on a couple of Sunday talk shows. Um, essentially said that basically, the federal government has come in and then been out-bidding um, or stopping orders telling vendors to send the supplies to the feds first in that. So the governor has been kind of calling for and continue this morning to say we needed we had coordinated strategy for, uh, for buying.  A single buying strategy I think she said that on CNN this morning. One cable news appearance after another kind of gonna get blurry at this point. But the big picture is, um, States are in bidding wars for this PPE and, um, and trying to get every, you know, every bit of it. Uh, and yet there is still not a national strategy on this front um, and that maybe that will be what the White House, you know, focuses on this week.

Sandy Baruah:   21:36
Chad, with that, let me turn it over to Brad Williams. Brad, do you have questions from our audience? [Brad Williams]: Yes. Good afternoon, Chad. Ah, you and I, both are parents and have children who are co stars of our social media feeds. There's a question here about the fact that it looks like schools aren't gonna be reconvened this year and there really isn't a plan out there for makeup time. Do you have any reporting or do any of your colleagues have reporting as to what the plan is for schools and how we're going to make up for the fact that, you know, likely our kids aren't going to be returning to school before September and what that's gonna look like when they do return?

Chad Livengood:   22:21
Well, um, from a sort of legal standpoint, the legislature is gonna have to take some to forgive school days or modify what is acceptable seat time instruction hour and Brad you probably know that it's very hard to get children to sit down and learn for six hours at home. Um, we're doing good to get two hours a day, every day. Um, so you know, there's a lot of creative ways. Um, And the problem is, is is, um let's be frank, uh, we don't not have, um, equal education across the state of Michigan. Uh, well, partly because of infrastructure and also because of poverty and a whole host of reasons family structures, broken families, not everybody every kid could get the same regiment education at home as they would if they got if they were in the classroom, that's in that. That is an issue that that is gonna be very, very hard for the Legislature to create some kind of uniform policy here. I think that that's what the kind of work I mean,  Detroit is a good example. A couple of days before, The first case was confirmed. Case on the 10th of March. The next day, I talked to the superintendent of an affluent suburban Detroit school district, who said he was buying or putting a hold on buying 500 mobile hot spots to give out to families who don't have Internet in this affluent Oakland County, um, city and that that struck me as OK. They can do that. They have the money to do that in that city. But they do not have the money in Detroit. A Romulus or Dearborn or, um, Richfield or, uh, you know Alcona County. I mean, you name the rural county of Michigan. They're not gonna have the resource is to try to build an infrastructure like this on the fly for online learning. So the online learning is gonna be spotty at best and not going anywhere near uniform. Um, and then we got a whole host of other issues dealing with third grade reading law that was supposed to go into effect. Um, and just standardized testing that should be going on right now. Um, that's not Or at least they do. Usually in late April, Early made the final assessment. All that stuff has got to be kind of reconsidered and probably likely thrown out the door for this school year.

Sandy Baruah:   25:22
Yeah, I have a sixth grader who was very excited to know that she didn't have to take her m step this year. Um, Chad, the she just wooed as he heard me comment on it. The governor today announced that she signed a supplemental appropriation, uh, for $150 million for the virus, but also included in that negotiated $80 million worth of vetoes. Ah, that were agreed upon with the quadrant, including it looks like going pro in pure Michigan. I haven't even had a chance to look on that. Look at that yet, but I was mentioned in the questions. Um, have you had a chance to look at that? Do you have any  reporting on that?

Chad Livengood:   26:09
Brad, I literally filed, like, nine paragraphs. Um, uh, two minutes before we got on the phone here, um, about the cuts and the governor ordering a freeze on hiring and promotions and, uh, and curtailing all any non essential discretionary spending within state agencies. But I have not actually seeing the actual details on what got cut here yet. Kind of juggling a couple of the Governor's press conference this morning. Other stories, but also had to go started, you know, start some macaroni. Just be the feed to see the kids. So, um, I I would tell you. There's no data yet on how much tax revenue will be lost. But you just think about the parts of the economy that was shut down when you had, um, the first week 119,000 or so 120,000 people, file for unemployment. That's a whole lot of income tax that won't be collected. Um, and then just all the of service sector businesses have been shut down for two plus weeks. Now that the whole and the casinos, you know what? Not as a whole lot of sales tax. And the City of Detroit relies on $600,000 a week in taxes on this from the three casinos. I mean, that's a considerable amount of money that is crucial to the operation of the largest in Michigan. So there's going to be a lot of budget problems that are gonna mount here pretty quickly for the current fiscal year and then will also affect the next fiscal year. So programs like going pro or the governor's reconnect program. Uh, getting older adults back into college or getting them credentials for high demand jobs. There's gonna be a pretty big destruction. A lot of those priorities I would imagine as a legislator case is really the first major budget crisis it has faced since 2011 when they did be a big tax reform.

Brad Williams:   28:21
You know, you're not going to make up for this with the increased in beer, increased collections in beer taxes, which I'm sure are up considerably in the last two weeks. I know my beer tax is up considerably. Last question I have for you before I send it over back to Sandy with the TCF center and the field hospital question, Um, when this consideration was made when the decision was made was consideration made regarding the downtown economy and how this, uh, you know, could impact the downtown economy, particularly because of the hospitality economy and the hotel economy down there? Um, you know how this might be able to boost the economy downtown with all the lost commercial workers downtown with that part of the consideration?

Chad Livengood:   29:16
I'm not really sure, but, um, and there's been so many hotels in the region that have shut down because of just, you know, single digit occupancy. But I'm sure the Crown Plaza on Doubletree and some of the hotels nearby, uh, will be of use because they're looking for basically anybody and everybody who has credentials or past training and retirees to staff this this hospital. And they need it, like, right now. So, I mean, if you are a retired physician living in Charlevoix. Your state needs you right now in Detroit. Um, but you know that obviously will, you know, cause a lot of people to be concentrated downtown and maybe a few of those businesses see some impact, uh, you know, to keep things going. But again, whatever it impact is not gonna do what normal daily life of having 17,000 Quicken loans employees, um you know, coming in to your restaurant is like, so I think this is just going to triage.

Sandy Baruah:   30:32
[Brad Williams]: All right, Sandy. Back to you. Great. [Sandy]: Thank you, Brad. Chad, we have reached our 30 minute time limit. We know how valuable your time is. As we wrap up. I just want to say two things to our friends who joined us on the phone. Please know that this broadcast will be captured and available on the chamber's website. That's Also, you can register for upcoming Tele town halls at that at that same site. Chad. I just want to let you know that not only do we have comments in the chat room, but also I've gotten some direct texts and e mails from chamber members and personal friends that just want to make sure that you know how much they appreciate the work that you and other journalists are doing at this critical time. You're playing an even more important role than you usually do in our community, and we're very grateful. And with that chat, I thank you and I thank all of our friends for joining us today. Please stay tuned. Our next Tele Town Hall is tomorrow with the Lieutenant Governor, Garland Ghilcrest. For those who join us on the earlier call, I preempted Chad and put Garland first, but I think Garland Gilchrist is our next town hall. With that, thank you all very much. Have a great day. Be safe out there.