7 Keys to Engaging Government Officials Amid COVID-19

By Sarah Hubbard

As Michigan looks to restart its economy, voicing your perspective has never been more important.

All levels of government are about to embark on reconstructing their shattered budgets amid an unprecedented economic shutdown. Barring an unexpected bailout from the federal government, the legislature is going to be forced to take a hatchet to the state budget.

It’s going to be painful, political and have far-reaching consequences. As a business you can’t afford to ignore it.

Whether you have your own government relations shop, or rely on organizations like the Detroit Regional Chamber for their advocacy team, there is something for all of us to do.

Here are a few tips when constructing your business voice and engaging elected officials.

  1. Don’t Underestimate the Value of the Intel You Provide Elected officials count on interactions with businesses for intel. And that insight finds its way into their message and policy more than you might think. Yes, businesses and employers are facing the same broad challenges, but each sector has unique perspectives that need to hear. Share your real-life experiences – they are impactful.
  2. Focus Your Outreach on COVID-19 Created Problems
    Elected officials, like everyone else, are looking for solutions to COVID-19 related problems. If you’re engaging public officials, your issue has greater odds of being addressed if it is understood through the lens of COVID-19 or how to restart the economy. Make that connection clear.
  3. Find Your Way into “The Room”
    Take, for instance, the creation of the Michigan Economic Recovery Council advising the Governor on how to reopen the economy. That conversation largely happened behind closed doors. Organizations like the Detroit Regional Chamber and Business Leaders for Michigan are advising the MERC. Seek out an organization that can vocalize your concerns “into the room.”
  4. Leverage New Virtual Access Points, Like Tele-Town Halls
    Tune into to the Tele-town hall and Facebook Live events that are popping up across social media. (View the Chamber’s Tele-Town Hall schedule). Visit your local city hall or legislator’s social media or web pages, you’ll be bound to find something scheduled where you can tune in.
  5. Flip the Social Media Script – But Leave the Grenades at Home
    Politicians continue to use social media to provide unfiltered messages directly to constituents. Monitor your elected officials’ social media – but leave the grenades at home. Most politicians are conditioned to tune-out overly aggressive attacks on social media. But a thoughtful response or question to something they’ve already posted about will get noticed – and quite possibly a response.
  6. Buy a Local Media Subscription – The Accountability Is Worth It
    The saga of shrinking newsrooms is a revelation to no one, but you may not know that many media outlets have instituted rotating furloughs reducing staff even further. Experienced political reporters can cut through the talking points and report what’s happening and what it means. On the other hand, political reporting that is rushed without context can have devastating impacts. Quality reporting requires an investment but produces more transparency and accountability. If you can, pay for a subscription today.
  7. Don’t Get Discouraged – Play the Long Game
    Government relations is the ultimate long game, complicated by ever-shifting political winds and painfully slow bureaucracy. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the result or response you want right away. While there are flaws in a political system of imperfect people, most elected officials are doing the best they can. They just need help to find the best solution. A consistent, strategic government outreach plan pays off over time.

Sarah Hubbard is principal at Acuitas, LLC, a full-service, multi-dimensional government relations firm based in Lansing, MI.  She can be reached at shubbard@acuitasllc.com


Q&A: Brad Williams Breaks Down What is Happening in Lansing

Brad Williams, Vice President, Government Relations, Detroit Regional Chamber

Q: Why is the Legislature meeting this week?

A: Legislative leadership has indicated that they intend to return to “regular order” as much as that is possible during a global health pandemic.  We can expect to see the Michigan Legislature attempting to continue with a normal calendar going forward, and to exert the legislative role in the governing process.  The top order of business was to be an extension of Gov. Whitmer’s emergency powers under the 1976 Emergency Powers Act which are set to expire Friday, May 1.

Q: So, did that happen?

A: It did not. The executive’s emergency powers are extensive and complicated. The governor has emergency powers under two separate statutes.  To keep it simple, the 1945 act is narrower, but has no role for the legislature, the 1976 act is broader, but requires the legislature to re-affirm the state of emergency after 28 days. The governor argues that she can exercise all of her emergency powers under the 1945 act except the power to protect health care workers from legal liability.

In an effort to find common ground and extend the powers of the 1976 act, staff for Gov. Whitmer, Speaker Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Shirkey had behind the scenes conversations.  The Senate Majority Leader’s Chief of Staff offered to extend the powers of the 1976 act by two weeks if the governor publicly agreed that new “Stay at Home” orders would be issued through the legislature instead of by executive order.  When Gov. Whitmer’s office rejected this offer, the email exchange was released to the media, seemingly cutting off conversation and hope for a resolution.

Q: So where do we stand now?

A: If you are a fan of civility, it is not great. The breakdown between the governor and the legislature means that it is unlikely that there will be an extension of the emergency powers under the 1976 act.  The powers under the 1945 act will remain in place. Both Houses of the legislature granted their leadership the authority to sue the governor by voice vote.

Q: What is the difference between “emergency powers” and the “stay at home” order?

A: The governor’s emergency powers under state law are the broad powers that allow her to issue orders including limiting gatherings, closing schools, extending unemployment benefits, limiting liability for health care workers, and the stay at home order.  Without extending the governor’s emergency powers, not only does the stay at home order fall, but all of the orders issued during the emergency are potentially at risk as well.

Q: Bottom line, are we under a State of Emergency?  Do Gov. Whitmer’s Executive Orders still stand?

A: Yes, while some in the legislature are trying to modify the governor’s existing authority, no changes have been made. Until either a court or the governor says Michigan is not under a State of Emergency, the state remains under a State of Emergency.

Q: What is the Chamber’s view of the process?

A: If we take away the personalities from the situation, in a perfect world, legislative participation is always preferable to executive action.  However, the reason we have emergency management laws is that certain situations require more nimbleness then the legislative process can provide.  Michigan’s Constitution requires a minimum of 11 days between the introduction and passage of a piece of legislation.  Emergencies require quicker responses.  The best option today would be executive actions the incorporate feedback from legislative leadership, but do not require legislative action that takes far too much time.

3 Conversations Businesses Need to Know About From this Week

The Detroit Regional Chamber is having the essential conversations with government officials and entities behind the scenes to help mitigate the COVID-19 crisis and ensure the health of businesses in the Detroit region coming out of the crisis. The Chamber’s Government Relations team is dedicated to advising the state on how to best accommodate the needs of businesses and communities through this difficult time.

1. Sales Tax Exemptions

The Chamber has been looking into the idea of excluding personal protective equipment (PPE) from sales tax. This would allow businesses opening back up some financial relief when they have to purchase these items. It would also allow Michiganders another reason to buy PPE.

Because of recommendations coming from the local, state, and federal governments, businesses will likely be required to provide PPE to their employees before they begin their shift. Even if there isn’t a requirement for PPE, promoting the purchase of PPE through a tax incentive has the potential to increase the amount of PPE being utilized and preventing further spread of COVID-19.

The Chamber will continue this discussion with both Legislative officials and businesses in the Detroit region to gauge interest. The Chamber’s Tax Policy Committee will also discuss this topic to determine its potential benefits to businesses preparing to reopen in the coming weeks and months who will need strategies to keep their employees safe and healthy.

2. Work Share and Restarting Operations

This week, the Chamber’s Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO, and Brad Williams, vice president of Government Relations, received a briefing from the Whitmer administration on the rollout of the Work Share program and an update on the strategy to restart the state.

The Work Share program was launched following the first round of federal aid from the CARES Act in March. The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) and the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) are encouraging businesses to explore this program as an alternative to layoffs or furloughing employees.

The program allows employers to keep their employees working with reduced hours, while employees collect partial unemployment benefits to make up a portion of the lost wages. Learn more about the program and how to apply.

Conversations are ongoing regarding the reopening of Michigan’s economy and the Chamber is pleased that pragmatic and safe measures are being taken to do so. This week, the governor announced the reopening of the construction sector – a primarily low-risk sector – will open on May 7. A phased approach as recommended by the Chamber and the Michigan Economic Recovery Council will evaluate the workplace environment, geographical region, and the detected prevalence of COVID-19 when assessing what businesses should reopen next.

3. A Plan for Recovery

The Chamber is working with leaders from the Michigan Legislature that represent Southeast Michigan on a cohesive plan for recovery. Led by Rep. Joe Tate, the bipartisan group will work together on the best ways to get the Detroit region back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the Chamber’s impact to explore how the Chamber is working for your business in this difficult time.

Gregory Moore Appointed Vice Chair – Educational Programming of the Behavioral Health Task Force for the American Health Law Association

TROY, Mich., April 29, 2020 – Dickinson Wright PLLC is pleased to announce that Gregory W. Moore (Member, Troy) has been appointed Vice Chair – Educational Programming of the Behavioral Health Task Force for the American Health Law Association (AHLA). The appointment is effective July 1, 2020.

The Behavioral Health Task Force is committed to advancing the understanding of laws impacting behavioral health, including the delivery of and reimbursement for such services. The Task Force monitors and evaluates these laws and developments through publications and educational programming so that AHLA members are better equipped to advise their clients and organizations. “I’m honored to be accepting this position and look forward to working with my colleagues on the Behavioral Health Task Force to provide quality programs to AHLA members,” says Greg.

Greg chairs Dickinson Wright’s Behavioral Health Practice Group. Throughout his career, he has focused on representing and counseling providers of all types and sizes across all existing and developing segments of the industry. He has been recognized as a thought leader and innovator when it comes to the integration of behavioral and physical health care. With 30 years of experience serving clients in the industry, his practice covers the full spectrum of regulatory, transactional, and litigation services.

About Dickinson Wright PLLC

Dickinson Wright PLLC is a general practice business law firm with more than 475 attorneys among more than 40 practice areas and 16 industry groups. Headquartered in Detroit and founded in 1878, the firm has 18 offices, including six in Michigan (Detroit, Troy, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Saginaw) and 11 other domestic offices in Austin and El Paso, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Lexington, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Silicon Valley, Calif.; and Washington, D.C. The firm’s Canadian office is located in Toronto.

Dickinson Wright offers our clients a distinctive combination of superb client service, exceptional quality, value for fees, industry expertise and business acumen. As one of the few law firms with ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certification, Dickinson Wright has built state-of-the-art, independently-verified risk management controls and security processes for our commercial transactions. Dickinson Wright lawyers are known for delivering commercially-oriented advice on sophisticated transactions and have a remarkable record of wins in high-stakes litigation. Dickinson Wright lawyers are regularly cited for their expertise and experience by Chambers, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, and other leading independent law firm evaluating organizations.

Pentastar Aviation Remains in Top Rankings by Professional Pilot Magazine

Rankings based on votes in the publication’s 47th Annual Preferences Regarding Aviation Services and Equipment (PRASE) Survey

WATERFORD, MI. – Pentastar Aviation, a leader in the world of business aviation, has been named one of the Best US and Best Independent FBOs (Fixed-Base Operator) by Professional Pilot magazine, one of the most respected publications in the aviation industry in its 2020 Pro Pilot PRASE Survey. The PRASE Survey, heralded as the gold standard of aviation ground service leaders, is an annual tabulation of customer opinions of the services they receive. Each year Professional Pilot magazine polls executives in charge of flight departments, aviation managers, chief pilots, pilots, CEOs and other qualified subscribers to recognize industry-leading service providers.

“We are extremely proud to consistently place at or near the top of this survey year after year,” said Greg Schmidt, President & CEO, Pentastar Aviation. “Our tagline is ‘Setting the Standard,’ and we look at is as more than just a marketing slogan. We encourage our employees to not only meet the needs of our customers, but also to go above and beyond in anticipating them. That’s why customer service training is not just for the Customer Service Representatives at Pentastar, but for every single employee.”

Pentastar’s FBO, or what is more commonly referred to as their Executive Terminal, is located in Waterford, Michigan. It provides ease of access into Southeast Michigan and the surrounding areas and features luxurious passenger lounges, secure ramp access, attentive concierge service, heated hangars and Fivestar Gourmet catering among the many amenities offered to its clients.

Pentastar continues to be the most awarded aviation company for over a decade, recognized by those who appreciate their commitment to exceeding the industry standards for both safety and service excellence. This recognition in Pro Pilot as the #2 Best Independent and #3 Best US FBO follows the news last month that Pentastar was ranked #1 FBO in the Great Lakes region in the 2020 AIN FBO Survey from Aviation International News.

About Pentastar Aviation
Pentastar Aviation, wholly owned by Edsel B. Ford II, is a leader in the world of business aviation, providing aircraft management, advisory services, aircraft maintenance, avionics services, interior services and award-winning Executive Terminal services. Air charter transportation services are provided by Pentastar Aviation Charter, Inc., a U.S. FAR Part 135 on-demand air carrier, or by other U.S., FAR Part 135 certificated on-demand air carriers arranged by Pentastar Aviation, LLC. Their team is committed to delivering the highest standards of safety and service excellence to their customers.
Pentastar Aviation has been servicing regional and global travelers for more than 50 years and is headquartered at Oakland County International Airport (PTK). For more information, please visit www.pentastaraviation.com

Rehmann’s Stacie Kwaiser Named One of Crain’s 2020 Notable Women in Finance

TROY, Mich., April 28, 2020 – Crain’s Detroit Business named Rehmann Chief Operating Officer Stacie Kwaiser among its 2020 Notable Women in Finance. The award is part of the Crain’s Notable Women in Michigan series, which features distinguished professional women nominated by their colleagues.

At Rehmann, Kwaiser provides strategic direction and operational management for associates, leading the firm’s finance, human resources, information technology and marketing teams. She is responsible for overall growth, profitability and management of employees. She leads a team of 15 direct reports and manages regional managing principals and department directors.

“Stacie leads many of the most critical functions of our firm and does so with a great level of skill, knowledge and strategic vision,” said Randy Rupp, Rehmann Chief Executive Officer. “Every decision she makes is based on what’s best for our clients, associates and firm overall. She operates with the utmost transparency, accountability and integrity, and we are privileged to have her at the helm.”

Notably, Kwaiser led an internal restructuring effort in 2018, was heavily involved in Rehmann’s business combination with Trivalent, an IT managed services company, and was integral to the development of the firm’s new strategic plan.

Kwaiser has been involved in the growth of the firm’s leadership programs and serves as a sponsor and mentor to many Rehmann associates. She serves on the Rehmann Women’s Initiative Network Council and has been instrumental in shaping the firm’s culture and values.

“As Rehmann’s first female COO, Stacie is dedicated to helping women in our firm thrive,” said Rupp. “Our consistent rankings among the best firms for the advancement of female employees is due in no small part to Stacie’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

In 2019, the Accounting MOVE Project named Rehmann one of the Best CPA Firms for Women for the seventh straight year.

Having joined the Rehmann audit team in 1996, Kwaiser began her career providing audit, review and consulting services for a variety of closely held commercial business clients and institutions of higher education. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Association for Certified Public Accountants and PAC Task Force for the American Institution of Certified Public Accountants.

About Rehmann
Rehmann is a fully integrated financial services and advisory firm that provides accounting and assurance, comprehensive technology, accounting and human resource solutions, specialized consulting and wealth management services. For more than 75 years, Rehmann has provided forward-thinking solutions, making it our duty to anticipate our clients’ daily and future needs. Rehmann has nearly 900 associates in Michigan, Ohio and Florida. Rehmann is an independent member of Nexia International, offering clients a global approach. Find us online at rehmann.com.

The Chamber’s Strength: Statewide and National Partnerships

As the challenges arising from COVID-19 continue to change daily, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s statewide and national connections have provided for a more coordinated and united front with business groups across the state and nation on issues such as small business aid, unemployment, and reopening the economy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, SBA, and other metro chambers and economic development organizations are positioning to advocate and advise on the federal level on the issues impacting businesses the most during this pandemic. With the confusion that surrounded the CARES Act and federal response to the virus, the Chamber has continuously provided advice and analysis to businesses.

In the last few weeks, the Chamber:

  • Coordinated with chambers across the state and Midwest Great Lakes Region to unite in support of a coordinated reopening of the economy. Read more.
  • Joined 34 associations representing Michigan’s business community and financial institutions to urge swift action on additional federal aid for PPP and EIDL programs. Read more.
  • Contacted every member of the Michigan Congressional Delegation to have a one-on-one conversation about what small businesses are facing and the immediate need for more federal aid. Read more.

The Chamber and our statewide association peers are also coordinating on business feedback and advising when it comes to restarting the economy with Business Leaders for Michigan, the Michigan and Grand Rapids Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Association of Michigan, and the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

Chamber Addresses Environment and Energy Issues Facing Businesses Amid COVID-19

On Friday, the Detroit Regional Chamber convened the Environment and Energy Committee to discuss the current issues facing organizations as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds. These issues include ordinances, permitting procedures, unanticipated fees, and more.

The purpose of the Committee is to address the issues businesses are facing and determine how the Chamber can help advocate for companies’ best interests. Right now, companies in the Detroit region must determine how to meet city and state ordinances with new difficulties posed by COVID-19. In many cases, companies must determine on their own what is considered “essential.”

It was noted that businesses should do everything they can with their best effort and intent to fulfill their environmental obligations during this time. As COVID-19-related issues can get in the way, it is important that companies thoroughly document their actions and efforts to meet requirements.

Businesses also reported cross-jurisdictional issues such as unanticipated fees and difficulty maintaining operations in light of COVID-19. Some are only keeping skeleton crews to continue essential functions. Since the state government has been hesitant to answer some questions on which functions are considered essential, businesses are left to make these determinations on their own.

The Committee will continue to discuss the following issues moving forward:

  • Proposed Detroit River Protection Ordinance
  • PFAS
  • Permitting procedures
  • Future Detroit ordinances
  • COVID-19 unanticipated costs and fees
  • Evolving finances and budgets

To learn more about the committee, please email amajestic@detroitchamber.com.

How the Chamber is Working For Your Business

As one of the largest and most impactful business organizations in Michigan, the Detroit Regional Chamber is working to provide companies the support and information they need to not only weather the current crisis but also restart their operations once Gov. Whitmer’s “Stay at Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order has been lifted.

The Chamber team puts members first. While we inform members daily on the latest information and resources to navigate the crisis and prepare for restart, Chamber leadership is also communicating the business points of view to the public officials who are making decisions. Since March, the Chamber’s government relations team has regularly advised government leaders at local, state, and federal levels on immediate business needs. Highlights of these efforts can be found below.

Data and Research

Day-to-Day Pulse of Crisis

Best-In-Class Data

Convening Michigan Leaders

Walsh Summer Semester Will Be 100% Remote

TROY, Mich., April 24, 2020 — Walsh will continue to deliver all courses remotely for its summer semester from June 22-Sept. 5. Students will have access to academic and admissions advisors, faculty, career advisors, financial aid, free tutoring, events and other support services via phone or virtual appointments. Walsh’s Student Emergency Assistance Fund as well as funds provided through the CARES Act are available for students financially affected by the pandemic. All Walsh locations have been closed since mid-March, when the school transitioned final exams, classes and student services to 100 percent remote delivery within a week.

“The health and safety of our students is our top priority and we are committed to supporting them during what may be an incredibly stressful time in their lives,” said Marsha Kelliher, President and CEO. “It is so important for students to continue their education right now and our faculty and staff are working to remove barriers wherever we can to help make that possible.”

For more information, visit www.walshcollege.edu/coronavirus

# # #

Walsh is an all-business, private, independent, not-for-profit, fully accredited college offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral business and technology degrees, as well as certificate programs. Founded in 1922, Walsh is one of Southeast Michigan’s largest graduate business schools, offering classes in several locations and online. Our nationally-ranked programs integrate theory and application to prepare graduates for successful careers. Walsh degree programs include accounting, finance, information technology, human resources, management, marketing, taxation and other fields. For more information, please visit www.walshcollege.edu.

Walsh is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (www.hlcommission.org) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs (www.acbsp.org).