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Expert Connexions: Business Strategy Roundtable

Does it feel like you’re building the airplane while it’s flying? Businesses are re-strategizing their 2020 gameplan mid-air as they prepare to reopen physical locations following the shutdown caused by COVID-19.

In this live panel discussion, we talk with Chris Buck, Senior Managing Director, Martin Commercial Properties and Reuben Levinsohn, Founder & Partner, Washington Avenue Ventures about successful business strategy during and post-pandemic.


Julie: Good morning. Welcome to our Expert Connexion series. I’m Julie Holton, I’m the Founder and Principal Strategist of mConnexions Marketing Agency. We started bringing you these interviews at the start of the pandemic as a way of connecting our community to resources like the two gentlemen you see here today. Joining us for mConnexions series we have Chris Buck and Reuben Levinsohn. Good morning guys.

Reuben: Morning.

Chris: Morning.

Julie: It’s clearly a Friday. I’m having a hard time so I’m glad I’ve got the two of you to help me along. I’m so glad that you guys are here this morning. Each day this week, we featured different topics throughout our series. Yesterday, we had three attorneys from Foster Swift talking through the complex details of everything legally related as we’re going through this pandemic. Today, we’re going to focus on business strategy and in this whole concept here we’re kind of building the airplane while we’re flying right now. Businesses are re-strategizing, we’re figuring out what the heck we’re supposed to do. We’re in survival mode and so both of you come from different backgrounds and have a lot of insights to share with our businesses, with our nonprofits, the organizations in our community. So both of you wear a number of hats and I would like for each of you to do your own introductions. Chris, I’m going to start with you.

Chris: Okay yes, my name is Chris Buck. I’m currently the Senior Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer for Martin Commercial Properties in East Lansing. I did a 25-year stint climbing the ladder in corporate America, traveling across the country for various positions, and was a Vice President for Michigan Operations for about 10 years before I unplugged from that. Once I left that role I started a small business consulting firm. I ran that for a number of years and did a couple of years on economic development for Meridian Township just east of East Lansing really trying to you know to advocate for economic sustainability and vibrancy and mid-Michigan generally, so doing commercial real estate now, leading a team of experts that are out there trying to great put great tenants into empty buildings is so furthers that cause. So I host a podcast called Michigan reimagined you can find that pretty much anywhere you look for podcasts. 15 minutes’ series of interviews not too dissimilar from this where we just talked about people and organizations driving that sustainability and vibrancy for the state of Michigan and then I host a couple of networking events in town and really just enjoy trying to drive the energy in mid-Michigan to make it a better place for us all to live.

Julie: Chris, I’m so glad you could join us this morning. Thank you. Reuben gets a nice introduction from you, tell us about you.

Reuben: I’m an avid entrepreneur. I came right out of Michigan State starting and selling and advising launching companies and I’ve done that ever since that. About 15 years ago started financial advising and have a partner here at Washington Avenue Advisors in REO town and we handle wealth management, family planning, estate planning, and then we also have a company in Washington Avenue Ventures where we partner with and we helped fund seed-stage companies and most are local we have a few were working with right now that are local and one that came out of Michigan State that’s actually benefiting from all the craziness with COVID right now with online learning and then Blue Owl Coffee is another one of our venture companies that we helped launch and expand them to there are three locations. So we’re working with them very closely through their economic plan with everything right now too yeah.

Julie: Absolutely, I mean definitely a difficult time to be a start-up certainly a difficult time to be a business of any size depending on what your business does. Both of you have worked in consulting as you said, so let’s start with that topic. Chris I’m going to ask you first what is some advice that you have for businesses right now as navigate through the pandemic.

Chris: Sure, well interestingly, it’s advice that I gave to my small business consulting clients pre-pandemic. One of the flaws and the strategy of small business owners that I’ve seen that are pretty common is underutilizing their five what I call kind of their key business partners you know they’re paying for insurance, financial planning, CPA, attorneys, and bankers you know I think every business owner has a relationship with all five of those service providers but the depth of that relationship or the quality of the partnership you know the bandwidth of the service provider usually is lacking and so I always encourage small business owners to really look at who’s providing them those services and while they may have been the low-cost provider at a time when cash was short or they started a relationship with their sister-in-law who did this and they wanted to throw some business their way when they were first starting up but now years later they have outgrown their partner. I think it’s critical to identify those partners and make sure they’ve got the right people doing the work for them and then utilizing to the end of the best of their ability. You know as we navigate potential business interruption insurance claims as you try to navigate the PPP and the Paycheck protection program through the Small Business Association and forgiveness your you know you’re going through whether it’s an accounting or your local bank or to get that stuff done. They’re really meant to advocate for you and right now the chips are down and if you don’t have an absolute ninja in each of those roles you could really be missing opportunities that could mean the sustainability of your company you put so much equity into. So I think it’s just such a treacherous time to navigate through this and I’ve been grateful to have dialogues with small business owners during this time giving my own advice just for free just to kind of see how they’re doing and make some suggestions but then even professionally here at Martin commercial and property management we’re the liaison between tenants and landlords so as the rent relief requests come through we’ve been able to work with both sides making sure that there is educated as they can be to the incentives that are out there and how to kind of navigate that. Certainly can’t really do all the work for them but just to make them aware and maybe what strategy might work for them and so we need to be experts and we can relay that to them and it seems to be working. We’re grateful to hear that most of our tenants might come out of this relatively unscathed.

Julie: That’s incredible and Chris one of the things that that I mend you for you mentioned providing some of your services and having these conversations for free that’s something that we’re hearing a lot right now and is really important for those of you watching to keep in mind that you’re not going through this alone. There are people to help in this and people are really hurting financially. So don’t hesitate to reach out to that team of advisors that you have because now this is exactly what we have them for. Reuben, I want to ask you now, what is some of the advice that you’re talking through right now with your startups with your small businesses? What are some things that others can really benefit from hearing right now?

Reuben: Yeah you can imagine so as a business owner myself and then being a financial adviser primarily working with business owners and then having a portfolio of startup businesses that we have funded and worked with very closely my worlds are all combined right now into all day every day working on helping business owners whether it’s survival plans or just getting very innovative and creative right now and thinking very different than they have in the past. Sometimes it’s pivots like major pivots in their business model and reinventing themselves either for survival or new opportunities that we’re seeing and I think that’s one of the really neat things about you know working in young nimble early-stage companies. It is kind of interesting to watch how they can pivot and capture opportunities faster than large companies that we’ve worked with. So a lot of it feels like consulting right now and we’re not charging any fees right now like Chris said it’s like not a time this is not the time to charge fees it’s just the time to kind of gather all your people and help get us all through this. I think for all of us especially in this community and how loyal resilient this community is. I think we all know that if we’re there to help each other that’ll all come back around to us when things are a little different and I say different I don’t like the same things are ever going to be normal whatever normal is the people I think it’s more of a forward-looking normal than a backward-looking normal. I think things are going to be different in a lot of ways but I’m actually kind of excited about a lot of that.

Julie: We had a guest earlier this week she referred to them as our next normal and I thought that was really a cool way of putting it that it’s just especially because I think we’re all sick of talking about the new normal. So maybe it’s just a different way of I was kind of saying the same thing but yeah absolutely. Reuben, I wanted to dig a little deeper because you know I know that you’re seeing you said a lot of business but we’re in survival mode and so we’ve seen a lot of really difficult things. We’ve seen a lot of things not working like the old models not working especially restaurants, retailers, closed adjust major adjustments there but we’ve also seen some success and trying new things can you talk about that a little bit?

Reuben: Yes, I’ll talk about Blue Owl coffee a little bit. We’ve been we consult with them network partners in that business and so it started out complete survival mode you know day one was lay everybody off because we have to shut down. Then we quickly got our heads together and said okay we’ve got three locations to let’s keep a couple open even if it’s just to show the community that we’re here and we’re not going to shut down and we refuse to shut down totally. Being still in the essential services so Blue Owl immediately went to a like a 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. just very condensed hours they’re usually 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. the with the most hours of a coffee shop in the area which we were proud of but 9:00 to 1:00 worked out okay for a little while and none of this was about trying to make money this is just trying to skinny it down enough that we could still serve coffee and have people get their daily fix that their craft coffee. From there you know I will say and it’s concerning the real survival is all the government subsidies. There’s no way that a coffee shop like Blue Owl on the margins they work on could make it through this with the instant eighty-five percent decrease we saw in daily numbers. That overnight I mean our East Lansing location we see a 50 percent drop in the summer and we can we barely survived that but to see an eighty-five percent drop overnight in the daily numbers and have that start in March and we already know in East Lansing that’s going to carry into the Summer with the University and the students out and we still don’t know what fall looks like for Michigan State and if we’re going to have a long extended summer for that shop that’s really hard. So it’s concerning but I have to say honestly the survival is the government subsidy money and that now we’re just assessing like how best to use that money and the forgiveness and navigate I’m hearing that even maybe today Chris I don’t know if you know but we might hear something from the Senate today on changes they’re making to the qualifications for forgiveness maybe dropping it from 75 percent on has to be spent on payroll to sixty percent on payroll because they’re realizing that the unemployment stimulus worked against getting people you have to work and there’s a lot of flux so we’re just having to have a lot more meetings with our partners and our in our portfolio companies right now.

Chris: Yeah the only thing I’ve heard is that they may extend the period you know instead of eight weeks you know they gave you ten weeks’ worth of money to spend in eight weeks I’ve heard that they may extend that to be able to spend in eight weeks but keep the parameters of what you can spend it on the same but it’s hard to say.

Reuben: Well the good news is they’re making these changes fast. I like that there I’ve never seen any governmental agency move so fast I don’t think anybody has. With the banks and the government moving so fast that that’s good and it’s necessary but of course with moving fast I guess we got to give him a little grace they keep making mistakes on the programs too and the programs are working against each other from what we’re seeing in the small businesses. It’s hard to even get all your people back you don’t need them back yet because we’re still on such a limited customer base with the lockdown and then a lot of them don’t want to come back because they’re making more on unemployment. So it’s an interesting challenge.

Julie: Absolutely and you know a good time to just quickly mention and we’ll put the link in the comments for everyone the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce put together a task force that created a resource guide and we were just talking yesterday with attorney Patricia Scott about this from Foster Swift this has a number of resources and keeps up it’s an online document so it’s the living breathing document that changes. So as you’re because this is a lot, you guys. I mean whereas business owners we’re good at running our business that’s our expertise. Keeping up with government changes and learning how to adjust during a pandemic are not things these are not normal hats that we wear that suddenly know we’re being forced to do. So again, Chris, this is where like that care team you’ve been talking about really comes into play and making sure you have the right experts who are keeping up with each of these areas and helping decide the decisions you’re making based on these changes that are happening because the end of the day we all want as many businesses as possible we want all of the businesses to get through this to make it through this and so it’s coming up with the right plans figuring out those strategies to make it happen and there are a lot of resources in this community. We talked about Lansing being a resilient community and being you know we were already in like right in the throes of this comeback and there’s a lot of excitement building for 2020 and all that this year we had hoped for this year. Chris when you think about revitalization with efforts in Lansing how do you think this pandemic is going to impact that?

Chris: You know honestly time is going to tell and I hate to cop out with that but you know you think about all the projects that are not only promised they’re really underway. Sparrow just completed their Thurman Cancer Center you got McLaren is knee-deep in their hospital construction you got the annex to the Capitol building the Lake Trust building in downtown Lansing has been working you know a big mixed-use project to my knowledge. They’ve got the red cedar project across from Frandor you know meridian mall just had the high caliber carting and entertainment open and then now they’re doing another 20 to 30 thousand square foot expansion. You know those are just a handful of things that were in the throws you got the patent and Gillespie in two different companies doing amazing things along Michigan Avenue. So that energy definitely was there and I think the pride in the investment you know in in this city and the suburbs has been unbelievable for the last five to ten years and I am concerned about what that’s going to do. I think it’s going to hurt for a little while I think you know the incentive money that was available and investors that were available are going to dry up a little bit for the short term. I don’t have really any anything to back that up but you know when you think about the feds and the state just printing cash to try to bail us out of what needs to be fixed today you got to believe the other shoe is going to drop on you know any the budget shortfalls from the state and what that your trickle is going to be and then you know but I think about the partners and I think about Michigan State University and think about leap and I think about Michigan Works and the Michigan Chamber and the Lansing Regional Chamber and all of these groups I just haven’t had an unbelievable you know a co-working relationship. The senior the appliers in each of these entities really answer the call on making sure that you know we work together and don’t compete but you know work in concert to fan the flames of innovation and investment in our city and I’m hopeful like Reuben’s optimism about coming out the other side of this that you know maybe instead of Lansing catching up to me maybe the vibrancy that we aspire to be maybe we come out of this faster and more nimble than our competitive cities by collaborating and working together and finding a way to get you know they kept things moving back on offense quicker than maybe some of the counterparts. So I’m very hopeful that the group of professionals that tend to focus on these things and all private investors will make it happen and make the comeback with it.

Julie: Reuben, an investor from an investment standpoint I mean how are you feeling about you know kind of the same question back to you I mean how are you feeling about the revitalization efforts you know you’re a part of you know them several working with several startups and of course we’re still it’s hard also I want to recognize that we’re still focusing on getting business businesses through the pandemic let alone when talking about what’s going to come afterward but I think that this is still something that’s their top of mind because there are a lot of people that are already in the middle of projects that now are just on hold so Reuben what do you think?

Reuben: Yeah I do feel for small businesses that are that we’re in the throes of an expansion or were taking on capital or about to take on capital for a big project or an acquisition like I saw a lot of that come to a screeching halt including myself people who I was I was in due diligence with and looking at making investments in myself I went on the halt because what it’s not that you don’t have the money to do it it’s that you all in sudden feel like you’ve got a preserve and we’re seeing that with angel investors, venture capital, it’s a preservation road because you’re looking at your current companies and thinking oh it’s this quick realization that I’m going to need to probably stabilize my current companies I’m invested in and spend more time and money with them to get them through this before I can take on new projects. So that’s me on a small basis scale imagine on a larger scale how much investment money just kind of halted for projects and some of those project Chris mentioned I don’t I’m as a Lansing whereas an East Lansing resident I’m concerned for Downtown East Lansing. They just went through major redevelopment they’re there they’re still in the middle of major redevelopment and so you want to see those projects come through we were all excited about new restaurants coming into town and it’s just hoping all that does come back I don’t think it’s going to come back really quick overnight you’re going to take a little time but you know that everybody got to think different. I can give you a couple positive examples of for instance Blue Owl coffee we’ve helped them pivot a bit from just that retail b2c model to quickly thinking well how if we can’t get people coming in right now how can we get coffee out because we still have a lot we make. We roast coffee and we’ve got to get it out. So we’ve been able to go directly to businesses and I’ve been really impressed with local Lansing businesses that have jumped on board with this community coffee spotlight program. Where they’ll put a thousand dollars in five hundred dollars if it goes out and free coffee to frontline medical workers first responders that we’re working up very hard during this time and then the other 500 goes in a credit to the company for a coffee to their office for bringing craft coffee into their office for the employees it’s a neat benefit to the employees. So we’re seeing a lot of support from this the businesses coming out and that’s neat to see.

Julie: It’s really been incredible to see I mean everything from the grassroots efforts you know people making masks early on providing you know the much-needed PPE when we couldn’t get that that personal protection equipment to things like this and seeing businesses that especially I think Reuben this idea with Blue Owl coffee like here you’re talking about a business is in survival mode they were expanding that you know all of these major plans that you all had and then instead of just I mean it’s just I find it so fascinating that as a way of being part of survival they’re looking at how to also help others. I mean this is like they’re not taking a thousand dollars and GoFundMe or they’re not you know just accepting cash it’s okay, how do we also take this and pass it forward? How do we step up and help those who are the ones who are on the frontlines who are needing, you know the assistance right now? So just what an incredible opportunity and we’ve seen that play out across our community in some really big ways.

Reuben: Funny you say that GoFundMe because that was on the table with the partners there we were we were seeing other coffee shops launching these GoFundMe right away and it seems that coffee shops can use that kind of approach but we just did not want to reach insisted we didn’t want to do a GoFundMe approach. So that was actually what sprung out instead of a GoFundMe and how about we make it a three-pronged help the community help local business and help Blue Owl and that’s been working really well.

Julie: Yeah really innovative idea and let me just say it nothing wrong with fund me that’s you know the businesses that are doing that it’s a necessity right now survival mode you do what it takes and there have been you know I saw a Chamber of Commerce with small Chamber of Commerce launched a GoFundMe for their entire downtown area and they’ve seen some great success in bringing in funds to support their businesses but nothing wrong with Go Fund Me. It’s I just love highlighting some of these innovative ideas that are also helping other people at the same time. So it’s really cool. I want to jump over to one of the comments and just invite and like you those of you who are watching to join the conversation feel free Chris and Reuben we’ve got their time so take advantage of that ask them questions if you have it or join in on the conversation. Seth brings up a really good point. Seth Barnhill says particularly thinking of my industry marketing and advertising where our plans and efforts are affected by client’s strategies seems like a domino effect in every industry. I think that’s a really great topic to talk about Seth because you know Chris and Reuben have given some really specific examples herein Greater Lansing and I know Seth you’re in the Metro Detroit area. It’s not just the small businesses that are hurting of course there are whether it’s marketing whether it’s other service provider’s other vendors there is a ripple effect that is going to impact you know widely impact our entire economy. Chris or Reuben any thoughts on that?

Chris: I guess I’m still trying to formulate exactly the question but is amazing to me when you talk about marketing and advertising you know as you watch just if you’re watching just television every company has pivoted and I mean nobody’s running an ad that they produce six months ago. Right everyone’s got new ads that are running that have some sort of coronavirus or explaining how they’re still offering services during the pandemic. So it seems like advertising agencies and video production people or whatever probably busier than ever because everyone’s trying to update their messaging and so whether it’s web designers or just the way people are trying to get their message out it’s not so much what we do it’s kind of we assume that you know what we do but here’s how we’re doing it during this tough time and why we’re in your corner and you still need our services and we’re here for you when you need us, but yeah the ripple effect is unbelievable.

Reuben: The biggest thing I would say to Seth’s question and something we’re doing internally here is just you have to yes your marketing advertising business is definitely going to be affected by the companies that work with by the budgets but becoming a leader in this time and consulting maybe it’s more of a consultative approach where you’re consulting them on why it’s important to continue to brand and get their message out during a time like this and again it’s just digging deep to be creative and innovative with marketing branding. I know with Blue Owl we doubled down on their social media with our graphic design in our marketing interns. We didn’t slow down we double down on that investment because we thought well if we’re number czar town to 85 percent overnight we’re going to have to fight to get them back to 50 percent and you can’t do that by slowing down on your marketing.

Julie: I’m glad both of you said that because I would sound biased but absolutely true I mean we are a team at mConnexions, we’ve been busier than ever and much like both of you said a lot of this is in consulting and shifting of strategy. A lot of that we’re doing for clients just free of charge. It’s just part of the need of being able to keep these businesses open and keeping them you know in survival mode. Reuben, I think adding on to what you’ve been doing look Blue Owl coffee, one of the greatest success stories you know that we have right now as far as survival. So the success, of course, is relative right we’re talking about survival success right now but one of our clients in the wedding industry I mean they’re a large venue and weddings of course that any venues are on hold you can’t you know have gatherings of more than people so and the future of that is of course very uncertain because when we’re going to be allowed to have gatherings of hundreds of people is anyone’s guess but they were able to pivot and through a huge marketing campaign start it you know kept their kitchen open but shifted to providing meals for first responders and taking on corporate dollars in order to turn that around and so again a way of saying we can’t really even keep our own this isn’t has nothing to do with their business models nothing to do with wedding nothing to do with you know except they have it they have a kitchen, they make amazing food and they can provide that as a resource to the community. So and it’s all about the messaging. That message became this is no longer about Crystal garden banquet center and their need for people to care about them and their small business. It became about what they can do for the community. It’s switching that messaging which is why I think and the go fund me account for example I’m still kind of stuck on that mindset but we talked about that early on that messaging of help our small businesses help keep their doors open you know pick up curbside. I think that resonated early on you know two months ago early on, but now here we are two months later we’re still not sure when you know what our finances look like personally or when we’re going to get back into the office and all of these things are still up in the air and so from a perspective and a consumer perspective that messaging doesn’t resonate as much anymore because yes I care about the small business but I’m in my own you know personal financial capital. So you know can I afford to go and spend. So that’s when the messaging needs to be turned back around. It needs to be less about the small business and help our small business and more about how are those businesses helping the community? How are they keeping the community going? What are they doing? Does that make sense and we’ve been talking about that a lot with our clients that you know and what you were talking about even in the TV ads that you’re seeing that I’m sure Seth is a part of with his advertising agency. It’s shifting the messages that were in this together and you know and what we’re doing to help you. Whether it’s as consumers or as the community. You know speaking of which Chris I want to talk you know Martin commercial properties you know real estate market and talking about you know obviously a direct impact for you. People working from a home commercial you know office space. What are you seeing there and what about locally owned merchants and restaurants?

Chris: Yes, so there’s been a lot of chatter about this there’s been a lot of webinars nationally internationally you know targets specific to different industry types for real estate and you know the this is everyone’s first coronavirus, so we you know we don’t have a playbook to really look at to see what this happened back then so it’s probably going to happen again with some modifications. So you know one of we have two major topics that have been asked I think one is office space you know now that everyone’s been forced to work from home for six or eight weeks and we’ve proved that you know a lot of companies are able to do that, do people abandon their office space to save money and just have people professionally work from home? A lot of the industry leaders that I’ve heard from I mean you can find people that will talk on either side of this topic but most I would say that that kind of split the uprights they’re saying that it’s going to be a little bit of give-and-take in that it may end up becoming a net-zero. So for example you know just to make very round numbers work. If you had 30 employees in the 3000 square foot facility right in an office space an office suite of 3,000 square feet with 30 employees, that’s about a hundred square feet per person. You may learn that you need to do two things one is we need a social distance these employees right so instead of having a hundred square feet for people the way we have maybe cubicles facing each other or people that are right now are kind of stacked on top of each to make an efficient you know shared workspace kind of a feel all of a sudden that’s now you know medically insensitive. So we need to spread people out. Well maybe these two departments can work from home, so 10 of those 30 people work from home and we reconfigure the 3,000 square to give that 20 people they’re going to stay in the office more space. So now you have a hundred and fifty square feet per person. So you keep the same square footage have some people working from home and reconfigure the people that are going to stay in office but just have them working a little further away from each other. So that’s one idea but I think it’s also going to boil down industry-specific. I think that certain industries are going to say it makes sense maybe not to do that expansion. So we’re going to just have people work from home and kind of maybe ramp up our employee base but reconfigure and the additional employees some of them come on-site some of them work from home so we don’t have to have the capital outlay to purchase a new building or create you know it’s another suite for these employees that we’re going to hire the work out of, then modify their plan. So that’s what we’re hearing from the office side at this point but proofs going to be in the pudding once everyone gets back to it and people have a lease expire. Whether they make a decision at a different office. As far as their merchants and the retail and restaurants like I said earlier in this conversation it seems like my optimism on more and more a higher percentage of these small businesses surviving this assuming that we can you know open up you know maybe more quickly moving forward. I’m not going to even throw my hat in the ring on my belief as to where we should be at this point but I think you know if April, May, and June were the real challenging months and then things get more back to normal and the blue owls get to do more of their normal business and start to repair the you know the damage that’s been done I think we’re going to find that a decent amount of people are going to survive this but I’m, also smart enough to know that when you play out the percentages there’s going to be a lot of unexpected vacancies right. So I think we’re going to realize that you know once everything gets turned back on and industries are allowed to reopen we’re going to find out what companies or small businesses are not going to reopen from a real estate standpoint providing an occupancy in a strip mall or a free-standing building or whatever in which case all those properties can be listed, supply is going to be high demand is going to be down, prices are probably going to come down from a rental rate standpoint, but absolutely with that question occupiers are going to start coming back into the equation whether they’re opportunistic people that know that the rents are low and they’re going to take a chance and jump in early while it’s cheap or just people are going to get back into normal or people in corporate America are going to decide during this hiatus that they want to start that small business that they’ve always wanted to start. Yeah so I think there’s going to be occupying to come back in the second wave find really good deals there’s going to be a lot of supply in the market and they’re going to start filling these spaces back up and we’ll hopefully get our occupancy back to you know normal. The biggest x-factor and that is the timing you know I think all of that circumstance is going to happen it’s just a matter of whether it’s a handful of months or whether it takes us a year and a half for the occupiers to come back and so landlords are going to feel the pinch not only from a rental rate but an occupancy you know percentage and I mean as a company we’re certainly there to try to help get them whole as quickly as we can but you know the odds are you know against us from getting through that quickly but we’ll see.

Julie: We have a question I’m going to pop up onto the screen. Chaz says do you think that COVID19 offers the opportunity for cooperation and innovation and how the region of Lansing can be built up? Specifically, more ideas accepted and supported by municipal and city officials how can the Lansing area seize this opportunity?

Reuben: I am all for it. What Chaz is asking I am hoping happens. Chris might have a little more involvement on that side.

Chris: Yeah I mean from my economic development days and working very closely to local governments you know I think that there already has begun and evaluate and every municipality is different right. I’m not going to stick a label on the region as a whole because we have so many local forms of government here but I think you know any kind of red tape you know I think hopefully can be lifted I think you know we can sure that traffic, is considered the environment is considered, you know and just the safety and welfare of our residents. I mean that’s always going to be there but as far as some of the minutiae that sometimes takes front and center when it comes to approving a project you know speeding up the timeline knowing that hey it’s like wow we’ve got this investor or this company that wants to come in and occupy this space and they need to go through wetland delineation and site plan review and mixed-use plan unit development procedures and all that kind of stuff hopefully there’s going to be some sort of empathy and a sense of urgency and that that’s a gift. That as we come out of this pandemic and you know landlords are taking it on the chin and we have vacancies all over the place and when we have an opportunity to welcome a new business regardless of a municipality they land in, I’m hopeful that the elected officials are going to say you know what you know now isn’t the time you know to sit and nit-pick and really second-guess and scrutinize all the nuance and the detail. We have an opportunity to strike let’s get these people through the funnel, let’s preserved with the most important things that our mission statement or the master plan for our you know city or Township and get them through and thank them for coming to the table as one of the early people coming back.

Reuben: And to what Chaz is saying, I would like to see some of the processes for getting things approve just move faster like the private sector moves you know like if they could take some piece from the federal government that has been able to move fast just even if they keep the same regulations and orders in place move faster.

Chris: Yeah I agree.

Julie: I’ve seen a lot of collaboration that I am hopeful will continue past this but a lot of collaboration between various chambers of commerce in addition to some of the more localized or regional business associations. So all of these groups you know like south Lansing, REO town, you know working in collaboration with one another on regular calls regular meeting sharing resources. Certainly, a way that if that collaboration you know they were they’ve been collaborating in the past but maybe perhaps not quite on this level of organized collaboration. So perhaps if things like that continue you know Chris and Reuben exactly what you’re talking about we could see move forward. If you have any more questions jump in, my last question for both of you is looking ahead. Of course, we’ve never you know Chris you said this we’ve never gone through pandemic before this is the first for all of us everyone has their opinions and their guesses and then based on you know various you know past histories and facts and backgrounds but you know I both get the sense I get the sense from both of you that this is the time where some innovative ideas are really coming to the forefront and that perhaps you know again we don’t want to undermine what businesses are going through because we’re all feeling it but looking ahead to what next steps look like and what maybe could come out of this. I’d love to hear your thoughts on we need some kind of positive ideas of where this could take us.

Reuben: You starting Chris?

Chris: Go ahead, jump in.

Reuben: Probably the hardest question that you’ve asked us so far because it’s the one that we’re all eager to see what happens and we don’t know and I think waiting with optimism right now and some of that to see what happens and then I’m starting to find it interesting to read the news on the cities and the states that are reopening. I was just reading I was up in Traverse City last week and they opened whatever that means on Friday they reopened and they’re kind of testing the waters but boy they’re going through some interesting stuff just in their reopening with people are not ready it seems to come in and congregate and sit in restaurants. Everybody’s looking for outdoor seating of course it’s nice that we’re coming into some nice from the weather. I heard the funny one where yeah there were a bunch of complaints at local bars that if we’re required to wear masks how are we supposed to drink our beer? yeah never thought about that are they going to put a hole in the mask for that? I don’t know, but there are so many things that we have no idea and we’re all just I guess we all have that’s the resilience factor. We all have to stay open to these changes and adapt a bit and I think that the general consent and the consumer is we’re going to have to be patient with businesses and we’re going to have to be supportive because businesses are going to be going through a lot of change and trying to survive this after they start to reopen. The reopening I think it’s going to take another 90 days after their reopening for us to see which businesses survive this and found a way to get creative with all the change.

Chris: Yup, a lot of the webinars and I’ve been on for various types of commercial real estate you know there’s a discussion about you know over the last maybe five years or so we’ve seen them uber pickup lanes right you know places you know in the shopping centers or on just on general thoroughfares where people can pull over cleanly like a taxi but now with Uber and lyft model that there’s going to be maybe a similar you know pivot in some of the building construction or retrofitting where people can actually do more drive-through. There was a there’s a graphic that I saw for a pharmacy and a grocery store where you actually kind of through the center of the building kind of a like shipt or any of these other grocery delivery services where you can do your ordering online but then you drive into a queue like a drive-thru at a coffee shop but you kind of show up and you’ve got your order number somehow it’s done through an app you pop your trunk people with masks and gloves or whatever put your groceries in your trunk and you drive right through the building and out the other side and keep going then your hardware stores go that way, grocery stores, pharmacies, you know restaurants. I mean any place that you would normally Park and walk inside to do your shopping you know do these brick-and-mortar locations retrofit to be able to do in mass you order online have internal staff bundle it all up and you pull up in your vehicle and they just load it into your trunk or your hatchback or your pickup truck and you don’t get out of your car.

Reuben: A lot of us introverts don’t mind that, we don’t talk to anybody. You can definitely see the separation of extroverts and introverts. The ones that are having the hardest time with it need that social interaction and then some people are like I’ll wear a mask and I don’t have talk to anybody.

Julie: That is the truth isn’t it? And of course, you know we’ve seen so many I mean look at the recession in 2008 and the businesses that were born out of that and the technology that was born from that I mean we the recession first companies like Uber and Airbnb and so I get excited I certainly don’t have those innovative ideas. I’m not the big dreamer so I’m just excited to see what other people come up with. Whether it’s a drive I mean the drive-thrus Chris those sound really interesting. I mean I’m kind of extroverted but I wouldn’t mind not getting out of my car to get my shopping done.

Reuben: Speaking of that, Chris you could comment on this. I had an entrepreneur approached me recently for investment in a new I don’t the new concept but it’s new here it’s already happening out west but they’re taking these old abandoned mall parking lots which are thinking about all over the country mall parking lots we’re already looking emptier because of Amazon and thing but they’re taking these abandoned parking lots and bringing back the idea is bringing back the old drive-in movie theaters in these mall parking lots. You know $10 a car you pull up you don’t have to get out its social distancing in a way and maybe somebody with a mask and gloves is bringing your popcorn to the window but I thought that could be interesting to see that come back and that kind of get people out again.

Chris: It’s a great point you know I’ve heard a little chat about drive-in movie theaters I haven’t heard that partnership with the mall but hey never say never.

Reuben: The meridian malls got the new farmers market going in permanently out there that’s really neat to see that use of the empty parking lot for stuff like that. That’s great.

Chris: They were slowed down a little bit but they’re back at full steam and hoping to be done towards the end of this summer. So yeah there’s all kinds of innovation going on you know the new normal. It’s going to be curious to see you know which businesses really step up and thrive and adjust and which one’s kind of try to go back to business as usual and get out-hustled by people that are kind of delivering the service the way that the new consumer wants. Same consumer but with different sensitivities.

Julie: Chris and Reuben thank you so much for joining me this morning. This has just been a really interesting conversation. I know we’ve got a lot of comments thanking you for sharing your insight so both of you thank you for joining us on Expert Connexions.

Reuben: Thanks for having us.

Chris: My pleasure.

Julie: Alright, that does it for us so anyone looking for we’ve interviewed at this point probably about 50 experts. We did round table style interviews this week we’ve done a number of one-on-one interviews you can find all of those resources from our experts you can watch the videos on our website. we’ll see you next time.

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