Nolan Finley and Detroit Regional Chamber President & CEO Sandy Baruah talk about what it will take to “re-open” the Michigan economy in a safe and responsible way.



Nolan Finley Good morning, Sandy Baruah. Thank you for joining us on one Detroit Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. You all conducted a poll about the economic impact and the personal social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people in Michigan. You had Glengariff Group, our pollsters, as well commission a statewide poll on how this is impacting folks in our state. What was the highlight in your mind?

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber Well, Nolan, there are a whole bunch of highlights. Regardless if you’re on the side of say, hey, we have to open up this economy, we have to open it up fast, or if you’re on the side of hey we’re still in the midst of a significant public pandemic health crisis. We need to be cautious. There’s something in for everyone. Some of the highlights for me was number one. 9% of respondents. Again, this was a statewide poll. It touched all corners of the state. In survey, 9% of our populace believe that they have contracted the covered virus. But perhaps more importantly, 18% of the people who are out there working, not working from home, but out there working believe that they have COVID and they’re still working. So that really kind of highlights one of the public health challenges.

Nolan Finley And of course, Sandy, we know that the symptoms of COVID, mild case of cold root mirror are a lot of other things you can get this time of year, including allergies. And with this level of awareness and fear going on, I assume anybody wakes up with headaches, slight fever and sore throat think they got COVID. The testing wouldn’t bear out that 9%or even 18 or 20% would have COVID out of our general population. Correct?

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber That, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know. I mean, everything that I know is that we just don’t know because the global testing situation has generally not been good. A handful of countries like South Korea seem to have had the testing done right. But the United States, the UK, among other countries, are still struggling with– Germany seems to have a handle on it, but we don’t know what we don’t know.

Nolan Finley 42% percent of the people in this survey, 42% say they are unable to work. People who were working before this, this virus they’ve either been laid off, they’d been let go or they’re unable to work. That is a huge number, Sandy. How on earth do we ever get that number of people back up and working again?

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber So the way I’ve described it known is that the economic impact of the climate crisis is going to go beyond the realm of record breaking and into the realm of breathtaking. So when you look at the results of this survey, we can expect an unemployment rate in Michigan for the month of April to be roughly twenty seven percent. That is something that we have not seen that is beyond depression era levels. To put a finer point on it of all the survey recipients, those working, those comfortably working from home, those laid off, 28% of our fellow Michiganders are concerned about putting food on the table. 28%. And if you’re laid off or if you’ve been furloughed, that number jumps to 54%. 54% of the people who are not gainfully employed right now are concerned about going to bed tonight without enough food. And that’s that’s awfully concerning.

Nolan Finley And that could soon become a mental health crisis, couldn’t it Sandy? As people worried about what they’re going to do to feed their families to survive economically through this

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber Yeah, I really want to be careful about not trying to play the role of a public health official. I’m not one I don’t play one on TV either. But, you know, certainly there are multiple studies that show that your level of income, your level of financial stability has a direct impact, not just on your physical health, but on your mental health. We all know that people with solid incomes and stable incomes eat better. They receive better and more health care. They are able to live in safer surroundings there you know so. So the level of economic success in this society is directly tied to our physical and our mental health.

Nolan Finley So, Sandy, I mean, when you think about the safety nets and the infrastructure for taking care of or helping through that number of people who are in economic despair or facing economic despair, we don’t have that sort of network to take care to half our population.

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber Well, the network is being built as as we speak. In fact, we’re taping this on a Monday where apparently the Congress and the White House are close to a 400 billion dollar deal for additional assistance to small businesses and individuals. We are seeing the federal government respond to this crisis, unlike we’ve ever seen before. I worked for President Bush during the 2008 financial crisis. We struggled to get eight hundred billion dollars as part of that first TARP package through the Congress. And that was a fight. In fact, it failed the first time. We’ve already passed well over two trillion dollars in response. So we do see the federal government moving swifter and more aggressively than we have any in any past time.

Nolan Finley That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the private economy. And when you think about tax revenues for state and local communities, we’re going to have some really tough decisions to make this year in terms of policy are we not?

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber Yeah, I if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard an economist or a federal official or state officials say that, you know, the states can’t print money unlike the federal government, I wouldn’t need to work anymore. You know, the states are going to be in a really difficult position. In fact, just as a small example, Nolan. I mean, we’ve taken a look at what our legislative priorities have been prior to the COVID19 crisis. We’re basically throwing those all out the window because the state which cannot run a deficit, cannot print money, is going to go through the twin pillars of crisis, of increased need and decreased revenue. And, you know, that’s not good math.

Nolan Finley No. I mean, when you look at the other things the infrastructure needs. We’ve been trying to take care of a lot of things. We’re going to have to be put on hold here.

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber Yeah, I know that. I actually had to drive to the office the other day one of the few times where I had to wear shoes and drive a car since this all started and I was driving down our bad roads in the region to get to the office. I said, well, you know, there goes our priority of fixing the damn roads.

Nolan Finley Well, I think so, Sandy. But as you talk to your members, what is their confidence level in terms of being able to restart and bring their businesses back up to the plate where they were before COVID-19?

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber It really depends. You know, professional services firms have been able to transition from work, from home, you know, fairly well. They feel pretty good about things. Large manufacturers, tier ones,  OEMs, they feel pretty good. But I tell you, the Tier 2, the smaller manufacturers, especially the small businesses, the retail, small businesses, the restaurants, they are beyond concerned. They don’t know how they’re going to make it. They don’t know if they’re going to make it. And that’s really where we’re hearing the calls louder and louder, literally by the minute of say that, listen, we need to find a safe way and a safe way fast. Just start reopening this economy.

Nolan Finley Sandy I assume you’ve looked at the plan that Mike Shirkey has offered and he’s going to discuss with the governor on Monday afternoon today. Does that give us a starting point?

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber [00:08:20] Yeah, I think there are several good frameworks out there. One, I’ll give kudos to the White House. They have a three phase approach. In some ways, it’s similar to Senator Shirkey’s plan. The governor herself is working on a restart scheme, if you will, or framework. I should say with some of the top business leaders, we’ve been able to input into that as well. So there are several efforts underway. I don’t know if anyone’s got the right elixir. In fact, you just there’s so much we don’t know since we don’t have the testing and it’s likely we’re not going to have the testing that we really need or would ideally want. We’re going to have to find safe ways to open up using the best information that we have on the books to protect employees. One of the things in this survey, Nolan, that about 60 plus percent of the people surveyed do feel at least somewhat safe, if not quite safe. We’re turning back to the workplace and we’ve got a bulk of people who are ready to go back.

Nolan Finley We’re going to have to find some level of acceptable risk, can’t we Sandy? I mean, we can’t wait until this virus disappears and it may never disappear.

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber I talked to the governor on Friday and I said exactly that, that we’re not going to be able to have a zero risk scenario. So you you know, how do you proceed underneath that? No, no risk is that there’s not a no risk option out there. And she completely agrees. She does understand that we are not going to reach zero risk. But I think where she is and there’s reason to, you know, understand where she’s coming from is that, you know, Michigan right now, we’ve stopped accelerating. So we’re like we’re like a sports car that has accelerated very quickly. We’re not accelerating further, but we’re still kind of at terminal velocity. So that means we still have a lot of cases. Our health care system is still kind of on the verge of being overwhelmed. And they’ve been at that level for about six weeks now. And everyone, I think, is concerned about our health care workers being able to stay at that level if we don’t start reducing the curve, not just flattening the curve.

Nolan Finley So, Sandy, when do you start to… when do you expect to start seeing some movement on reopening the economy

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber Well, I don’t anticipate that the governor is going to relax any standards until at least the 1st of May. Her current order runs until then. I think she’s committed to that course. I don’t speak for her, but, you know, that’s my sense. You know, talking to her and her people. But I do expect starting May 1 that she is going to allow certain sectors, maybe in certain areas. I don’t know if she’s going to look at it geographically or not to start opening up. But I think we’re going to have to do that one. The people are getting restless. And if we have too many more outbursts and people kind of flaunting the law, then I think we we’re in the point where we’re doing kind of negative damage. So we need to start using up and giving people the message that, hey, there are certain things that you can do that you weren’t allowed to do before. Be careful. There’s some rules. There’s not going to go back to normal right away. But I think there’s things that we have to start doing, otherwise people start losing confidence.

Nolan Finley Finally Sandy, you work with business people everyday. You work with the major businesses in this region. Part of the Shirkey plan is putting its head for each workplace to put in place protocols and policies protecting their workers. You trust business to protect their workers. Once the economy reopens.

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber Yeah, and that’s a great question, Nolan. The business people that I’ve talked to, without exception, all understand that when they are allowed to reopen, whenever that is, it is not going to be business as usual. They understand that they’re going to have to employ PPE in a way that they never had to before. They’re going to have to employ social distancing. They’re going to have to do changes to their workplace, you know, putting up screen for barriers or changing the workflow of a process. So people aren’t so close to each other. They’re going to have to start disinfecting tools if there’s a shared tool situation. And if you’re not willing to do that, you shouldn’t be allowed to reopen. But every business I’ve talked to is willing to do that.

Nolan Finley Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. I guess we still expect to see each other on Mackinac in August.

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber Well, hopefully I’ll see you sooner than that, but yes, Okay.

Nolan Finley Sandy, thanks for joining us today. Where can we find that poll?

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber At the chamber’s website, And it’ll take you to the full poll of the summary and the full results from Glengariff poll.

Nolan Finley Thanks, Sandy. Appreciate it.

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber Thanks.