At first Chris Rowley, executive director of the Mt. Pleasant Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, thought COVID-19 would be short lived. At the time, the way the virus would alter American life, on both a local and national scale, was unimaginable. It didn’t take long, however, for Rowley — and executives from the Mt. Pleasant Chamber of Commerce and the Middle Michigan Development Corporation — to realize COVID-19 posed unprecedented challenges to the Mt. Pleasant area and warranted an unprecedented response.
“As this lingered into May and into the summer months, certaintly we knew . . . We would be in trouble,” says Rowley.
The CVB aims to bring money into the community by attracting visitors whose expenses support local businesses; the pandemic made this virtually impossible.
In order to continue providing support for local businesses through the pandemic, the Mt. Pleasant Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has had to pivot some of its normal efforts.
“At one point we had 17 lodging properties in Mt. Pleasant and only five were open,” Rowley says.
Additionally, the pandemic caused Central Michigan University to transition to online classes and the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort to lay off 4,000 employees and close its doors — all of which prevented the CVB from conducting business as usual.
For Rowley this meant one thing: pivoting. The financial impact of COVID-19 on local businesses was plain to see and since the CVB couldn’t bring money into the community their usual way, they had to try a different approach.
“We had everything planned for the year and we had budgets set. We really had to pivot and change our budget and change our messages and change who we were targeting,” says Rowley.
Just as businesses have found new ways to serve their customers through the COVID-19 pandemic – such as by offering outdoor seating – local organizations have found new ways to support those businesses.
The CVB decided to center their new approach around educating and involving the community as well as encouraging people to shop local. They started by creating a COVID-19 page on the CVB’s website to keep the community informed and created a restaurant web page that continuously updated which restaurants were closed, doing take-out orders, or — more recently — reopening. Furthermore, they created a reopening safely web page which illustrates what Mt. Pleasant businesses are doing to keep their employees and customers safe as they begin the reopening process. The CVB also used social media and other message platforms to encourage supporting local businesses.
Another important part of the CVB’s response was partnering with other organizations and businesses: they made social distancing stickers with the Comfort Inn, created the Town and Gown Recovery Committee — which brought together representatives from CMU departments, the city, county, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, and other organizations —, and partnered with the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce to create flyers for businesses to display at their front doors informing customers how they’re reopening safely.
Douglas Wallace, president and CEO of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce, says those flyers were one facet of the chamber’s efforts to provide the community with as much COVID-19 information as possible.
Local businesses face unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and, organizations such as the Mt. Pleasant CVB, Chamber, and MMDC are finding new ways to help them get through this difficult time.
“We worked on getting all the information up about the Paycheck Protection Program, Personal Protective Equipment, Economic Injury Disaster Loan, and many other programs that could benefit this community,” says Wallace. “We worked with several larger agencies such as the federal, state and local governments — in addition to the U.S. and State Chamber of Commerce and the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance and local health authorities — to help provide guidance to Isabella County and our members.”
As the pandemic continues to change and evolve, Wallace says the chamber is “working hard daily” to keep the community informed.
The Middle Michigan Development Corporation is another organization that has adapted its efforts to continue supporting local businesses during the pandemic.
“MMDC was one of 15 organizations selected by the state to provide funding to small businesses and to date we have been able to distribute $445,000 in grants and loans to businesses located in Clare, Isabella, Gratiot, and Gladwin counties primarily through the Michigan Small Business Relief Program,” says Kati Mora, vice president of the MMDC.
The grant and loan program was also supported by other local organizations, including the Dow Chemical Company, Chemical Bank, and the Clare County Community Foundation.
Through the Match on Main Program, the MMDC distributed $48,000 to 22 downtown Mt. Pleasant businesses.
Through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Match on Main Program, the MMDC was also selected by the state to distribute $48,000 to 22 downtown Mt. Pleasant businesses. Additionally, the MMDC created a resource page on their website where local businesses can access additional funding opportunities and technical assistance from state and local partners.
While the resources provided by organizations like the MMDC, CVB, and chamber, are significant, Mora says community members play an important role in uplifting local businesses as well.
“Businesses need as much support as they can get during this time. Organizations across our region are all working diligently to provide resources and funding support; however, community members can also play an active role,” says Mora. “Making a concerted effort to make more purchases locally, as well as increasing engagement with posts shared by businesses on social media, are just a few ways community members can get involved.”