Midland Business Alliance Forms Advisory Committee to Help Mitigate Long-Term Flooding Issues

Businesses and residents of Midland County and the Great Lakes Bay Region have a long history of dealing with flooding. To take a deeper look at legacy flooding challenges and related sanitary sewer issues, the Midland Business Alliance (MBA) has formed a special advisory committee.

The MBA Advisory Committee on Infrastructure is charged with determining how best to work with local, state and federal partners to address longstanding issues that impact citizens, the business community and economic development.

“We are approaching the anniversary of last May’s devastating flooding and dam breaches, but many of us remember that unforgiving rains and floods have occurred in the Midland area in 1986, 1996, 2013 and 2017, as well as 2020,” said J.W. Fisher, Committee Chair. “The dam breaches obscured the fact that a significant flood event was already in progress last year.”

“The floods clearly have affected citizens. Added to this, there is the negative impact on jobs, economic growth, property values and tax revenues in the Midland area,” said Tony Stamas, MBA President & CEO. “While we don’t pretend that we can eliminate flooding completely, we believe the MBA Advisory Committee on Infrastructure can focus on ultimately finding ways and providing recommendations to help mitigate the frequency and severity of flooding.”

The committee is made up of MBA board members, members of the community at large, an MBA staff representative, and representatives from the County and City of Midland (ex officio). The committee will report back regularly to the MBA President and CEO.The MBA Advisory Committee on Infrastructure includes:

  • Committee Chair: J.W. (James) Fisher (Fisher Contracting, President)
  • Noel Bush (former City of Midland Utilities Director)
  • Mike Erickson (MidMichigan Health, VP Facilities and Construction)
  • Bridgette Gransden (County of Midland, Administrator/Controller) (ex officio)
  • Lee Johnston (Johnston Contracting, President)
  • Brad Kaye (City of Midland, City Manager) (ex officio)
  • Lee Ann Keller (Omni Tech International, President and CEO)
  • Dave Kepler (Four Lakes Task Force, President) (ex officio)
  • Sharon Mortensen (Midland Area Community Foundation, President and CEO)
  • Bill Schuette (Community Volunteer)
  • Tony Stamas (Midland Business Alliance, President and CEO)

“The key ingredients to reducing the severity of flooding in the Midland area will be building widespread community involvement and participation as we move forward. We have so much talent in our town,” Stamas said. “As we further involve and engage our community, from all walks of life, more and better ideas and solutions will emerge to build a stronger Midland and region.”

Stamas also stated that further information will be coming in the weeks ahead as the advisory committee makes progress on initial planning and identifies goals and objectives.


Retain Workforce with Cross Training

By Amy DeGeer Roten

Right now, businesses are struggling with workforce retention. Many business owners faced this issue before COVID, and COVID has made it worse.

Pre-COVID Workforce Retention 

Pre COVID, the challenge around workforce retention, at least in Midland, was in large part due to two issues: 1) full employment, and 2) the skills gap. Simply stated, full employment is when unemployment falls below 4%, which means that pretty much everyone who wants to work is working. The skills gap is defined by the Brookings Institute as, “a fundamental mismatch between the skills that employers rely upon in their employees, and the skills that job seekers possess.” The skills gap is a known issue addressed by many organizations, including the State of Michigan. 

The Coronavirus response to the pandemic has added layers of complexity and complication to the workforce attraction and retention struggle, making it much more than full employment and skills gap issues.

COVID and the COVID Response

Workforce retention challenges have increased due to COVID-19. Many employers claim no one wants to work anymore. Fear of COVID increased unemployment benefits, multiple Federal stimulus packages are just a few reasons for that. An article on NPR concluded:

“The problem is that a lot of those openings are in industries that require in-person work, like construction, delivery services, or warehousing — exactly the types of jobs now being shunned by many Americans in the midst of a fearful pandemic.”

A Detroit Free Press article stated published last January stated:

“Employment plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic that began in March, but due mostly to $1,200 federal stimulus checks and $600 per week federal supplements to state unemployment insurance checks, personal income and retail spending rose.”

What Employers Can Do

There are many benefits of cross-training your employees – one of which is increased engagement and retention. It may not solve all your workforce retention or shortage issues, but it can ease some of the secondary challenges you’re facing, such as productivity and operational costs.

The BizLibrary.com article,  Cross Training Employees explains the pros and cons of cross-training. It offers some cross-training programs and a free e-book on how to cross-train effectively and identify skills gaps.

The MBA supports business workforce and talent issues with our talent programs and initiatives. Contact Emily Lyons at elyons@mbami.org for more information.

For more resources on workforce cross-training, email mba@mbami.org




Seven Steps for Strategic Marketing Communications That Grow Business

By Amy DeGeer Roten

You’ve developed a great product and accomplished the Herculean task of starting a business. But ultimately, the success of your business will depend on your ability to convince people to choose you over the competition. Growing a business comes down to the ability to sell. A comprehensive understanding of your products, your competition, and your consumers will help you create strategic marketing communications that inform, educate, and convince.

A marketing communications strategy will summarize how to reach your customers. It will help define the messages that will create engagement and build a loyal customer base. Essentially, it establishes a path between your company and the markets you want to penetrate, i.e., your customers. It builds your ideal customers’ top-of-mind awareness for your products or services and defines the actions by which to market your products.

Whether you’re going to hire an agency or hunker down and write the strategy yourself, the seven tips below will help you get organized and ready to move forward.

#1: What: What does your business do? What do your customers care about? Answer those two questions with a short phrase that summarizes what you do, and how you are special, different, and better than the competition.

This phase is your Unique Selling Proposition. It will help you develop a strategy for your brand that aligns with what your customers want and need. The USP is the foundation for your marketing strategy, key messaging, copywriting, target audience identification, and more.

Here is an example of a strong USP:

Death Wish Coffee

We strive for the best tasting and highest quality organic and fair-trade beans in every bag. Our processes are USDA certified and we have committed to sustainability throughout our products. We offer a 100%, no-BS guarantee: If this isn’t the strongest coffee you’ve ever tried, we’ll gladly give you a refund.

#2: Who: Who are your customers and your competition? Customers: Identify who your customers are to create groups that have specific characteristics in common, including why they spend money with you. These are your target audiences. Once you know your target audiences, who they are, and why they buy your product, you know what to talk about to keep them engaged and coming back for more. You will also find out if they’re not happy with you, and what you might want to change to meet their needs.

Competition: Who else does what you do? Why and how are you better? You cannot beat the competition by offering the same thing. Gather data and background on your competition so you know what to do and what not to do. Find the gaps or holes your competition does not fill and fill them.

#3 How: How are you going to sell your product? Brick and mortar storefront?

Will you sell via eCommerce such as your website, Amazon, or Facebook? Different customers shop in different places and will require different strategies. Understand where your customers shop and place your product in front of them.

#4 Where: Where do your target audiences prefer to get information? Where and how will they find you?

Email? Social Media? Publications? Television? Radio? Find out how your customers or potential customers prefer to receive communication so you can regularly talk to them.

#5 When: When is the best time to communicate? Timing is everything. When to communicate should be just as strategic as where to sell and what to say.

Is your product or service seasonal? What affects supply and demand? When are budgets planned? Do you have a loyal customer base or are people just learning about your business? The answers will help you build a strategy around “when” and “how often” to communicate.

Consistent message distribution will educate and inform customers, and establish a presence, build a reputation, and create brand recognition. Groups of message bursts, i.e., bi-weekly social media posts, will promote a target product, service, or event.

#6. Set goals. Marketing communications is not just fluff. It should do work. What do you want your communications

to do? Depending on the stage of your business, your answer may be to generate awareness, increase sales, increase event attendance, or move a product into a new market.

Here’s an example of high-level, marketing communication strategic goals:


To create awareness of the value and benefits of an XYZ company, and build interest, excitement, engagement in the product offering to boost holiday sales.

Goals for Q2 and Q3, 2021:

Improve online (web and social media) engagement by 3%

Increase website visits by 5%

Increase sales by 2%

#7. Analyze, evaluate, and update. The last step in the process is to analyze and evaluate the impact of your marketing communications – did it work? How well did it work? What didn’t work and why? Make adjustments to the tactic and try it again.

A marketing communications strategy is a living document. Target audience characteristics and needs change. The business environment changes. The economy changes. Consumer behaviors change. The marketing strategy must reflect those kinds of changes.

These seven steps will help you get organized and ready to pull a marketing communications strategy together.

If you hire an agency to write the strategy for you, working through the seven steps will put you way ahead of the game by eliminating the “discovery” phase. This will save you money and allow your agency to get straight to work.

For more resources on strategic marketing communications, contact aroten@mbami.org.


U.S. and Michigan Chambers of Commerce Weigh In on Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

By Amy DeGeer Roten

Last week, the Biden Administration rolled out its Infrastructure Plan. The Plan asks for $2 Trillion, some of which will be used to rebuild America’s infrastructure.

Infrastructure projects are known to create jobs and foster economic growth. Repairing and upgrading America’s infrastructure generally has bipartisan support, however, opinions differ on how to fund these long-term projects.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce both shared opinions on the Plan. Please take a minute to read their statements:

Chamber of Commerce: Biden Infrastructure Plan ‘Dangerously Misguided’ (businessinsider.com)

Biden Administration Releases Infrastructure Plan – MI Chamber

The MBA is dedicated to advocating for all businesses in Midland County and the region and supports the  Build by the 4th initiative.

“We were pleased to sign on to the U.S. Chamber’s Build by the 4th initiative,” said MBA Vice President of Advocacy, Diane Middleton. “Our country direly needs upgrades to our infrastructure. I encourage readers to visit the web page for Build by the 4th and review the tenets that the U.S. Chamber is hoping to see in an infrastructure proposal. We will be watching the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan as it progresses through negotiations. I expect our members will have concerns about elements of the President’s new plan.”




First-time Business Owners – Don’t Underestimate Demand

By Amy DeGeer Roten

A strange and fascinating phenomenon is happening in Midland.

Several new businesses over the last few years have opened their doors and found unusually high demand for their products. In fact, the demand is so high they run out of products and close early. You might think, “Wow! How awesome! They’re immediately a success!”

In reality, the opposite can be true. When you’re opening-day inventory is depleted due to unanticipated sales, it does communicate that you have a hot product. However, it may also communicate that you are unprepared and out of touch with your customers, which can be devastating.

One company that experienced this phenomenon never could ramp up to meet demand and within weeks, closed the doors forever. Imagine putting all your money and years of effort into a new business only to see it fail because demand couldn’t be met!

Most first-time business owners plan for little to no profit for the first several years. Furthermore, most don’t have the net assets and cash flow to quickly scale operations for a surge. So how can new, small business owners better forecast inventory and sales to align with potential demand?

Here are seven tips to make sure your new business isn’t overwhelmed by opening-day sales:

  1. Test the market validity to anticipate volume with a Google Ads campaign.
  2. Use the Google Keyword Tool and Google Trends to research competitor sales and anticipate demand.
  3. Set up a crowdfunding campaign to secure capital for your business startup. Most people today have heard of crowdfunding. Crowdfunding sites are platforms where business investors are solicited over the internet. Rocket Hub, Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or Indiegogo have been at it since 2014. Learn more about crowdfunding on these platforms to see if it fits your needs.
  4. Pilot your product with pre-orders to evaluate real-time demand, and generate cash flow and volume estimates. Here’s a quick and easy article to help you with tips 1 – 4.  Estimate volume by units and then forecast sales by multiplying the price by volume. Here’s a great article to walk you through it.
  5. Do not close early if you run out of product. Meegan Holland is a small business consultant and former VP of Marketing and Communications for the Michigan Retailers Association. “If operating hours have been advertised but they are closing early due to depleted inventory, DON’T CLOSE!” said Meegan. “Greet the customer, talk about how hot the product was, tell them you’ll order or make the product just for them, and give them some sort of perk to retain their business.” Meegan also suggests offering free delivery, a discount, or whatever it takes to keep new patrons happy. Be willing to special order unless you cannot fulfill that promise due to supply or vendor issues.
  6. Analyze the competition on Facebook (reviews, pricing, demand). Identify and promote your differentiator. There are several tools to help you do this. Here is an article to help you.

Successfully operating a small business is part research, part common sense, and part intuition. It also takes courage, passion, and risk. Avoid being overwhelmed by demand you can’t meet. Make sure to work through a few of the tips above to have an educated understanding of the inventory you will need to meet sales for your grand opening.

For more information or resources, contact aroten@mbami.org.  


Community Organizations Come Together to Launch ReGrow Midland, Program to Assist Local Restaurants

During a time when local restaurants are struggling and many community members are finding it difficult to put food on their tables, a few local citizens and organizations have come together to launch ReGrow Midland.

ReGrow Midland, a pilot program of the Midland Business Alliance (MBA) and the Midland Area Community Foundation (MACF), is designed to provide low-cost, healthy meal options to the community while helping local restaurants rebound from extended closures and restrictions. This effort is a partnership with the MBA, Michigan Baseball Foundation (MBF), MACF and private citizens/investors.

“Our local restaurants need support right now more than ever,” said Tony Stamas, MBA President and CEO. “Although restrictions are beginning to ease, the past year has thrown them more challenges than anyone could have imagined. We are excited to be a part of this new program that supports restaurants and brings their staff back to work as well as helps those in need feed their families.”

Each week, distribution centers around Midland County will receive a quantity of nutritious meals to offer to the public. A suggested donation of $2 each is requested for those receiving meals.  In return, participating restaurants are able to retain their workforce and begin the process of re-growing their business.

“We are so appreciative of the community interest and engagement received to bring ReGrow Midland to life,” said David Ramaker, President of MBF. “We want to thank Downtown Restaurant Investments (DRI) and the Midland Country Club for partnering together to create and develop our menus, operating guidelines and running the initial pilot. We are very excited to launch a program that helps residents and restaurants alike. We also want to recognize the essential assistance provided by Senior Services of Midland County regarding nutritional analysis and council on the meal distribution options.”

In addition to supporting restaurants, ReGrow Midland plans to incorporate sourcing fresh produce and meats from local farmers. Additional details regarding the restaurant application process and timeline will be forthcoming. Those who wish to donate to the program can do so by visiting MACF’s website.

“One of the elements that makes for a thriving community is a vibrant economy, with restaurants being an important part of our local economy. Supporting our restaurants is critical during this time and, while doing that, we’re providing meals for those in need,” said Sharon Mortensen, President and CEO of MACF. “It’s a community win-win.”

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