Sharing the Weight: As shutdown lifts, our region will lead by example

As difficult at the COVID-19 crisis has been, there are many silver linings across the region from our great local business retooling to the army of volunteer mask makers.

Close community collaboration has been one of the clear and welcome bright spots amidst the challenges. This regional teamwork has helped to keep the community healthy and get people back to work as soon as possible.

Grand Traverse County’s Joint Operations Center (JOC) has been a model for collaboration in our community. It was established as a shared resource for residents, businesses and the community as a whole. The JOC has been meeting to coordinate efforts and communication on the COVID-19 pandemic since March 13. Members include key community partners from health, government, law enforcement, first responders, education, social service and business sectors.

When shelter-in-place enforcements began in mid-March, the JOC maintained a robust schedule meeting daily for the first seven weeks. This daily touch-base helped all participant organizations in surfacing, addressing and anticipating community needs and challenges. The group has worked together to develop a resource website with sections for residents, childcare, businesses and food availability; daily email and social media updates with timely, trusted information; coordination on solutions for at-risk populations and first responders; nonprofit donations; business feedback and needs; and transportation guidelines.

These collaborative efforts and robust communication have been key crisis resources to our community. The COVID-19 website has seen more than 45,000 unique users and has reached more than 190,000 pageviews. Facebook impressions are over 500,000, with over 4,000 followers. Several hundred residents have signed up for daily email updates. Hundreds of businesses responded to a recent survey to share their informational and resource needs for reopening.

This teamwork is a case study in public-private collaboration at its best.  JOC participant organizations have come together to serve the community and effectively address the initial crisis response. As the health crisis begins to subside and we start the reopening phase, this collaboration can also be a model for working together in economic recovery.

The focus and heavy lifting now shift from the public sector to the private sector. In order to ensure recovery, we need a coordinated response to address significant long-term impacts, including impacts on businesses, employment and economic activity. Efforts are underway with a team of business and industry leaders that will work proactively to address the longer-term economic and community effects. Despite the uncertainty that currently exists, having this cross-sector team in place and working on the long-term aspect of the crisis will prove critical to community resiliency and economic recovery.

As we embark on the next phase, northern Michigan has been asked to set the example. While this is great news for our local economy, it is important to remember that it is because we have been responsible as a community. Business owners, community leaders, employees and customers need to continue to be responsible in order to ensure that we do not have adverse effects and risk another shutdown.

We know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for the entire state of Michigan. Our business owners are committed to protocols that keep people safe. Companies and nonprofits are partnering with public health officials to take a thoughtful approach to planning the reopen in a way that protects our businesses, employees and customers.

We have an opportunity to be a model for the state. This opportunity to open is a responsibility to do it right. We can focus our collaborative efforts on economic recovery and community resiliency that sets an example for Michigan. Stay safe to stay open.

Our region’s recovery and future depend upon continued teamwork. The community’s joint response to the pandemic can be the foundation for closer collaboration going forward.

Warren Call is the president/CEO of Traverse Connect, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North. Contact him at