Powerhouse Berrien Coalition Paving the Way for Safe Reopening of Local Economy

If the old adage of power in numbers holds true, a dynamic new coalition of key organizations across Berrien County is laying down a huge baseline of support in paving a pathway for the safe and thoughtful reopening of the local economy in Michigan’s Great Southwest.

The broad-based coalition features an array of the top organizations in the community representing healthcare, government, business, workforce and economic development that have joined forces to assist companies of all sizes across the region in a planned and thoughtful restart of the local economy. You can see the entire plan they have created at their link BerrienReopens at this link:


The group consists of leaders from the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber of Commerce, Kinexus Group, Cornerstone Alliance, the Berrien County Health Department, and the County of Berrien. Together, they have developed a framework of best practices and guidance to help companies not only get started but build confidence in employees and customers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The framework has several components including having a Preparedness and Success Plan, having a workplace coordinator, clear responsibilities for supervisors and employees, and having workplace preventative measures to ensure health and safety of workers, customers, and the public.

Berrien County Health Department Health Officer, Nicki Britten, says, “It is important for businesses and workplaces to reopen in manner that maintains the health and safety of our community,” adding, “We continue to monitor data and will be able to identify if we need to adjust course. We believe consistent adherence to the health practices outlined in the plan will provide the best chance of maintaining the flattening of the curve that we’ve seen so far.”

The economic damage has been enormous. Kinexus Group President and CEO, Todd Gustafson, says, “We are seeing unemployment numbers that we have not seen since the Great Depression.” It is estimated the real unemployment numbers in the County are in the 14- to 18-percent range.  Gustafson says key sectors like manufacturing, hospitality, and leisure along with health care have been hit hard. He noted that of the 71 thousand people employed in the County, nearly 19,000 are in the six most vulnerable sectors – manufacturing, retail, restaurants & bars, transportation, entertainment, and personal services. In some of those sectors, 40- to 50-percent of workers could be currently out of work. Gustafson says, “The time is now for a thoughtful plan to get our friends and neighbors back to work safely.”

Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber of Commerce President, Arthur Havlicek, contends,  “Gaining confidence with consumers will be key,” adding, “Nearly three-quarters of our economy is driven by consumer spending, which is exactly why we need to highlight best practices for area businesses.” The Chamber has been actively promoting small businesses with a successful social media campaign called Buy Local Berrien! Created at the beginning of the outbreak, the group has since grown to over 8,000 members.

Cornerstone Alliance President, Rob Cleveland, tells us, “This plan addresses both the supply side of the equation by getting our workplaces ready, and the demand side of health and safety.” Cleveland notes that the area’s strengths such as manufacturing, agriculture, quality of life and tourism, are key factors that will aid in a quicker economic recovery, suggesting, “A community such as ours is positioned for future growth, and the steps taken over the last two months show our community’s proactive approach to helping local businesses in a time of need.”

Dan Fette, Berrien County’s Community Development Director, says, “This plan is comprehensive and designed for all size companies to utilize and share with their workers and the public,” and adds, “It’s a blueprint that has the latest information, but also flexible enough to be changed to meet the shifting information that surrounds this crisis.”


The Berrien ReOpens plan is based on three lines of defense – limiting the number of people together at a time…sanitizing all areas…and requiring the appropriate personal protection equipment.  Companies should have a plan of action ready to go before starting operations.

Except for health care workers, first responders and front-line staffers, most workers fall into the following two categories:

  • Lower exposure risk – where the work does not require contact with people known or suspected with COVID-19 or frequent close contact with the public.
  • Medium risk exposure – requires contact with people who may be infected or contact with the public.

Using the Centers for Disease Control and Occupational Health and Safety Administration guidelines, the following are listed as potential sources for the virus:  co-workers, customers, visitors, vendors, and the general public.

It is also advised that each workplace have a coordinator or a task force in place to stay up to date on federal, state, and local guidance, and to incorporate any changes into the workplace.


Everyone on the team is part of the plan and the responsibilities of having a safe workspace. All managers, supervisors and employees are part of the effort to minimize the risk of the virus. OSHA and CDC have issued the following:

  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If it is unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60-percent alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes appropriately.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • While there is a community spread of COVID-19, maintain appropriate social distance of six feet.

Team members should also report any symptoms they are feeling and keep workplace housekeeping and social distancing at all times. Employees need to understand the symptoms such as dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath.


The Berrien ReOpens plan has put several best practices and measures in place to ensure the health and safety of workers, customers, visitors, and the general public.  Several items are suggested under the following categories:

  • Minimize exposure from co-workers by educating employees on protective behaviors and sharing CDC information and providing the proper items.
  • Practice social distancing, limiting in person meetings and promoting remote work.
  • Restricting team members who display symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Encouraging sick employees to stay home.
  • Actively encouraging employees to stay home if they have been in contact with a confirmed or suspected case of the virus.
  • Employers will have a communications plan in place and work with the Berrien County Health Department and ensure record keeping.
  • Perform increased routine cleaning and disinfection.
  • Limit travel.
  • Encourage remote work by employees at a higher risk.
  • Limit visits from vendors and partners in person.

The Berrien ReOpens partnership will be providing regular updates as information changes and conditions on the ground change.  The Berrien ReOpen Plan is available at www.BerrienReopens.org, which his linked earlier in this story.