by: Jonathan Oosting
Topic: Michigan Government
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is planning to allow residential and commercial construction crews back to work by May 7 as part of her plan to restart the Michigan economy she shut down to battle the coronavirus pandemic, her office confirmed Wednesday morning.
The governor is expected to sign an executive order by Friday, a development first reported by the subscription-based Michigan Information & Research Service newsletter in Lansing.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the governor would open a lower-risk field like she has said at previous press conferences,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown told Bridge Magazine.
Whitmer said Monday that the construction industry would be among the first to reopen under a “MI Safe Start” plan developed in consultation with business, health care and labor leaders. Construction is a $20 billion industry in Michigan, contributing some 4 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the Association of General Contractors of America.
The governor has not yet disclosed details of that plan, or a firm timeline for implementation, but has said the state will restart the economy in phases based on risk, workplace type and region.
The building industry is “super excited” to get back to work, said Kevin Koehler, president of the Construction Association of Michigan, who noted that his group and others have spent weeks urging the change.
“We are a safe industry to begin with, and we have a lot of safety protocols in place,” he told Bridge, explaining the ease of implementing social distancing policies at outdoor worksites.
“We all have safety professionals on staff that manage it for us, so we’re introducing COVID protocols, we’re ramping up our (personal protection equipment) and we’re ready to go back to work.”
Koehler’s group represents roughly 2,400 commercial and industrial contractors and construction industry suppliers.
The industry “was prepared to go back to work” weeks ago, he said, but “I think the governor did what she had to do to protect the health of our citizens.”
“We would have liked to have gone back to work sooner, but we’re just glad to be one of the first groups that are going back to get the economy going.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has questioned the governor’s economic response to the pandemic and said on Facebook he thinks the construction industry is ready to open immediately and should not wait until May 7.
“No material change in ‘anything’ over next 8 days other than increases in frustration, confusion, stress, and maybe even anger,” Shirkey wrote on social media Wednesday morning.
“And losing money, pride, construction season time, and on and on … What possible logic? Other than ‘it’s all about control.’”
The Detroit Regional Chamber applauded Whitmer’s approach.
“The continued pragmatic and safe measures to get Michigan back to work that Gov. Whitmer is taking, such as opening up the construction sector on May 7, aligns with the Chamber’s point of view for reactivating the economy in phases,” President and CEO Sandy Baruah said in a statement.
“A recent Chamber poll showed the majority of workers, 61 perent, felt safe returning to work, and 60 percent reported they trusted their employer to keep them safe. The governor’s focus on public health infused with thoughtful input from business will yield better health and economic outcomes.”
Whitmer on Friday relaxed regulations for landscapers and plant nurseries while extending her stay-at-home order through May 15.
In a Monday briefing, the governor said she will begin phasing in a broader economic restart in the next week or two with construction firms and others that work outside, said Whitmer, who on Friday relaxed restrictions for landscapers and plant nurseries while extending her stay-at-home order through May 15.
The state is also taking a “hard look” at the industrial manufacturing sector and when facilities like auto plants can reopen, she told reporters.
“I will be guided by the data, not artificial timelines,” Whitmer said in a briefing at the Romney Building in downtown Lansing. “If we move forward and everything looks OK for a few weeks, we can look to expand it.”