Bedrock Detroit’s Bill Emerson on Supporting Downtown Detroit’s Small Businesses Through COVID-19

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Bill Emerson, the interim CEO of Bedrock Detroit spoke with Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber to discuss the ongoing support Bedrock is providing small businesses in downtown Detroit throughout the ongoing pandemic. Emerson offered insight into the measures Bedrock and its tenants are taking to keep employees and customers safe as they reopen their doors.

Proactive Response

Since their move to downtown Detroit 10 years ago, Bedrock has made supporting the small business community an integral part of its strategy. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Detroit businesses the company knew it had to take immediate action and prioritized helping tenants through rent abatements and the waiving of base fees.

In addition, the company worked with the mayor and the city on setting up resource for small businesses, including potential reopening plans and the use of security deposits for PPE purchases.

“They were important things we felt we just had to do, as a story of what we are doing in Detroit for the city, for our tenants,” said Emerson. “So, it was very, very important for us to step up early and make sure we did the right thing.”

New Pathways

Currently, 70% of Bedrock’s retailers and restaurants have been able to reopen, however, with offices still closed, the amount of foot traffic in the downtown area remains low. Decreased business has forced some retailers and restaurants to get creative with their business model – moving sales online and offering order pick up.

“Detroit entrepreneurs are ingenious people, they survive…and with a little bit of support from the community, and a little bit of support from the business community, they can continue to do business,” said Emerson.

As businesses continue the reopening process, Bedrock has taken steps to support its tenants:

  • Supplying tenants with a return to work playbook.
  • Connecting tenants to PPE suppliers.
  • Allowing tenants to use security deposits for the purchase of necessary PPE.
  • Posting detailed signage in buildings and elevators to ensure social distancing.
  • Re-working of spatial layouts.

The Future of Workplace Culture

With so many businesses moving to a remote environment, some are looking ahead at how the pandemic may alter workplace culture and connection. Bedrock has done direct polling of its team members to assess the desire to return to an in-person workday and found mixed results, with staff citing positives of both in-person and remote environments.

“When you have a culture that is about people…it makes it more difficult to be able to advance that culture when you can’t interact with someone face-to-face,” said Emerson. “But personally, we have been communicating more, and I think there’s been a benefit to that.”

Some Things Never Change

For years, Bedrock has been known for their work in business development and business attraction, and the pandemic has not stopped that mission. Bedrock continues to advocate for Detroit and promote the robust technology and mobility opportunities present throughout the city.

“I think companies will continue to see Detroit as an economically viable option versus some of the places that they might be today,” said Emerson. “There is a lot of upsides to bringing businesses to the city of Detroit, and we are going to continue to focus on that, like we always have.”

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