Our entire global community is feeling the impact of changes being made due to Coronavirus. This week, we are highlighting services available to help as you make adjustments in a special series on Facebook called Expert Connexions.

Jerry Norris is the Founder of The Fledge, a community incubator and accelerator for startups of all kinds in Lansing, MI. He joins our Julie Holton to talk about how COVID-19 is impacting businesses, and how each of us can help support our community. Hint: for most of us, the best way to help is to stay home!

Video Transcript

Julie: I’m Julie Holton, Principal strategist of mConnexions Marketing Agency. We work with a variety of businesses and individuals all of whom are greatly impacted by the coronavirus and COVID-19. So we have launched a special series this week to talk with experts to address all of the changes and challenges that we’re all facing. So far we’ve talked to a professional biohazard cleaning expert who shared what his team at PuroClean of mid-Michigan is doing right now to help especially for high-traffic areas like businesses and schools. What they’re doing to clean up and make sure areas are clean. He also offered tips for those of us at home, so you can check out that video. Then we talked to a health and wellness expert about what we can be doing for our personal health and well-being, and then yesterday we talked to a business organizational expert from our team here at mConnexions, Stephanie Barnhill talked about this transition to working from home and what that what that is like for so many people right now and some tips and technology to really help make that transition easier. You can find all of those virtual conversations in our Facebook video feed. Today we want to bring our attention to businesses, particularly small businesses that are feeling the impact and so joining me today is Jerry Norris, the founder of The Fledge in Lansing. Jerry thank you so much for joining us today.

Jerry: Thank you for having me on. It’s a good work that you’re doing and a good piece of business continuity that you’re promoting and making happen so I appreciate being given the opportunity.

Julie: Thanks Jerry and you’re doing a lot at The Fledge and so I want to dive right into that and what’s happening. First a quick note for those of you who are tuning in to give us a thumbs up let us know that you can hear us okay. We want to make sure the technology is working before we get too far along and join the conversation. You can ask us questions directly, leave comments. We can see them as you do that and we can answer and can include you in the conversation. So Gerry I want to start by talking about The Fledge and tell us a little bit about those who are maybe not in the Lansing area, tell us about your mission at The Fledge and what you do there.

Jerry: Okay our mission is to create opportunity to pursue happiness for anybody and everybody. So we’ve got some tenants that we use like radical inclusion, and zero barrier to entry, and no rules but values and we basically allow people to come in here who want to do anything and try to help them get the skills and the connections and the funding to try to do that. So we’re you know in part a community center, in part a business incubator, and in a lot of ways we’re a place of networking and connection. So we try to give a very safe space to people to come and make connections and proceed with whatever their kind of dream is to do.

Julie: And you know making those connections a lot of those connections are done in person or have been done in person at The Fledge of course and you’re also among other things a venue, an event center, where you are open to the public to hold events. How is governor of Michigan, governor Whitmer’s, executive order yesterday impacting you at The Fledge and your business operations there.

Jerry: Right well the events have been getting canceled left and right. We cannot host an event because of the order and we’re okay with that. We think it’s the right thing to do. We think that people you know should be staying home. They should be isolated from other people and we need to figure out what’s going on and react to it appropriately and protect people first and foremost so for me you know too I’m not discouraged at all that we had to cancel a lot of events. I think it’s you know it’s good for all of us to be doing this. So we’re looking at all of the recommendations, all of the orders, and we’re staying compliant because it’s a good way to reduce variation throughout the community and that reduction of variation is going to help us have a little bit more control over how this COVID-19 is spreading.

Julie: And Jerry I you know I relate to so much of what you’re saying because as business owners, as community event organizers, there’s obviously a very real impact that that you and I and others in our situation are feeling right now and that you know doesn’t feel good we have a lot of adjustments to make and a lot of things to do but I relate to what you’re saying because it’s also so important that we act now and that we take these precautions because we’re talking about the long game we’re talking about our health and well-being and I know that as you keep that in mind you’re making some changes at The Fledge that are really I think a really interesting way to morph what you’ve been doing and to kind of spur in this community this action to now help the community. Tell us about some of the things that you’re involved in in fact I just saw some of the deliveries being made behind you, tell us what you are working on right now today to help those in the community that need it?

Jerry: This very moment we’re doing a food distribution for the community. We have a lot of neighborhood kids who depend on the school for their meals, they depend on other programs being open for their meals. We have a homeless population that we work with and we’ve got people affected by substance use disorder so by closing us down as a food distribution center we could really I guess do some damage to the community in the neighborhood here if we can’t figure out a way to do that. So our friends at High Caliber Carting in the Meridian mall had a lot of food that was going to be spoiled because they’re affected by the shutdown so they made up some pre-prepared meals that just require being put in the oven and heated up and we’re trying to distribute those to fledglings who need help, the kids in the neighborhood that need help, and then anybody else who wants or needs the help. So to us it’s a way to distribute something that was gonna go to waste to a community that needs it and we’re you know we can’t just open up the pantry and let people come in and grab it now we’ve got to change the way we do that. So we’ve got two food handlers identified right now that are staying very clean and safe and using gloves and then giving that to people outside rather than letting them come in so we just have to change a couple methods and hopefully can still keep getting the food to people without endangering them endangering their friends and family or hurting our community or ourselves.

Julie: I was just gonna ask you that Jerry so I’m glad you mentioned you know talking about how you’re going to mitigate the risk and exposure. That’s incredible and I love hearing about how you are bringing together various businesses that have been shut down or maybe have the ability to help right now even if they’re facing their own hardships. Let’s give a shout out, what are some other businesses that you know of that are doing really good things right now?

Jerry: They’re you know there’s a lot of different responses that are happening, so I look at you know High Caliber Carting and they immediately think of us, they immediately think of the community, they take care of their employees first, so I thought that was great so they distributed some of this old food to their hourly employees who are getting laid off right now and then they came right to us knowing that we’ve got this distribution channel already set up. This I mean we do this we’re a we’re a for-profit company that has a mission that helps businesses and people who have a hustle you know kind of get off the ground and try to sustain their livelihood but in the process of doing that we also feed people and we educate people and we do a lot of things for free for people and just having the community kind of you know trust that we’re going to be able to distribute this for them I think is it’s an honor to be involved with. So a big shout out to High Caliber Carting and then you know I look at what Travis is doing at Saddleback and you know he obviously is going to be tremendously affected by this, but he’s also trying to keep some continuity. He’s concerned about his employees, he’s concerned about the community, so I like what he’s doing with you know using Grub Hub and all of that to deliver but also looking can he give his employees their jobs back if they started doing the delivery too and I really commend them for you know being prepared for that, thinking about that, and trying to work through this. You know this this huge thing that’s happening to all of us is a spectacular opportunity to question our business models and question our value propositions and question our mission and our vision and you know this is the hand were dealt we just have to play the hand there’s nothing where there’s no miracle that’s going to come down and swoop all these problems away we’ve got to play this hand and we gotta play it right.

Julie: and Jerry I got to give you credit too because you already have this this model in place, this mission in place, that this is what you do and so to see you spearheading these efforts. Stephanie commented here saying how amazing. Thank you for this incredible act of community service Jerry this is so inspiring to hear in such a challenging and stressful time and we have another comment here where Terry England is saying we need to do this in our community and so wouldn’t that be cool to see what’s happening in Lansing start to spread out into other neighborhoods in Lansing, other communities outside you know beyond Greater Lansing in the mid-Michigan area and beyond. So Jerry I interrupted you you’re gonna mention a couple other businesses that are doing really cool things that deserve being recognized and brought to our attention so that people can hear what’s going on in our community.

Jerry: Yeah well I mean just a couple more businesses really quick or one more in particular the I like what ruckus is doing with ruckus ramen. He’s decided to completely shut down and lay off his employees and I think it’s a good message that you know it’s okay to kind of curl up in a ball right now and be at home, self-isolate, protect yourself, protect your employees, and thankfully some of the executive orders are going to be fair to employees you know when it comes to unemployment services and people continuing with their pay. So if you do have that opportunity where you’ve got your pay coming in, you’ve got the opportunity to stay at home, this is a great opportunity to one build your future resilience, invest in your future self. This is when we should be reading, we should be working on a skill, we should be what you know watching YouTube videos and learning how to plant our own gardens. This is a lesson in resiliency that we can all benefit from that can help us prepare for many things that are in our future. Whether it’s you know emerging diseases like this or pathogens or if it is climate change resilience is important and you know I look at the other groups that you know whether it’s a business or the Allen neighborhood Center is going to have their market open tomorrow which I think is a very important statement to be made in the community, but you know this is percolating all over the world. People building resiliency, building abundance, and putting together you know mutual aid networks where we’re gonna step up and take care of each other so I really appreciate what Terry and Stephanie were saying in their comments there but I think there’s a lot of us that you know we’re all going to step up in some way and some of us need to step up by protecting ourselves and staying at home and staying healthy. Some of us need to step-up and help people do that right. So I would love you know if quarantine is going to work then we need to do it and if we need to do it there are many reasons people are going to need their home need to leave their homes let’s try to figure out what those reasons are and help them minimize that and when people do need to move leave their homes I mean they’re gonna go stir-crazy they’re gonna need something you know do it with variation reduction and do it in small batches and be smart about this and learn every single day what the information is and start to remain agile and resilient and don’t fear monger, don’t get too scared, don’t get into a panic mode that you know the sky is falling but at the same time be cautious and do the right thing and do the smart thing. You know high risk tolerance, that’s something I have but I have to tone it down in this time not everybody in the room with me has the same risk tolerance as me so it’s not fair for me to go out and take some big risk and expose a bunch of people to it. So I have an obligation to minimize that. You know be an example of that and try to help other people minimize it until we learn something new that you know maybe the doors are going to open up in a month and we need to go out and do something different. What is that different that we’re gonna have to do and how are we preparing for it today? We don’t want to get blindsided through this whole entire process.

Julie: Such great points Jerry and especially you know the two extremes, we really need to make sure that we’re not and inducing fear or creating panic, but at the same time we need to be taking all this very seriously and I love what you’re coordinating there to be able to help the majority of people to stay at home, while helpers so to speak in the community can help provide some of those services and resources that are needed. The president in just the last hour made an announcement that he’s going to provide relief for individuals and for businesses and you know and I think at this point no matter what anyone’s political leanings are or what their thoughts are on various government officials, of course we are all watching to see what mandates get passed down, what recommendations get passed down, and of course what help is going to be available, what relief. So from the business community aspect Jerry I know you are very well connected and meet with a lot of business owners and of course you are one yourself. The president said now is the time to go big and there they’re really going big so to speak as he said with ideas for postponing you know tax you know deferring tax payments and providing some funds now for businesses and individuals. Tell us what you think is needed in order to help people, as you were telling me earlier, get them entice them to stay home but still feel secure in their livelihood and that they can provide for their families. What are your thoughts on this? What is needed for our community?

Jerry: Well I think that you know that some of the steps being taken are great and from a business perspective like just you know I was talking to a small business owner where, and this was on Saturday, where having a tax relief. Not having to pay sales tax on Monday, not having to pay her payroll tax on Monday, would have been very helpful to her as she’s trying to figure out how she’s gonna manage cash flow over the coming months. So action like that I think is going to have an impact, but it’s also kind of far removed from the average person. They don’t they don’t necessarily see nor even believe in kind of a trickle-down effect of this how this can impact them. So I also think the distribution of money to individuals is very important, but the thing I worry about is what does that mean to a homeless person? What does that mean to somebody who’s living in a halfway house because of their substance use? What does it mean to people that maybe are not on the books because the economy has a whole kind of underground to it too – I’d like to see some more done with people, things that are gonna help individuals directly and especially the underserved individuals? Who you know maybe they didn’t pay their taxes last year, are they gonna have a problem getting this relief from the government? Who’s gonna be left behind and I’m not saying that they should even get that or not get that but how can someone like myself help them? How do you know what are the guidelines for people that are helping the community that they can follow to stay safe and make sure that the people that aren’t going to get these benefits are still able to stay safe and stay healthy and we’ve got to make sure I guess we all take kind of extreme ownership for this. What can we do as individuals with the mantra of you know we want to keep people safe, we want to keep ourselves safe, you know if everybody keeps themselves from getting this virus, then we’re gonna stop the spread. If you are too risky you might be promoting the spread so what’s the balance here how do we do this and how do we know when we’re putting people at jeopardy and when we’re not. I think right now we’re pulled way back and we’re taking some pretty extreme efforts. I think that’s great. I think that we should be assessing how bad this might be and how bad it’s going to impact us, but I also think we need to be learning and staying agile and following best practices and starting to let the community decide how they solve the problem. One of the things that I believe in is that the things that you know that are happening in Italy, are happening in Washington, yes those are good patterns for us to look at but they might the solutions that they come up with they might not be sustainable in our community so we have to put our kind of spice into it and make sure that the solutions that are being proposed, are solutions that we can sustain because if they tell us to do you know the gold-standard million dollar solution and we got 20 bucks in our pocket we’re not going to be able to sustain it so something that is sustainable for our community, yet learning from the rest of the world. We’ve got to figure out this balance and probably that’s my word of the day is how do we balance all of this and not lose control of everything because you know you could you could wake up in the morning on the wrong side of the bed and have a really pessimistic attitude or be very skeptical and your whole day is going to be different than if you woke up on the other side of the bed and you’re optimistic and willing to take you’re ready to take this on. You know really our mindset is going to be very important and if I could just point one thing out we have been dealt this hand we have to play this hand and let’s be — do the best that we possibly can and this hand will be raked in and will be dealt another one and that’s gonna happen every day for weeks, maybe even months so let’s get really good at playing these hands and taking care of each other. The time to you know cry about this or whine about your business or anything like that, that’s wasted energy. Quit doing that, let’s get on with this. You there Julie?

Julie: I am here Jerry can you hear me?

Jerry: Yes, I can.

Julie: Okay great. I like everything else right now we just have to adjust and go with the flow and my internet went out so I’m back on my cell phone hotspot so thanks Jerry for continuing on. Sorry everyone for jumping off. It’s kind of a sign of the times right now you just keep going with it and adjust on the fly and you stay fluid. Which Jerry I know you are your you have got down pat The Fledge so Jerry before we wrap up, I know we’ve had a number of people asking – which by the way what better way to get comments then to disappear from the Facebook live and everyone wants to know where you went. So thanks everyone for helping keep Jerry going there, but Jerry many people have been asking what can I do to help? How can I help and of course we want to first you know give the reminder that we have been asked to stay home we’ve been asked to partake in social distancing and to keep ourselves and our families safe, our communities say first and foremost? With that in mind if people are willing and available what we think are some of the best ways that people can be helping right now Jerry?

Jerry: Well I think that one, really assessing where you’re at. Where are you from a risk perspective and you know risk is a very tough word because there’s you know the potential impact of something happening, the probability of it happening, and you know if you’re young yeah you probably have a low probability of dying, if you’re older you have a higher probability that’s just the facts right now, but being young doesn’t mean you have a lower probability of spreading the disease. So going out and being reckless right now isn’t the right thing to do. The other thing is that there are a ton of people who want to help. I mean imagine your church is shut down and that’s where you go to volunteer once or twice a week. Now maybe that volunteering is your meditation, maybe it’s your mental health, and what you’re gonna be lacking in that. How can you do that different now? How can you get out there? I mean if 30 volunteers showed up right now I would turn most of them away. I would have to because I can’t. I’ve got to minimize the amount of people who can come in here right now. I don’t know you know exactly you know where everyone’s been. I don’t know how to assess this there’s a lot of unknowns and uncertainty that when presented with that I’ve got to go to I’ve got to shrink down. I’ve got to minimize the variation to try to get some certainty back into this and I need time to do that I need guidance to do that. We need to figure this out together, so a lot of this is going to be about being patient and I know you that you want to help but maybe your help right now is to self-isolate and in two weeks when you know we’re all down then it’s time for you to step up because we’re gonna have to take turns here if you know. I know if I get sick there’s a line behind me where – I don’t know – it’s people are just gonna keep coming. I know we’re out there. I know we’re ready to help and ready to do stuff, but let’s sit back a little bit, breathe a little bit, and figure this out and assess our own situations. You know I can’t tell any of you as individuals what to do because you know your world you know what you have to take care of so to me, you know try to protect yourself try to protect your people around you and if we all keep doing that, then we should all be protected and then the people falling through the cracks you know let some soldiers I guess get out there and take it take care of it and I don’t mean soldiers like government. I mean the punks with lunch, the happiest homeless person people like that are we’re ready to do this and there was a question that Terry asked, where are the homeless at these times and I mean they’re still in the mission but I don’t know for how long they’re gonna be that. They’re in their tents out in the parks. Outreach is gonna be difficult. There’s I mean they’re gonna have a tough time because people you know they so they’re gonna be thinking they don’t have access to hygiene I want to help them but where’s the balance there and we’ve got to figure this out. We’ve got to figure out how to keep feeding people and sheltering people and keeping their safety and security in mind but at the same time we’ve got to be thinking about next week and next month and next year and we got to make the best of this and yeah.

Julie: Jerry thank you so much for joining us. I invite everyone who’s watching on the replay, connect with Jerry through The Fledge on Facebook you can just search for The Fledge channel you’ll find the community there. There’s also an online group for members of The Fledge called Fledglings. I love being a part of this group. It’s a really great dynamic group as Jerry has been talking about. So jerry thank you so much for what you’re doing for our entire community. What you’re doing to lead your community there at The Fledge and I look forward to continuing to keep up with what you’re doing through Facebook and certainly those of you who have asked about getting involved look for groups online, look for ways to connect with people, you know don’t forget about texting your friends and loved ones see how they’re doing it’s amazing what a simple message can do to brighten someone’s day. Think about our first responders right now, think about those that are working overtime in our hospitals and nursing homes that are on lock down. Think about ways that you can support them. You don’t have to be there in person. You don’t have to necessarily be organizing food and putting yourself at risk. There are ways to connect and support people and I encourage everyone to find a way to be supporting someone else right now in this time. Whether it’s your family, extended family, your community members we all should be doing our part to do that so Jerry thank you for giving us some insight into what you’re doing with your community at The Fledge and thank you for all that you’re doing.

Jerry: Well thank you very much. I think this is important work. I think you keep some sense of continuity by doing things like this and thank you to the community because I don’t exist without a community and the only thing we’re trying to do is do what we’ve learned to do over the last couple of years and we can’t do any of that without everybody else so thank you so very much.

Julie: Oh you’re very welcome and Jerry and everyone else we will be talking with more experts as the week goes on in this special series. If there’s one thing that I know how to do from my background it’s share stories. I worked in news for a long time and so for better or worse my news instincts kick in and I want to provide as many resources as possible. So we have two experts actually lined up for you tomorrow. At 11:00 tomorrow morning we’re going to be talking with Ashlee Willis of Michigan premier events. She’s going to talk about what to do with all of these company event cancellations.

Jerry: And that’s a wrap!