Traverse City News and Events

Upon Another Pandemic Milestone, Here's What We've Learned So Far

By Craig Manning | April 5, 2021

As of today (Monday, April 5), all Michiganders 16 and older are officially eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. To mark the milestone, The Ticker hears from local leaders who share the biggest lessons they’ve learned over the past unprecedented 13 months, from missing dining out to new passions to perseverance to the goodness of the local community.

Matthew Bryant, general manager, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa
What I learned about my organization or industry
The hospitality industry will not quit. We will do whatever it takes to safely open our doors to loyal guests. We thrive professionally and personally when our hotel rooms, meeting spaces, restaurants, and facilities are full of happy guests and hardworking employees. We work in this business because we love serving others and creating special moments.

What I learned about myself
How lucky I am to work where I do and with the Resort staff. From the directors, managers, and supervisors, to the seasonal support and even interns we had over the summer. I learned how important it is to surround yourself with supportive people, because you cannot get through hard times alone.

Glen Chown, executive director, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy
What I learned about my organization or industry
While people have always valued having safe outdoor areas to visit and trails to hike, these became essential during the pandemic. Viewing our work as essential, not just for the natural resources but for people – for the health and well-being of our community – really encouraged us to accelerate the pace of our efforts around land protection, trail building, and universal access to nature.

What I learned about myself
The conservancy has a strong staff of 26 and we've been around for 30 years now, so a lot of systems are in place to take care of our people. This year though, I worried so much about my team that it made me slow down and take more time with my staff: to spend more time listening and thinking about their physical and mental health, to be adaptive to their needs, and to really focus on the need for a healthy work-life balance. Managing in a time of crisis has made me a better leader, and I'm grateful for that.

Nate Crane, co-owner, Rare Bird Brewpub
What I learned about my organization or industry
The restaurant industry is incredibly resilient. We were constantly changing our business model to meet the latest executive orders.

What I learned about myself
I can get creative in the face of adversity. We implemented a strong takeout system and greatly expanded our outdoor seating. Both are great additions we will keep after COVID. 

Jean Derenzy, CEO, Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA)
What I learned about my organization or industry
The pandemic was a reminder of the creativity and resiliency of our downtown family. The downtown merchants, as well as the DDA staff, had to change course quickly and stayed positive, motivated, and determined. I learned that Traverse City comes together to help and assist, to be healthier and stronger, and to persevere.

What I learned about myself
I surround myself with people that are innovative and who work hard to make our downtown a true destination. From my board members, to my employees, to the businesses downtown, to property owners: during a time of uncertainty, we were all able to come up with solutions to help the greater good of our downtown community.

Jessica Edson, owner, Edson Farms Natural Foods
What I learned about my organization or industry
One thing I learned is the incredible ability to persevere in times of crisis and fear. Grocery workers were inundated with challenges from the beginning of the pandemic, and I am so proud to be a part of industry that has shown such poise and endurance.

What I learned about myself
I love to go to dinner! I learned how much I took for granted the human connection that was missing during the pandemic. All of our social outlets were taken away, and it was great personal challenge to go without.

Chris Fredrickson, co-founder and distiller, Traverse City Whiskey Co.
What I learned about my organization or industry
I’m a fan of the writer and speaker Simon Sinek, and one of his most popular quotes is, ‘People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.’ That really translated for us, internally, because [the pandemic] showed how important it is to have a meaningful mission. During the hand sanitizer craze, we went from shipping five orders a week, to north of 1,000 orders a day. We were doing 20-30 or more hours of overtime a week, and our team believed in the cause and supported it with all of their available energy.

What I learned about myself
The pandemic reinforced the value of family, relationships, and interpersonal communication. As a startup, we've been grinding hard for the last decade, and that has put us in a position where we've missed out on some social opportunities in the name of building the business. What I’ve learned is there’s got to be a strong-work life balance with respect to building and maintaining relationships, but also physical and mental health.

McKenzie Gallagher, co-owner, Rove Estate Vineyard & Winery
What I learned about my organization or industry
The wine industry is a unique combination of agriculture, hospitality and tourism. Being a farm-based business made surviving this past year even more challenging because, on top of all of the service restrictions and regulations in the tasting room, on the farm we are working with Mother Nature and do not have the ability to stop operations even when the world ‘shuts down.’ The farm has very time-sensitive needs, so we had to continue moving forward, no matter what.

What I learned about myself
Adrenaline and fear can really work to your benefit.  What doesn't break you, does make you stronger. 

Karen Hilt, owner, My Secret Stash
What I learned about my organization or industry
The one big thing I learned about our business was to be flexible to meet the needs of our community quickly. We took a few leaps of faith [such as pivoting to stock masks] and they really paid off.

What I learned about myself
Personally, I learned it was okay to panic for a short moment, take a breath, and rebuild everything.

Ryan Kennedy, CEO, Britten Inc.
What I learned about my organization or industry
I learned about our flexibility and ability to adapt. As the event industry shut down – which had a big impact on our business – we had to pivot and find other revenue sources. From the ground up, last April, we started making gowns to support the medical industry; it turned into a $2 million business for us last year. Walking away from that, it’s cool to reflect and to say, ‘No matter what's thrown at us, we find a path.’

What I learned about myself
Typically, I try to think down the road, whether it's 30 days, 90 days, a year, or five years. [With COVID], there was so much uncertainty that looking down the road was impossible. I had to shift from a very short-term focus to a long-term focus, and I think it was good for me mentally.

Kevin Klein, director, Cherry Capital Airport
What I learned about my organization or industry
The resiliency of all airport employees. These wonderful people took ownership and committed to making traveling safe. From reducing touchpoints in the airport, to aircraft with HEPA filters, our industry had safety as a top priority from day one.

What I learned about myself
That my industry can be at its best one day and its worst the next, but it will always be the people to bring the industry back to its strength.

Nick Nissley, president, Northwestern Michigan College
What I learned about my organization or industry
While the pandemic forced us to work virtually, it also gave us the freedom to try new things and reimagine how we want to do business. The experience allowed us to challenge our assumptions and reevaluate what's best for the college, our employees, and our learners. I think this mental shift will be a great starting place for our upcoming strategic planning, as we envision the college's future. 

What I learned about myself
The pandemic was a reminder for me that family matters even more than I previously thought. Watching my loved ones struggle with fears of isolation, and feeling disconnected and alone, made me much more aware of our need to create a sense of belonging, beginning with our families.

Becky Tranchell, owner, Rose and Fern Cafe
What I learned about my organization or industry
As a result of a pandemic, the restaurant industry experienced an all-time high of customer entitlement. This industry has always been one that endures mistreatment, through demands of unreasonable or unaware customers. However, being an ‘essential’ business has only highlighted just how detached the public is from food and restaurant work. Restaurants, one of the highest risks of exposure, remaining essential to continue feeding a public during a global pandemic has only proved how removed the public is from food and cooking, as a result of a culture raised on processed food.

What I learned about myself
My passion isn’t in the act of food and cooking. It lies in the people that create the food and environments we dine in. Food has simply been the medium for me to have a voice around ethical issues pertaining to restaurant work.

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