Risk-taking is something I have always done.  It must be in my genes…flying, sailing, and racing all of which require a certain risk-taking profile. However, today I am more concerned than usual about a risk I am about to take.  Although vaccinated six months ago, I am concerned that the Delta variant will find me attending my first in-person conference since March of 2020.  In preparation for attending the conference, I checked the ICU capacity in the city where the conference is being held to gauge the relative number of hospitalization due to COVID. I also chose a conference within driving distance to avoid flying.

As the owner of a data analytic company, one would think I would look at the data and realize my risk factor is quite low.  Perhaps I have been over-exposed to the fear-inducing media as it tries to get and keep my attention.  But I can still feel it in my body if not also in my mind.  As I look at the data and our collective behaviors, I realize that not everyone is making the decision for the “common good” and, as a result, puts all of us at risk.

Off I go to the first of a series of presentations and network breaks. So far so good.  About a third of the participants are wearing facemasks despite the organizers requesting we all do so.  Ugh! Someone recently said, not wearing a facemask when meeting someone is like pointing a gun at them.

This morning’s session titled “Our Business Resilience Story” featured Ron Janish, Executive V.P. Global Operations and Supply Chain, Perrigo, and Richard Sorota, Executive V.P. and President, Consumers Self-Care Americas, Perrigo, with Birgit Klohs, retired CEO, Right Place as moderator.   Much of the presentation focused on the importance of communication and protecting their workforce’s health while maintaining the production of vital products like ibuprofen.  The key, they felt, was communication, building and maintaining trust, and engagement.  The C-suite experienced a new level of compassion and investment in the emotional bank account of Perrigo Associates.  Emotional support turned out to be one of the most important areas of focus.

The next general session was on the hot topic of talent retention/attraction.  A great presentation by Ann Harten, Vice President of Global Human Resource, Haworth, described the work-from-anywhere benefit and challenges including the ease with which people can change companies.  She said that work happens in at least three places: office, home, and third place (coffee shops, libraries, etc.).  Offices are suited for brainstorming whereas home supports work requiring more focus; third places work well for sales and socializing.

Ann advocated re-tooling and re-training the companies’ hiring managers and recruiters to make them more aware of the new dynamics in talent retention and attraction. Companies need to respond within 8 hours to an applicant or run the risk of losing them to a competitor.

The final session that I attended was on Supply Chain for the Automotive industry with speaker Mike Wall, Executive Director, Automotive Analysis, IHA Markit.  Mike described how changes in mobility and consumer preferences were changing the automotive industry.  He described the three areas that are being impacted are, 1. propulsion (electric vehicles), 2. ownership (on-demand services), and 3. automation (autonomous vehicles).  He said that the change in propulsion to electric vehicles is happening much more slowly in the U.S. than in Europe and China. He did say that the chip shortage was only part of the supply chain issues that now include rubber and steel.  He expected automobile sales to return the pre-COVID volume of 17.5 million vehicles per year.

The luncheon speaker was, Quentin Messer, Jr., the newly appointed CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. He described the agency’s areas of focus: business retention, preparing for and anticipating industry trends, telling Michigan’s story, business attraction, catalyzing and celebrating entrepreneurship, attracting and developing talent, and providing best-in-class customer (existing or prospective business) care.

The Michigan Economic Development Annual Conference has provided me and the other attendees a chance to re-connect and begin to replenish the much-needed social interaction that gives energy to life.

Time will tell if my risk was worth the results.  Hearing Ann Harten’s and Quentin Messer, Jr.’s presentations and re-connecting with old friends felt good. Having a conversation through a facemask during a networking event is a challenge in communications, especially listening.  Let’s all hope the need for facemasks will recede with the increase in the vaccination rate.