The March 23rd program was a panel discussion of “The Post Covid World” that consisted of Rotarian Jess Cavazos from Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce, Matt Gerding from FPC Live (Frank Productions) and Peggy Gunderson of Strategic Brand Marketing with Jason Ilstrup serving as emcee. After providing their organizations’ experience with the pandemic, there followed a discussion of how they were moving forward. Space does not allow a just description but in essence, they described changes reflecting heightened importance of relationships, changes in the use of various technologies, and increased optimism for the future.
The speaker at our April 7th meeting was Jason Beloungy, Executive Director of Access to Independence, which is one of eight such organizations in Wisconsin. It serves Columbia, Dane, Dodge and Green counties. Today he spoke of the collaboration between his organization, the Downtown Madison’s Beyond Compliance Task Force, and the City of Madison’s Disability Rights Commission.
The goal of this alliance is a fully inclusive and accessible downtown which includes entrances to buildings and within their interiors such as restrooms as well as the accessibility to outdoor events and parking opportunities. Achievements of the last three years began with conducting a survey of persons facing barriers to accessibility that help prioritize the group’s efforts. From this, two separate guides have been developed.
The first was for streetory which involved entrances to buildings and the way to provide the best accesses to and within outdoor dining areas. The second guide developed is for festivals and outdoor events. The current project centers on “Well Built Conferences” which addresses designs and best practices for buildings.
Jason feels that individuals and organizations can help by getting directly involved with the Disability Rights Commission; getting input from those with disabilities; hiring people with disabilities; and by promoting accessibility and inclusion.
Our thanks to Jason Beloungy for his presentation this week and to Larry Larrabee for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/IGFkTbDrKD8.
From left: Juli Aulik, Ted Ballweg, Jeannie Cullen Schultz, Stacy Nemeth and Jason Ilstrup
The following Rotarians participated in a panel discussion moderated by Jason Ilstrup: Juli Aulik, Community relations Director for UW Health, represented the health care industry; Ted Ballweg, owner of Savory Accents, represented the Farm to Table industry; Jeannie Cullen Schultz, Co-president of JP Cullen, represented the construction industry; and Stacy Nemeth, Chief Operating Officer for Fiore Companies, Inc., represented the commercial real estate business. Question: How Has COVID Changed the way you do business?
Juli: We learned how to be nimble, transparent, innovative and collaborative in ways we never dreamed of. We had to move more quickly than ever, be more patient than ever, and use technology in new ways: telemedicine and new forms of PPE.
Jeannie: We lost 25% of our business plan on April 1st. We had to learn how to negotiate and manage projects virtually. State projects and our backlog allowed us to stay in business.
Stacy: Our biggest challenge was helping our tenants–especially restaurants and small retailers–survive while facing our own financial challenges. Our buildings went from full occupancy to empty in 24 hours. We undertook large capital projects to make our buildings “touchless” while tenants were out of the buildings.
Ted: We used to reach 95% of our customers through farmers markets. We adapted by moving the Dane County Farmers Market to the Alliant Center, launching a new website, working with companies that provided weekly deliveries and growing our e-commerce four fold. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but there were many positives. Question: What are permanent changes?
Ted: Cash is going away. Now a business can’t survive without PayPal or Venmo.
Stacy: Rapid adoption of technology. Things that would’ve taken us five years to implement happened in a few months. We found great tools for teleworking. Companies will need to decide whether to bring employees back to a physical workplace. It will look different.
Jeannie: We couldn’t work remotely so we had to learn new job site protocols to stay safe and socially distance in small spaces with many workers. We held monthly town halls with our employees.
Juli: Telehealth is here to stay. It improved attendance, especially with older patients who are the least eager to drive. Also, loyalty is here to stay. We have an obligation to shop local. Question: What were the positive lessons?
Jeannie: We’re proud of our company and community. Great employees and great cultures will persevere.
Juli: People are kind and giving. Staff worked extra shifts. The community showed their support.
Stacy: Creativity of human spirit. People adapt by pivoting their lives and their families to keep relationships strong.
Ted: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Customers volunteered to help harvest when I couldn’t do it myself.
Our thanks to this week’s panelists: Juli Aulik, Ted Ballweg, Jeannie Cullen Schultz and Stacy Nemeth; to Jason Ilstrup for serving as moderator; and to Janet Piraino for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/TWatwVjifqw.
Club President Jorge Hidalgo (left) pictured here with guest speaker and fellow Rotarian Jason Ilstrup (right)
The recent protests calling for social justice and racial equality have awakened many to the challenges people of color face daily that create barriers to business ownership and feeling safe and welcome downtown.
Downtown Madison, Inc. President Jason Ilstrup defined the “downtown” footprint adding that the Business Improvement Impact’s footprint is more centrally focused around the square. Eighty-five percent of downtown residents are 18-34. Many are college students who may not return to living downtown at this time. Also, many employees are working from home. Events and tourism are also on hold. Thus, the footprint of people living, working and visiting downtown has shrunk. Seventy percent of revenue for shopping/retail comes from events and tourism; our economy is challenged.
COVID-19 has shed light on the racial disparities that exist in our community – including business ownership, employment, transportation, health care, education and safety. Now is the time for us to address these issues and be change agents to create a downtown that is truly welcoming. Dense cities have creative centers, employment opportunities and create the environment for regular collaboration to meet diverse needs. We need to invest intentionally to create a thriving, diverse center.
DMI has assembled a Downtown Recovery group to develop short- and long-term actions to support economic recovery and a welcoming environment that breaks down racial disparities. Goals include mitigating business closures, supporting entrepreneurs of color, increasing safety, making use of public spaces and finding ways to support safe outdoor and indoor retail/dining options. It will take a collaborative effort from businesses, the city, individuals, non-profits and the entire community to build this new vision.
Please send Jason your ideas for downtown’s future, order take out from local restaurants and buy local to support local jobs.
Our thanks to club member Jason Ilstrup for his presentation this week and to Emily Gruenewald for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/Ow_Mys7ddgw.