Michigan business leaders expect third-quarter return to workplaces

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Business officials in Michigan have expressed confidence that they will be able to return operations to in-person work during the third quarter this year, Business Leaders for Michigan said Tuesday.

According to an internal member survey the nonprofit conducted in January, around 84% of respondents also said they expect that during the next six to 12 months the state’s economy will remain steady or improve. That’s a six-point increase from the last survey conducted in 2020.

Jeff Donofrio says it could take years for employment to fully return to normal.

“As vaccine distribution ramps up and economic confidence continues to expand, there’s reason to be optimistic about the future,” Jeff Donofrio, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, said in a statement Tuesday. “Yet even with robust growth and continued federal stimulus funds, it could still take years for employment to recover to pre-pandemic levels.”

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Donofrio said that some uncertainty remains about how much time it could take to reach herd immunity from COVID-19 and the impact of new variants.

Business Leaders for Michigan has nearly 100 board members from companies including DTE Energy, Amway, Huntington Bank, Rocket Companies and Ford Motor Company.

Factors impacting the state’s economic growth are COVID-19 vaccinations, the availability of federal stimulus dollars and employers’ employment and capital investment plans, according to the survey. Eighty-eight percent of executives surveyed said they expect stable or increased employment. Ninety-one percent said they expected steady or increased capital investment.

Michigan’s large employers are planning for a return to in-person work. Nearly 55% of surveyed executives say at least half of their staff is still working remotely. Most are expected to return to the office, with remote work continuing to be a part of doing business. More than half of executives said they expect to have more than 10% of their staff continue to work remotely.

Greg Bockart, executive managing director of real estate firm Savills’ Detroit office, said most of the executives he’s spoken with during the pandemic have plans to return to the office.

He said executives want to “maintain, if you’re talking about Detroit in particular, downtown Detroit presence and continue the momentum and the energy that’s already taken place down here.”

Bockart said that many tenants with leases that expired in the past 12 months renewed for short periods while they figure out what to do with their office space moving forward. Subleases were slower to come on the market than in other major markets.

“The tenants that did extend long term during COVID had a good idea that they’re going to go back to operating as usual once things slow down and they’re able to go into the office full time,” he said. “They were willing to make a long-term commitment on lower than market lease terms … Other tenants are still evaluating if they’re going to have some type of hybrid model with a limited work schedule between limited office days and being able to stay home more sometimes. There’s a lot of discussion around that with different companies.”

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN