Sky Foster, Manager of Corporate Communications, BMW Manufacturing
Q: What were the primary factors that led to BMW shutting down production at the Upstate facility?
The health and protection of our associates was the primary factor that led BMW Manufacturing to stop production on Sunday, March 29. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic had a major impact on the global supply chain and customer demand for cars.
Q: Do you all have short- and/or long-term concerns around some potential supply chain issues? If so, what actions have you all done to help offset them?
One of the greatest strengths of our plant is flexibility. Our procurement and logistics teams are very experienced in dealing with any supply chain issues, from bad weather to traffic situations. It was no different during the coronavirus pandemic, just intensified. Going forward, we will continue to be flexible and adjust our production as the supply chain dictates.
Q: You were among the employees who still were at the plant while the production line was closed. What was your primary focus during that time period?
As communications manager, my team and I had to communicate internally with our associates and externally to the media. Internally, we prepared videos, signage, a booklet and other materials to let associates know how we would protect them when they returned. Externally, we responded to media requests about our changing production operations and the global supply chain.
Q: Is BMW in conversations locally and regionally with other manufacturers regarding best practices when it comes to safety and social distancing?
Yes, BMW always seeks out best practices when it comes to the health and safety of our associates. Besides seeking the advice of the CDC and SC DHEC, we have contacts with many manufacturers and suppliers in the southeast to exchange ideas and best practices on a variety of topics.
Q: What are the most significant changes that you all have implemented to create social distancing and address health concerns?
During the non-production time, BMW implemented a variety of deep cleaning and safety measures. This included disinfecting equipment in all technologies, sanitizing workstations, remodeling layouts to enhance social distancing, and completing preventive maintenance on equipment. New guidelines and procedures have been implemented at the plant to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These include temperature self-checks, modified seating for cafeteria and office areas, staggered lunch schedules, and expanded cleaning practices. Face masks are required for anyone who cannot maintain the required 6-foot social distance. BMW will continue to follow these and other CDC-recommended procedures.
Q: What changes do you see in manufacturing generally and at BMW in particular due to COVID-19 that are likely to be permanent?
The most likely change we see is fewer in-person meetings and more virtual meetings.
Q: Are you all back to full production yet and if not, is there any timeline for when that should happen?
BMW’s strategy for returning to production was a phased approach. We brought back one shift on May 4 and carefully managed our supply chain over the next four weeks. On May 31, our second shift returned. Over time, as the supply chain improves, our production will continue to grow. We’re not at full production yet, but we are on our way back.
Q: What is the status at the BMW Zentrum? Is there a timeline for reopening to the public?
The Zentrum museum is tentatively scheduled to reopen mid-summer with special safety and social distancing measures in place. Tours of the manufacturing plant will be announced at a later date.
Caren Senter, Communications Manager and Program Director at Upstate International
by Caren Senter, Communications Manager and Program Director at Upstate International
Learn a new language at Upstate International this summer! Our classes have gone virtual and people are loving the new experience, according to Christine Hofbauer, Upstate International’s language school director. UI has discovered that online teaching has some definite advantages, not the least of which is ease of use and time-efficiency with no need to drive to class. Hofbauer admitted that it was a challenge to get the teachers, all of whom are volunteers, to learn the new technologies necessary to transition to online learning. Fortunately, their passion for sharing their language and culture with others was all the motivation they needed and UI has managed to not only retain its teachers but also add new ones who are teaching from their home countries of Germany and Mexico.
To everyone’s surprise, once the initial technical issues were overcome, students have found that the learning experience is enhanced in a number of ways. For example, there is more time devoted to teaching and learning as there are significantly fewer distractions and it is easier to be on time for class without worrying about traffic and weather conditions. Of course, the weather has occasionally affected internet connections, so it isn’t perfect. The classroom is also surprisingly easy for the teachers to control online, giving each student equal opportunity to practice speaking, ask questions, and engage with one another. In addition, Hofbauer noted, the teachers are better able to share materials with their students through the use of Google docs, and they have easy access to the internet during a class and can share their screen immediately with their students. Moreover, students can use the chat capabilities to ask teachers questions without interrupting the class.
Hofbauer is thrilled that UI’s students are not just from the Upstate anymore, either. While UI has broadened its horizons out of necessity, it is broadening the connections among students and teachers. Of course, Hofbauer admits that everyone misses that before- and after-class social interaction that happens in person, but they are already hearing stories of new friendships being forged online. While, initially, some students may have been a little intimidated by the online format, they became more relaxed, more comfortable, and more focused in just a few short weeks.
Upstate International has been teaching languages since its inception over 20 years ago. It began with a simple English Conversation Club that met somewhat informally to allow recent expats, and other non-English speakers, to work on their English. Hofbauer got involved with UI 16 years ago, volunteering as an English Conversation Club facilitator. Today, UI offers anywhere between 15 and 22 foreign language classes each semester.
Membership levels have remained steady in spite of the transition to online.
Most prefer the in-person experience, but there are some that we have connected with who would not have otherwise found UI. Hofbauer says that one of the most surprising benefits to the transition we have made is that we can actually offer more classes since we are not confined to UI’s 4 classrooms. Going forward, Hofbauer hopes to have more students utilize our services who are not located in the Upstate, and to increase our roster of teachers to include many more teaching from their home countries; the only challenge then will be scheduling classes that work in a variety of time zones. UI and Hofbauer are embracing the new normal and plan to continue with live online classes as an option even once some in-person classes are allowed; a combination of both will provide the greatest access to foreign language learning for our community.
You can see the full list of languages and register for UI’s summer classes here.
Anne Craig, Executive Director of the Greenwood Arts Center, retired in March
by Anne Craig, Executive Director, Greenwood Arts Center, Retired
The Arts Center in Greenwood sits patiently in the Uptown awaiting reopening and return to some of our wonderful programs. Although the facility has been closed since mid-March, the staff has remained active with planning, corresponding, and social media outreach. The virus has caused this organization to look at all programs and readjust our calendar of events and classes. With the Governor’s directive in place, the Arts Center will reopen on June 8. Normally, the Center would present the Festival of Flowers Juried Exhibit during this time. The Festival has been canceled for this year; however, the 30+ topiaries will be on display in the uptown and the Center would like to be part of that visitor experience. So as our visitors stroll through uptown, they can also view amazing art. We moved our local exhibit to this June time slot to facilitate delivery of art and ease of organization. Finally we feel it is important to focus on our community of artists and explore the rich talents that they have to offer. This exhibit will also be available online for all to see. To encourage engagement, we will have peoples’ choice awards for the exhibit with voting onsite or online. We plan to offer our summer camps on a limited basis, 10 students with social distance in a large classroom. We feel it is important to ease back into our role of providing enriching arts education experiences to this community.
There are two more exciting exhibits planned for the end of 2020. First a Lego exhibit, The Art of the Brick, featuring artist Jonathan Lopes will open mid July and run to first of October. This exhibit features large scale representations of famous New Your landmarks. A Common Thread, Textiles Past and Present, will open in October in partnership with The Museum and focus on the rich textile history of this area. The exhibit at the Arts Center will feature modern textile artists. This exhibit is supported in part by a grant from the Elevate Upstate program.
Our online presence has been strengthened by website updates, Facebook posts, constant contact updates, and Instagram posts. The education staff has posted art activities to do at home as well as an interactive gallery tour of the current youth art exhibit. During this time, our annual report for 2019 was posted online and mailed to our supporters. The Center wants to stay involved in this community and offer educational activities to all.
Visit us on Main Street in Greenwood or online.
Welcome Terence Roberts
Congressman Duncan was unable to be with us today because he needed to be present for a vote, but we hope to have him with us next week, when he will likely have even better information for us.
Entrepreneur Ecosystem – Erin Ouzts, Upstate Entrepreneur Ecosystem
Erin’s featured work group this week was the storytelling group, who want to tell the stories of who entrepreneurs are. They are not just the high-tech wunderkind start-up types, who only make up a very small percentage of entrepreneurs, but any small business owner.
Information about previous weekly UEE webinars can be found here.
Scams & Fraud – Vee Daniel, Better Business Bureau of the Upstate
Vee expanded on some of the information in this post, with additional information for employers and businesses who might have employees paying bills or making purchases for the company. Her recommendations are to be savvy when it comes to product claims; buy only from reputable stores and websites (there should be contact information on the website); preferably to buy from local, verifiable sources; and not to fall prey to phone calls claiming to be from banks or utilities asking for financial information.
TATT COVID-19 Response Update Dean Hybl
- Upstate COVID-19 Link Repository Sharon Purvis
- Upstate Virtual Listening Tour—we will be trying to schedule these for mid to late May for each of the non-urban counties.
- Abbeville – Tim Hall, from the City of Abbeville, discussed the challenges utilities have faced early on with the COVID-19 mandated changes to operations and navigating how to deal with citizens who don’t have access to pay online or by credit card, as we were required to close lobbies and drive thru services. Abbeville and other utilities continue to honor the non-disconnect for critical services under the “state of emergency” and they will be working to assist small businesses with flexible payment plans to help them get back to normal revenue streams once things return to normal. He also mentioned the upcoming revenue challenges for smaller rural municipalities that will not be fully known for a few more months as the result of industries being closed during this time along with not being eligible for any COVID-19 related expenses via federal reimbursement in the current aid packages.
- Union – Katherine Pendergrass, with Workforce Development in Union County, gave updates on the county’s 20-year comprehensive plan, which they have continued to work on and which should be complete in another week or two, and the county’s transit plan, which is coming together except for having a lead agency to take it on.
As good news from the county, she talked about Arthur State Bank, which assisted 40 small business owners with PPP loans, but there were also sad stories from other businesses who were struggling.
- Oconee – Annie Caggiano, from the Oconee Economic Alliance, talked about the disaster recovery efforts in the wake of last week’s tornado in Seneca. Eighty homes are a complete loss, with another 170 or so having sustained significant damage. All told, there were a couple of thousand homes with some damage, which is a significant number in a small community.
Borg Warner, which was heavily damaged by the tornado, is working hard to get the plant reopened, she said.
Other counties are providing a positive update and community challenge, shared by Sharon Purvis:
- Anderson (Pam Christopher, chamber of commerce) Encouraging: The county offices have been great about checking in with the municipalities and school districts daily, seeing what they need and keeping them informed
Challenging: The biggest thing is that even with all the money that’s been received, it’s not enough, and with the CARES Act money depleted, it’s left people and businesses needing more. Now they’re waiting for the next round of funding.
- Cherokee (from Ken Moon, Cherokee County Development Board) Encouraging: The Dollar Tree distribution center is hiring an additional 100 people to keep up with demand
(from Frannie Stockwell, Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce) Challenging: They are starting to see some businesses close, and others are unable to get the loans for a variety of reasons—either the funding is gone or they don’t qualify
- Greenville (Teri Brinkman, Greenville County Schools) Encouraging: Today we served the 500,000th free meal to a child in Greenville County. We have been providing free meals to children 18 and under since the first day of the closure, March 16. We have expanded our location from 15 original schools to 84 sites, 69 of which are delivered by our buses, which stick around for two hours to provide free WiFi access to students in the area.
Challenge: Parents are disheartened and overwhelmed trying to balance work, home, economic stress, and supervising school work. Students miss their teachers, friends, and routines. Teachers are finding it is harder to teach and engage students remotely and to really know what they need. Seniors are missing out on proms and are unsure what type of graduation ceremonies will be possible. Yesterday’s news that we are closed to in-person instruction the rest of the year was the right thing to do and not unexpected, but everyone is grieving just a little.
- Greenwood (Angelle LaBorde, Greenwood County Chamber of Commerce): Encouraging: We are seeing economic development activity plus existing industry project expansion
Challenge: We are working through details to create a recovery plan with all community partners.
- Laurens (Jonathan Irick, Main Street Laurens): For the most part, businesses have stayed active, embracing online and delivery options, and the community has been very supportive of both retail stores and restaurants.
Challenge: Lack of funding—only one business was able to get a PPP loan, and one got an EIDL advance. Also, there is concern about how things are going to look with social distancing in the near future—how to have events and draw in customers.
- Pickens (Cindy Hopkins, Easley Chamber of Commerce): Encouraging: People are adapting to a virtual/remote business model—it’s forced some to cross that bridge who had been reluctant, and they’re seeing an enhancement that will carry over to how they’ll do things long-term. Also, people are doing creative things to give back to first responders and medical personnel.
Unexpected challenge: Recycling centers/landfill have doubled and tripled their average intake—the average day is higher than the normal high weekend of spring cleaning, and they’re having to bring in extra containers and trying to man the centers.
- Spartanburg (Alex Moore, United Way of the Piedmont): Encouraging: The responsiveness of multiple organizations, and collaboration. Spartanburg is always good at that, but this is really shining a light on the willingness to work together. Also, amazing response to COVID relief fund: over $220K raised, mostly from corporate donors.
Challenge: Confusing information/misinformation, helping people sort through it. What’s open? What’s not open? What are guidelines?
Adjourn Terence Roberts
Opening Welcome & Observations – Terence Roberts, TATT Chair
- Terence noted that people have expressed gratitude for Ten at the Top and what we’re doing to bring people together.
COVID-19 TATT Focus – Dean Hybl & Sharon Purvis
- Dean talked about our continued focus on information awareness through the COVID-19 repository, the UpstateVibe365 newsletter, and social media.
- Sharon talked about the guest posts in the UpstateVibe365 newsletter—trying to get a variety of perspectives in those posts, across the upstate and different sectors.
Upstate Entrepreneur Ecosystem – Erin Ouzts
- The group that focuses on connecting the disconnected is working on trying to find out what people don’t know and connecting them to the resources they need.
- Weekly virtual meetings continue; click here for information about past meetings
Overview of Unemployment Insurance Claims – Ann Angermeier, Upstate Workforce Board
- Ann talked through slides that she presented, elaborating on the information she gave in her guest post from this morning’s newsletter.
- The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is bringing a new group of people—the self-employed and those in the gig economy—to the UWB, because they are not normally eligible for unemployment. Those people may not receive payment until late April, she said.
The Current State of Air Travel – Scott Carr, GSP Airport
- After a strong start in January and February where there were increases in airline travel out of GSP, March was down by 42%, and by April there were single digit passenger loads, with 20 daily departures
- Nationally, traffic is down by 97%; future bookings down almost 100%
- Air cargo is still doing well
- View his presentation here
County Updates – Brief updates from TATT partners from Across the Upstate
Anderson: Carol Burdette, CEO, United Way of Anderson County
- City, county, nonprofits, and other municipalities are all working well together
- Homeless population has been provided with showering and handwashing stations
- Rent, mortgage, and utilities assistance are a priority to keep people in their homes
- Relationships and partnerships are key
Cherokee: Frannie Stockwell, Executive Director, Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce
- Both employees and employers have many unemployment questions
- Difficulty with banks processing PPP loan applications
- Great to see everyone in the community working together
Greenville: Dean Adams, Director of Communications, City of Travelers Rest
- A small business that normally makes takeout containers made cardboard (food-grade, which can be sprayed and wiped down between uses) origami masks, and the FD and PD set up a drive-through mask giveaway, giving away more than 10,000 masks in 3 days
- Echoed the sentiments of others, that groups are working well together to support the community
Greenwood: Heather Jones, CEO, Greenwood Partnership Alliance
- News from Greenwood: Angelle LaBorde, President & CEO of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, has announced she is leaving to go to Lexington; Heather wanted to express appreciating for all of the things Angelle has done for Greenwood County
- Regarding COVID-19, they are in the transition from response to recovery, with the Community Foundation, United Way providing human services, and on the business side, providing technical assistance to help businesses stay afloat
- Focus on mental and behavioral health
- Filming success stories for social media
Laurens: Justin Benfield, COO, Prisma Health—Upstate Southern Region
- Healthcare is not exempt from financial difficulty
- 70% decrease in elective care, 500% increase in expenses
- It’s the surge more than the virus itself that’s causing the impact—so preparing for the surges is key
- Expanding virtual visits
- What does healthcare look like after COVID-19?
- Shout out to partners—in particular, Joey Avery of Laurens County 911 Communications
Oconee: Morgan Holcombe, Oconee Economic Alliance
- F3 tornado that went through Seneca did tremendous damage to the county’s largest employer, Borg Warner
- Great community support, now dealing with tornado damage as well as COVID-19
Pickens: Ken Roper, Acting County Administrator
- 8:30 a.m. huddle call every day except for Easter Sunday with all county departments and utilities, municipalities, and nonprofits allows everyone to be on the same page
- Workers who are deemed “non-essential” stay on payroll, shift to doing volunteer work for Meals on Wheels and other nonprofits
Spartanburg: Todd Horne, VP of Business Development, Clayton Construction
- Very proud of community collaboration
- Chamber of Commerce and OneSpartanburg have created a “Back the Burg” campaign to give financial support to small businesses, which has already raised nearly $100,000
- Another initiative to support restaurants is corporate catering to bring in lunches, and 25 companies have signed up so far
with Sharon Purvis
Rebekah Cribb, Marketing and Event Coordinator at Cribbs Catering in Spartanburg
Rebekah Cribb is the Marketing and Event Coordinator for Cribbs Catering, which she owns with her husband William Cribb—who is connected to several establishments that make up a significant part of the restaurant scene in Spartanburg. He is the chef/owner of Cribbs Kitchen on Main and part of Hub City Hospitality, which includes the very popular Willy Taco, the new hot chicken restaurant Flock Shop (with two locations in Greenville and Spartanburg), and the Fr8yard. The couple are also part owners of The Kennedy. With her connection to that group, Rebekah was a good person to talk to about the impact of COVID-19 on the restaurant industry.
Q: Restaurants have been hit particularly hard by this pandemic, although the service you provide is essential and you’re able to remain open in a limited fashion. I know this is hard to narrow down, but what has been the biggest challenge? Has there been a challenge that you didn’t anticipate and people may not think about?
It’s really all been very shocking. This happened very fast for our industry. The beginning of the year was so strong, sales up everywhere then—bam, nothing. We had to react and pivot while still in major shock, and it’s been scary! The biggest challenge, in my opinion, has been trying to stay focused on growth and being ready for the bounce back after this while feeling completely defeated in the present. We have to do what we have to do to ride this out while still keeping long-term goals and projects moving.
Q: With several restaurants and a catering business, you employ a lot of people during ordinary times. To give people a sense of how much of a hit restaurant workers have taken, can you tell us how many your normally have, and how many you have still working?
Between all concepts we employee around 300 people; currently we are operating with around 70—mostly salaried and key positions. It’s been heartbreaking to not be able to support the entire team who supports us during this time.
Q: Are all of your restaurants still open currently, or did you make a decision, as some have done, to only keep some of them open?
All of our establishments are still operating at this time.
Q: Your newest restaurant, Flock Shop, had not been open very long before the pandemic hit. Does that make it more of a challenge to keep it afloat than the others that are well established?
Surprisingly no. The “counter service” model that we use at Flock Shop is more easily transitioned to take-out service than our full-service restaurants. Also, being still in the opening stages, the Flock Shop is naturally still adapting to business ebbs and flows. The most crucial piece needed to keep restaurants going right now is customer support, and luckily the newness of this concept has really helped keep the public engaged.
Q: Have you been able to keep Cribbs Catering open at all, with no catered events happening? Or have you been able to adapt to offering prepared meals or something like that to keep that business going?
We have been able to keep Cribbs Catering operational on a very limited scale, but finding a niche and getting momentum is a challenge across the board. We are able to offer individually boxed lunches for corporate clients who are still able to bring catered lunches in. We also are offering great Take and Bake/Grill and Chill meal kits for families to pick up from our downtown kitchen and cook at their homes. That push was inspired by the initial lack of options in the grocery stores. We are also venturing way outside of our typical area of services and partnering with the Spartanburg Regional Foundation to provide pre-cooked freezer meals to be delivered to senior citizens around the county.
Q: What should people know about how you’ve adapted kitchen operations to keep your workers and customers safe?
I like to think that we always take food safety and workplace safety very seriously. We have a responsibility to provide delicious and safe food to our guests, and that takes training and dedication. Currently we have increased sanitation efforts and are following CDC recommendations for social distancing for our employees while at work as best as possible.
Cribbs Kitchen on Main in Spartanburg
Q: How challenging is it to continue to offer your full menu when you can’t really project what’s going to be ordered? Have patterns emerged over the past few weeks to make that easier?
It’s a huge challenge, and therefore we have transitioned to limited menus in some locations. Jamie Cribb at the Kennedy, for example, is putting together some great daily specials and family meals in lieu of offering a full menu. It’s a huge balance between keeping guests happy with new service styles and menu options while keeping costs and waste as low as possible to sustain this lull for an unknown amount of time.
Q: Are you in contact with others in the food service industry in Spartanburg? How has this changed/enhanced/impacted your relationship with other restaurant owners?
Spartanburg has a strong restaurant community, we all have each other’s backs and are sharing this stress right now. We have been able to support some of our staff by networking throughout the food service community. We have also needed each other’s guidance and knowledge to navigate the various support systems and packages set up for small businesses at this time.
Q: Is there some other thing that you would like people to know about your business or the industry in general right now?
I’d say thank you to Spartanburg for the continued support. The community has been generous in pushing for gift card sales, tipping our hard-working staff, and being very intentional in choosing to patronize local eateries throughout all of this! We can’t wait to get back to hosting guests in OUR dining rooms—I believe we will all have a better appreciation for each other!