Ottawa County

Post-pandemic business world brings many questions

Editor's note: This column is part of a series featuring Lakeshore experts offering advice to small businesses as they navigate their recovery through the COVID-19 crisis. 

Working in the Lakeshore area has been a wonderful blessing. The Holland community offers great opportunities for families, with strong schools, a vibrant business community, and nearly unlimited recreational opportunities.

It is safe to say that the past two (plus) months have been the most “unusual” in my 26 years of practicing law in the Lakeshore community. Moreover, it is safe to assume that this is a common theme throughout the community.  

Starting with Gov. Gretchen Whitmore’s initial order, dated March 24, 2020, the communitywide spike in anxiety over the pandemic, and the economic fallout have transitioned to addressing legal matters associated with reopening Lakeshore businesses. The fallout has affected all levels of the Michigan business community.

Nimble transition

While my practice has focused on representation of business, financial institutions, and nonprofits in a variety of business transactions and disputes, the pandemic has required a nimble transition to assisting these clients with altogether new problems.  As one can expect, the emergency has created legal and business challenges not before encountered, including interpretation of executive orders and emergency legislation aimed at providing support to people and businesses.  

Our bank clients have worked through the underwriting and funding of federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, while our business clients have had to determine to what degree they can operate, employ individuals, enter into and enforce contracts, and on what level they may qualify for local, state, and federal assistance.  

Virtually every aspect of business and transactions now requires an analysis of risk associated with the pandemic and associated government declarations.  

Evolving challenges

With the June 1 rescission of the governor’s shelter-in-place order — “Stay Home, Stay Safe” — we transition from shutdown to reopening. The Michigan business community will face many different and evolving challenges.  

For lenders, how much damage has been done to their customer base and what is needed to fund re-engagement of their markets? To what degree do borrowers qualify for PPP loan forgiveness? For businesses in general, what are the new rules for customer engagement and how to safely manage the risks of these new rules?  

For almost any incomplete business transaction pending prior to the executive order(s), questions persist as to whether the emergency provides a basis to terminate the contract or if the economics of the transaction remain viable? In some circumstances, the analysis is as simple as “is it cheaper to default?”  For business operators who engage in direct contact with the general public, the prevailing questions are safety and liability management.

Providing guidance

These questions now represent the new “post-pandemic business plan” for the lawyers providing guidance to the business community. There are three main themes that prevail.  First, and most obvious, these questions are those of first impression: We do not have the value of prior experience to lean n. Second, smart and reasonable people may reach opposite or inconsistent conclusions on these questions:  As such, the answers are not self-evident. Third, there is substantial value in being part of a team that offers different perspectives: In other words, a healthy debate of all the possible positions is highly valuable.

In short, there are many questions ahead and, while they are unprecedented, I know our community is resilient and hardworking, and I am looking forward to leaning in and playing a part in helping find our way back. 

Peter D. Rhoades has called the Lakeshore home since attending Hope College and beginning his solo-private law practice in Holland in 1993. Engaged in numerous community organizations, Peter continues to serve as a board member and past chair of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland. Over five years ago, he joined Rhoades McKee which also includes his sister, Mary Jane Rhoades. Rhoades McKee, a full-service comprehensive law firm with offices in Holland, Hastings, and Grand Rapids, was founded by his father, Dale Rhoades in 1959.   

If you have a topic or question you would like Peter to address, send an email to Managing Editor Shandra Martinez at [email protected].
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