West Michigan event industry still largely shutdown due to coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 9:33 PM, Jun 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-29 14:45:22-04

GRANDVILLE, Mich. — As most industries in Michigan begin to reopen, one is still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic with no start date in sight.

The events industry shut down at the start of the outbreak in mid-March because of orders ending large gatherings, meaning people couldn’t go to places like 20 Monroe Live for a concert.

“We watched our calendar go from completely full for the entire year, to completely empty,” said Tom Lohman.

Lohman is the vice president at Odyssey Lighting in Grandville.

The business started in 1987 and provides lighting services for concerts, galas, graduations, and other events in West Michigan.

There’s always a different challenge, there’s always a different group of people, it’s always a different set up, and we’re always dealing with lots of different crowds and lots of people, which, isn’t happening right now,” said Lohman.

“That last week in March, the phone rang, and didn’t stop, but they were all negative phone calls,” said Brad Dunnum, owner of Aria Show Technology. “Everybody was cancelling.”

Michigan is still limiting most indoor social gatherings to no more than 10 people or 100 people if outside, meaning most organizations are canceling their fundraisers, galas, and other events and do not need the light, video, and production services the businesses offer.

“It’s gutting,” said Dyan Yoder, co-owner of Captus Creative. “It’s scary because this is what we do and this is how we find our life blood and our energy.”

All three businesses say revenue is near zero. Lohman estimates his business is missing out on $1 million.

The outbreak is forcing them to furlough employees and lose freelancers as well. Recent data from the state says employment in the leisure and hospitality industry is down nearly 55 percent when compared to may of last year.

“I’m no longer an established business,” said Dunnum. “I could be out of business tomorrow depending on how long this goes on, so my mentality is completely shifted to a one-man show, back to 1999, in my basement where I started.”

All agree the industry can’t survive on virtual or socially-distanced events.

“The problem is, all of these events are based on ticket sales,” said Lohman. “When you cut your revenue stream in half, to be able to accommodate the social distancing part, you don’t really have enough money then to do the event the same way.”

“Being creative and finding other ways that people can tap into some kind of entertainment, now it’s not going to fill all those positions,” said Yoder. “We have hundreds of thousands of freelancers across the country that aren’t able to do that.”

Gatherings of all sizes are not expected until phase six of the MI Safe Start Plan, which says will happen when there is a vaccine or little to no community spread of the disease.

The businesses saw lawmakers need to pass additional economic assistance and Michiganders need to follow recommendations like wearing a mask.

Earlier this month, Pure Michigan, in collaboration with others in the event industry, proposed reopening recommendations to Governor Whitmer.

It is still under consideration.

“A lot of us are hurting and are going to continue to hurt for over a year,” said Dunnum.

“When we do our job well, nobody knows that we are there,” said Lohman. “Because of that, nobody even knows that we exist as an entity, but we’re a workforce of over 100 million people nationwide that contribute a lot to the economy and right now we’re all out of work.”