Saturday, March 16, 2019

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Detroit chamber, Blue Cross collaborate for online well-being portal - Crain's Detroit Business

Posted: 15 Mar 2019 05:35 AM PDT

The Detroit Regional Chamber has started a free online wellness education portal in collaboration with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Called Wellness Works Detroit, chamber COO Tammy Carnrike said the business organization saw a need to help educate the business community on the benefits of wellness and well-being as not only a way to improve employee health, but also as a way to satisfy a business recruiting and retention need.

"The chamber has started to track well-being in this region, and our metrics are not good," Carnike said. "The Detroit-Warren-Dearborn area was ranked 145 out of 189 (Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index). We were last in our peer regions. We are concerned about this because we are trying to attract a talent pool and talent wants to go to a place where it's healthy."

Carnike said helping to educate employers with Wellness Works and collaborating with Blue Cross on wellness and well-being content will help move Southeast Michigan up in the rankings.

"This will increase our health ranking because small and medium businesses don't have the corporate resources," Carnike said. "We need to get the message to smaller businesses."

What is a well-being program? Experts say it is the natural evolution of wellness programs where employers offer services that go beyond physical health assistance to areas such as family, social and financial issues. It can include training to improve emotional health, social connection and happiness.

Depending on the company's culture and employee participation rate, employers can potentially lower health care costs, increase employee productivity, job satisfaction, improve retention rates and reduce absenteeism. At least 50 percent of all health care costs can be attributed to unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle choices, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In January, Blue Cross began offer weekly virtual well-being webinars on how employers and employees can improve their health and emotional states. It is offered free to individual and group members to complement the Blues' basic health and wellness programs, said Cindy Bjorkquist, Blue Cross' director of Health and Wellness Programs.

"We are directly aligned with the chamber on a number" of projects, Bjorkquist said. "We spoke with them about importance of well-being. Our program is a natural fit for their new initiative."

Besides the weekly virtual well-being program, Blue Cross will provide wellness and well-being content to the chamber every week from its deep reservoir of research and reports, she said.

Since the well-being program began, Blue Cross has signed up more than 626 members and has about 300 employers participating, Bjorkquist said.

"We believe employers have made improvements with well-being," Bjorkquist said. "Our surveys tell us we are ranking very high in satisfaction with the programs."

Carnike said Wellness Works Detroit also is being offered to other chambers in Michigan to "help them build a healthier workforce."

Secretary Mac Warner visits Barbour County business owners -

Posted: 14 Mar 2019 05:34 PM PDT

PHILIPPI, W.Va. - West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner made a stop in Barbour County Thursday.

Warner met with county officials in Philippi before speaking to the Barbour County Chamber of Commerce at lunchtime.

Warner told businesses there about his office's new One Stop Business Portal, where new businesses can apply for all the paperwork they need to open.

Warner said businesses are important to their communities, and he wants to help them succeed.

"Businesspeople are the backbone of the community.  They provide the jobs, they pay the taxes that makes a community run.  It's the vibrancy of the community that's created by the small businesspeople, and so that's what I like to see."

Business owners can learn more about the One Stop centers online or at three locations around the state.  Those centers are located in Clarksburg, Charleston and Martinsburg.

Step into a portal across the world in downtown Tempe - The State Press

Posted: 14 Mar 2019 07:53 PM PDT

The Portal Project by Shared Studios is using technology to bring people together from across the world


A large, gold shipping container sits on a sidewalk in Tempe, oddly out of place. Upon walking up the ramp and into its dark interior, one finds something completely unexpected: the other side of the world.

Shared Studios' Portal Project, the brainchild of founder and creative director Amar Bakshi, aims to utilize technology to bring the world together through simple conversation.

The back wall of the Portal is a floor-to-ceiling screen that displays a life-sized live image of a portal somewhere across the globe, from Oakland, California to Herat, Afghanistan. 

Bakshi said the inspiration for the Portal Project came from his travels while writing for the Washington Post in 2006, when he would take long bus rides across foreign countries with no entertainment but had "some of the most moving and meaningful conversations" with the people next to him.

"When I came back to the U.S. for work and school, I noticed that I didn't have those kinds of conversations anymore," he said. "Whenever I met anyone new, it was to get a job or get a date. It wasn't just to lose myself in hearing the story of another person."

His grandmother also played a role in inspiring the Portal Project, Bakshi said.

In 2007, he was reporting in Pakistan where his grandmother had grown up before she fled to India in 1947. Bakshi said his grandmother loved reading his stories about her homeland but wished she could have a simple conversation with someone in Pakistan to "feel the place again."

He said Portals can offer that connection his grandmother wished for to more than just those with the money to travel away from their home country — Portals make it available to anyone.

Brandon Ferderer, a Portal curator and graduate student studying communication, said he's had deep and moving connections with the people he's met in the Portal.

One of the conversations that resonated with him the most is one he had with a college student in Afghanistan.

"I asked him, 'What do you plan to do with your robotics degree?' He said that he is committed to working on artificial intelligence that detects suicide bombs," Ferderer said. "And then we got into a more in-depth conversation about the number of his friends in the Afghan army who had been killed as a result of suicide bombings."

He said that this course of conversation is reflective of the way things can go in the Portal.

"The conversation often starts with those kinds of everyday connections that we have with people all over the globe," Ferderer said. "But those conversations often move to things that are much more deep and long-lasting." 

Julie Kent, the director of placemaking for Downtown Tempe Authority, said that beyond helping people make international human connections, the Portal has helped businesses in downtown Tempe.

"I think it's bringing people here that wouldn't normally be here," she said. "People are traveling here to come and see this, so it helps our downtown business, which is a huge goal of our organization."

Kent said the Portal will be in Tempe from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Although the Portal is currently only scheduled to be in Tempe through March, she said DTA is hoping to find funding to keep it here permanently.

She also said she's seen firsthand what the Portal can do for people and what types of connections can be made with people thousands of miles away.

"People will walk in kind of hesitant and they come out smiling and laughing," Kent said. "It's creating good memories for them … and hopefully they learn something they didn't know before about another country."

Bakshi said he thinks the Portals are an effective use of the technology we often take for granted.

"We were doing pen pals in the 80s and now that it's basically free to engage with people around the world, the meaning of it has been sapped away," he said. "We are trying to make an argument to people, which is, 'Wait a second. We have incredible technology at our fingertips. Let us, as communities, claim it and use it in a way that helps advance the goals we have.'"

Reach the reporter at or follow @jsphprzz on Twitter.

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