Michigan business owner Erik Kiilunen has purchased billboard ads throughout his state that read "ALL BUSINESS IS ESSENTIAL," as well as raised more than $25,000 online to keep the billboards up and extend the campaign outside Michigan.
Kiilunen has said he thinks Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's continued orders to keep nearly all businesses closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic "defy common sense," and he is urging other business leaders to reopen.
"You don't have to be raucous, you don't have to bring guns, but if we stand up peacefully, what are they going to do?" he asked.
Kiilunen shuttered his roofing and rebar businesses weeks ago in compliance with Whitmer's orders. Keweenaw County, where he lives in the state's sparsely populated Upper Peninsula, has no recorded cases of coronavirus, state records show.
Kiilunen asserted that small business owners deserve more trust to operate their companies safely.
"I'm smart enough to know what risk is," he said. "The risk up here is minuscule."
After having to lay off some employees, he is now asking his remaining workers to return to the workplace if they feel comfortable doing so.
But Kiilunen thinks businesses in other areas should open up, too — not just those in the UP. He has named May 21 to be "Michigan Take Yourself to Work Day."
After donations to the online fundraiser to support the billboard effort surpassed his original goal of $20,000, the GoFundMe campaign has a new goal of $50,000.