Mackinac Policy Conference 2016 Recap


The Mackinac Policy Conference is an annual event hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber. The conference has been held for 36 years and is a fantastic opportunity for Martin Waymire to participate in important policy conversations to move Michigan forward. This year, the conference focused on entrepreneurship, education and investing in the future.

Martin Waymire was proud to attend the Mackinac Policy Conference again this year, sending a team of five to the island.

Notable Sessions

This year’s conference was one of the most interesting of the nearly 20 I’ve attended, with a number of challenges issued to the power brokers who attended. I attribute that to the leadership of Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah, who is leading the organization in a direction aimed at aggressively attacking the region’s major problems rather than accepting the status quo. It was a bold step to invite Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha – best known as “Dr. Mona” – to present her perspective on the Flint water crisis. Her TED-like talk, delivered with powerful graphics, made it clear that those who should have been paying attention to the water crisis ignored the people of Flint for too long, and were major contributors to the man-made disaster. She talked about the children who may be scarred for a generation from the lead they ingested from the city’s tainted drinking water, and left everyone in the crowded audience aware that we all are responsible for creating a better future for these children.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan provided a data-driven synopsis of the work under way in the city: clearing out dilapidated homes, rebuilding the economy, laying the groundwork for a strong mass transit system to end the defacto segregation that prevents Detroiters from getting suburban jobs, and pushing for housing opportunities for all.  He finished with an impassioned plea for a Detroit Public Schools restructuring that would result in a stronger city — a plea that was embraced by those at the conference, but didn’t result in a plan giving the mayor the strong oversight needed to make the district viable in the long term. The district’s immediate financial problems have been addressed by state lawmakers, but many attending the conference were hoping for a more comprehensive solution that would have made the DPS the kind of education leader that could draw more young families to Detroit. Those were just two of several presentations that likely wouldn’t have been made at past conferences, which tended to be feel-good affairs among mostly like-minded individuals. Pressing the comfort envelope, ensuring that the voices of those pushing for change are heard — those are vital changes to this conference, and changes for the better.

This all fits with Baruah’s Forward Detroit initiative, which is breaking the mold for traditional economic development activities in Michigan. Forward Detroit calls for creating not just more jobs but good-paying jobs,  on providing the amenities that young college graduates are demanding such as mass transit, and fighting to address inequities that have grown worse as the result of short-sighted public policy.

The initiative is a stark departure from policies that have focused on cutting taxes, resulting in poorer public services; cutting pay, resulting in lower per-capita income; and cutting regulations, resulting in a state less attractive to those looking for a fine place to live, play and work.

Forward Detroit is a bright spot in the state’s dim public policy firmament, and one that deserves even more attention from leaders in the business, non-profit and government arenas.

The conversations that start on Mackinac Island are an important catalyst for addressing many of the issues facing our state and challenging each of us to not accept the status quo if something’s not working. Instead, let’s be bold, ask questions and determine how we can unite for a stronger Michigan.