Keep the Focus on Education

Page 12

By Joseph Welch

2013 Conference Chair calls for continued education reform

Joe Welch MPC13

Congratulations to the Detroit Regional Chamber and all the dedicated people who worked so hard to put together another promising Conference this year. Under the leadership of CEO Sandy Baruah and Conference Chair Hank Cooney, we are presenting another best-in-class event through the Chamber’s mission of fostering economic development, education reform and regional collaboration.

I’m glad to see education remain as a Conference pillar, and with a sharper focus on STEM education. Together with entrepreneurship and making an impact on the economic transformation in Michigan and Detroit, these pillars comprise an overall mission that challenges us to strive beyond this event to further these goals every day.

To accomplish our goals, we must stay totally focused on education because changes and results take a very long time to accomplish. Our education system as a whole has failed to keep pace with the needs of our economy. Furthermore, these failures are amplified in the inner city and rural school districts across the country.

The modernization of our education system is vital to both our state and our nation’s future if we intend to continue to be an economic leader in the world. We are slipping badly in our ability to prepare our children to be able to compete in math and science. As a state and nation, we cannot allow this to happen.

Even in areas with greater financial resources, there continues to be a gap between the needs of businesses and the skills of graduating students because of the increasing demands being placed on us by the global economy. Today, too few students are graduating with the basic skills necessary to enter the next step of education or training programs for 21st century jobs.

There are, however, some encouraging developments to note. The state is attempting to inject support into the lowest performing schools in Michigan. Consistent academic standards are being rolled out across the country, which gives us an agreed upon measuring stick to track how we are doing. Other solutions I advocate for include: getting more technology in classrooms, reenergizing the skilled trades, promoting strong character traits, and injecting competition to drive continuous improvement in our schools. We can’t afford to politicize these issues, but rather come together for honest dialogue under a common purpose.

Michigan’s business professionals, government leaders, CEOs, entrepreneurs and regional champions all have a role to play in driving these urgently needed changes. ITC has focused its support on several areas of education. First, we have invested in elementary education programs to help develop new and improved ways to educate all of our elementary school children. Second, we have collaborated with major universities to help them improve their power engineering programs. Third, we have worked with our community colleges to develop and train our skilled trade employees.

There is a lot of work to do. Let’s think of this Conference not as a four-day event, but rather a continuing, daily mandate to help revitalize the state and strategically position it and our country in this global economy.

Joseph Welch is chairman, president and CEO of ITC Holdings Corp., the 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference Chair and current Chairman of the Detroit Regional Chamber Board of Directors.

Carl Levin: Stars on the National Stage

In a poignant moment, the nation’s longest-serving Congressman and fellow retiree John Dingell (D-Dearborn) welcomed his long-time friend and colleague, Senator Carl Levin to Grand Hotel’s theatre as Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah looked on.

After the three presenters praised Senator Levin’s career, highlighting his trademark advocacy and stewardship for Michigan, the Senator Levin took the podium to share his advice for Congress and metro Detroit, with Michigan’s political, business and media leaders looking on.

Drawing on his brilliant career, Senator Levin urged the audience to disregard national and regional political lines and embrace compromise. The 79-year-old, lifelong Detroiter and former city council president, delivered his remarks in the middle of a Conference buzzing about Detroit’s resurgence. He expressed his unrelenting faith in the resilience of his home city and state with a tip of his hat to the progress made so far.

The special edition Mackinac Policy Conference Detroiter Magazine, includes a column by Congressman Dingell on Senator Levin, and quotes from select Michigan business leaders.

The Voices of CNN: Effective Government Leaders Break Gridlock, Not Create It

Two of America’s foremost political voices took Michigan’s Center Stage during “Across the Isle: Michigan and the Midterms,” to stress the importance of compromise and effective leadership in breaking the partisan gridlock in Congress. Paul W. Smith, host of News/Talk WJR 760 AM, moderated the debate, which included Paul Begala, democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, and S.E. Cupp, host of CNN’s “Crossfire.”

Begala, a former advisor to President Clinton, argued that compromise must once again become an honorable word in Congress, and that voters must stop punishing politicians who find common ground. Cupp urged Republicans to learn to judge candidates by their effectiveness, instead of ideological litmus tests.

Both commentators agreed that the retirement of senior statesmen like U.S. Representative John Dingell (D-Dearborn), U.S. Senator Carl Levin and U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-Brighton) will strike a major blow to Michigan’s political landscape, as the state will lose nearly 10 decades of leadership in the same election.

To read an analysis on the impact of Michigan’s anticipated congressional delegation retirements in the special Mackinac Policy Conference edition of Detroiter Magazine, click here. The presenting sponsor of this session was DTE Energy. The supporting sponsors were General Motors, ITC Holdings Corp., and Michigan International Speedway.

Rebuilding Clout

Page 68-69

By Rick Pluta

The state’s congressionals look to rebuild influence after the retirement of four heavy hitters.

Michigan will see a deep reservoir of congressional seniority and experience evaporate come January with a raft of retirements. Rep. John Dingell’s six-decade tenure by itself represents the loss of several congressional careers. But also, the pending retirements of the venerable Sen. Carl Levin, along with Rep. Dave Camp and Rep. Mike Rogers combined, mean the loss of more than a century’s worth of on-the-job training and the perks, privileges, and influence that come with seniority.

“‘Compromise’ is an honorable word,” Dingell said in February as he announced his pending retirement at a business lunch in Southgate. “As are ‘cooperation,’ ‘conciliation,’ ‘coordination’ and similar words. And let us remember that our Founding Fathers intended that these words are the way business should be conducted.”

And Michigan’s clout-heavy congressional delegation has shown it knows how to conduct business – leveraging its knowledge, committee chairmanships and good old-fashioned seniority on behalf of the state’s manufacturing sector, agriculture, tourism, universities, Great Lakes and local governments.

“The whole rescue of the auto industry wouldn’t have happened without the bipartisan leaders of our delegation,” said Rep. Fred Upton, the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell is the ranking Democrat (and former chairman) of the committee.

Michigan ranks seventh overall in Roll Call’s Congressional Clout Index. The Roll Call index takes into account the size of each state’s delegation (which is why it’s no surprise that California is No. 1), its committee chairs and ranking minority members, and per-capita federal spending. Since Michigan is the eighth largest state, its measurable influence – to the degree that can be measured – is about equal to its size. Federal spending per-capita in Michigan is roughly $60,000, just slightly more than what the state sends to Washington.

Michigan also holds six committee chairs in the House and Senate. Three of those gavels will be handed off, though, with the departures of Levin, a Democrat who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee; Camp, a Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee; and Rogers, also a Republican, who’s in charge of the House Intelligence Committee. None of those are likely to go to a member from Michigan.

“There is no doubt that when you take a look at what Michigan is losing – Wow!” former Rep. Pete Hoekstra said. “The big thing about those three is they have a proven record of being legislators in the purest sense of the word. They all come at it with a partisan bent, but you could deal with these guys. They weren’t shrill partisans. They were legislators.”

And Michigan will need effective legislators to back up projects that are already underway and deal with issues looming on the horizon. The New International Trade Crossing may be ready to go, but Washington is dragging its heels on funding the critical customs plaza.

The law that required the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accelerate its assessment of the threat to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway posed by Asian carp and other invasive species might never had passed if it had not been jointly sponsored by the super-influential duo of Rep. Dave Camp and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. But there’s still no deal in sight on any plan that would create a physical barrier in metro Chicago between the Mississippi River system and Lake Michigan.

Don’t forget, either, the annual exercise in wielding raw congressional power that is the competition for federal transportation funding. That’s not just about dealing with Michigan’s pothole crisis. The elusive dream of a regional public transit system for Southeast Michigan is getting a reboot with the downtown Detroit M-1 Rail project. And what’s the future of the Selfridge Air Force Base once Sen. Carl Levin is no longer holding the gavel of the Senate Armed Services Committee?

It’s pretty easy to see why Michigan’s delegation has worked the influence game well. And, guess what? It isn’t all about the seniority.

Seniority still matters, certainly, as does the experience that comes with it. But Rep. Hoekstra, and later Rep. Mike Rogers, both vaulted the seniority system to chair significant subcommittees, and eventually the House Intelligence Committee – a highly sensitive job that comes with a security clearance.

“Michigan has a tradition of having solid legislators who are effective, working across the aisle and getting things done,” said Hoekstra, who is now a consultant on education and national security issues. “The formula moving forward is to elect the same kind of people.”

Hoekstra and others say Michigan voters will have to make some choices if they want to preserve and build on the state’s influence in Washington. Here are some common themes:

  • It’s good for a lawmaker to have strong values, but it’s also important that a member of Congress knows how to play the Washington game and legislate – that ideologues and showboats actually rob the state of influence.
  • It helps to have rank and seniority on both sides of the aisle to maintain connections no matter which party controls the House, the Senate, and the White House.
  • Michigan has some built-in importance with its big manufacturing base, proximity to the world’s largest supply of freshwater, and the shared border with Canada – so use it.
  • Always be building the bench. Identify politicians with some star power, ambition and a willingness to stick with the job for a long time.

“It’s just incumbent on all of us who are involved to push for a strong Michigan presence in the most relevant spots where we can get our members placed,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, who was just named this year to the House Budget Committee. “You can’t replace committee chairs and the dean of the House with freshman members, but we have to do what we have to do.”

That will be a little more difficult in the House, where those decisions are made by a steering committee of Republican leaders. Rep. Camp and Rep. Rogers both serve on that committee. Their departure means Michigan has fewer voices influencing committee assignments. But Rep. Upton also serves on the committee, and he says that’s already on his radar.

“Frankly, one of the weaknesses our delegation has is we have nobody on appropriations,” said Upton, referring to the fact that Michigan historically has had at least one member on the powerful committee that makes spending decisions.

Upton said he’s already gone to work planning how get a Republican freshman from Michigan named to the committee.

“We need to work to get a Michigan member on appropriations, hopefully on both sides of the aisle,” he said. The questions surrounding the political future of the venerable Rep. John Conyers (D) could be an entire examination unto itself. With Dingell’s retirement, Conyers (who served five decades in Congress) is in line to become the Dean of the House. But his future is clouded by questions about whether he has enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the August primary ballot. At press time, legal and administrative challenges were still underway.

Rick Pluta is managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network

Legendary Leadership

Page 67

A special tribute to Senator Carl Levin and Congressman John Dingell

Congressman Dingell has ‘left everything on the  floor’ of the House – a giant player in the game of politics, yes, but more giant still in the fight for real people. He has a heart the size of a barn, and a mind as quick as a jackrabbit. They broke the mold with John Dingell.

Sen. Levin has often been described as the ‘conscience of the senate,’ and it’s hard to improve upon that designation. He has always been utterly honest, true to himself and to his straight moral compass. And he has championed intelligent solutions to our challenging economy, whether it has been his support for advanced technologies in defense or the auto industry, or his push to help diversify Michigan’s economy to create jobs for our people. His retirement is a loss to our state and our nation.”
Jennifer Granholm,
Former Governor of Michigan

“Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. John Dingell have rightly earned legendary status for their tireless, highly effective work through the years on so many issues that are critical to the nation and to Michigan. They also have been very receptive and very helpful in dealing with issues that directly affect Mackinac Island. We all have bene ted in so many ways from their distinguished careers in public service. To both Sen. Levin and Congressman Dingell, we say a very heartfelt ‘thank you.'”
Dan Musser III
President, Grand Hotel

Carl’s contributions to Michigan and our country are innumerable. From his steadfast support for American autoworkers, to our troops serving at home and abroad. We have greatly appreciated his thoughtful approach to public policy and his good counsel, especially during tough times for the industry. We thank him for his distinguished public service.

John’s unwavering support and tough love have been extremely important to the auto industry and American manufacturing. He has challenged us to do more and advocated for us when times were tough. Through his lifetime of service, his work has helped strengthen communities across our country and delivered better opportunities for us all. We are honored that he has been Ford’s hometown congressman.”
Bill Ford,
Executive Chairman,
Ford Motor Company

“Carl Levin and John Dingell have dedicated their lives to public service and served the people of Michigan with distinction. It’s been a pleasure working with them on so many issues important to Southeast Michigan and our entire state, from standing up for the auto industry, to supporting small businesses, to protecting our beautiful Great Lakes. It has been an honor to partner with them to  fight for Michigan.”
Debbie Stabenow,
U.S. Senator, Michigan

Sen. Levin and Congressman Dingell are among the most respected lawmakers of our time. They are truly champions for Michigan residents and all Americans, and their accomplishments are proof of that. The longevity they have in common is a marvel in itself, but with both of them, it is the impact they’ve had that is most impressive. They have positively shaped the world we live in. So much has changed since either took the oath of office, but they have always upheld that oath, and put the will of the people and the good of the nation first and foremost.”
Daniel J. Loepp,
President and CEO,
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

“John has always been more than Mr. Chairman to me. He’s been Dean, the longest serving member of Congress and one of the most effective in our history. There’s never been a colleague I’ve admired more. Happy retirement, John, and thank you for your service.”
Joe Biden,
Vice President, United States of America
*source: White House Press Website

My Friend, Carl Levin

Page 66

To put it bluntly, I could not have served the people of Southeast Michigan for all these years without the companionship and help of my dear friend and colleague, Sen. Carl Levin. Dating back decades, the close relationship shared by the Dingells and Levins has been one steeped in service to the people of Michigan. In the early 1950s, I was blessed to work for Carl’s uncle, United States Circuit Judge Theodore Levin, and as the Levin brothers grew up, some of their  rst political memories included campaigning for my father. We’ve relied on our family bond and friendship to move our state forward, and few have done more for the people of Michigan than my friend, Carl Levin.

Carl has fought each and every day of his career to advance our working families in Michigan and promote the economic well-being of our state. He has led the fight to protect our important manufacturing and automotive sectors. I’ve been blessed to work side-by-side with Carl to fight to clean up and protect the Great Lakes, and to see to it that our brave men and women in uniform are taken care of. He’s worked across the aisle with any and all willing partners in order to achieve the greater good for the American people, and his principled leadership is unmatched throughout the halls of Congress. Carl’s approach to  finding fair, bipartisan solutions is a superb template for all who come after him in public service.

As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl has made it his mission that our military is both prepared and properly called upon for duty. He has worked to better manage our defense spending and see to it that those who sacrifice their life and livelihood for our freedom are cared for. As chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, he has helped to root out all manners of mischief and mismanagement at federal agencies and industries alike. Carl shares my belief that Congress works best and legislates best when it performs proper oversight and obtains the facts before reaching conclusions. Under his watchful eye, his committees have reigned in wasteful spending and ensured better stewardship of our taxpayer dollars.

Carl and his beautiful wife, Barbara, raised their three wonderful daughters right here in Michigan, and he will soon be blessed to spend more time with them and his six grandchildren in retirement. He has made it his life’s goal to care for the people of our state because that’s what he knows best, and that’s what he loves to do.

My dear friend Carl is an honest and goodhearted man, and our state and the Congress are vastly better off because of his hard work over the years. We all wish him well in retirement and look forward to continuing our friendship for years to come. I ask you to please join me in recognizing the unwavering dedication of a champion for our state and nation, Senator Carl Levin.

– John Dingell

Michigan Mulls Update to Gay Discrimination Law

ABC News: May 29, 2014

Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday urged legislators to consider updating Michigan’s civil rights law to prohibit discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity, applauding companies and the state’s two largest regional chambers of commerce for joining a business-backed push to amend the law.

“I don’t believe in discrimination,” the Republican governor told reporters at the Mackinac Policy Conference, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual meeting for more than 1,500 business, political and civil leaders. “It’s a healthy thing for the Legislature to look to take it up as an issue sometime this year.”

He stopped short of specifically backing an update of the 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but his request that the GOP-led Legislature debate legislation late this summer or in the fall was seen as a positive signal by advocates. Snyder’s comments — his strongest to date — came the same day that Chrysler, other companies, the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce joined the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, a group created this month to lobby to amend the law.

It is illegal to discriminate based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status in employment, housing or public places under Michigan law. Efforts to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list have stalled because of Republicans’ concerns about infringing on employers’ religious freedom.

“He wants to try to find that balance between protecting people from discrimination because of sexual orientation and yet protecting others’ religious beliefs,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger of Marshall. “If we can find a way to do that, he’s ready to move on this. But we have to make sure that we are protecting everyone from discrimination regardless of what the reason may be.”

Twenty-one states have laws explicitly barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group.

Earlier this month, AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield and other companies launched the coalition to push for adding legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Those who signed on Thursday on Mackinac Island also include Kellogg, Pfizer and other businesses.

“It’s a business issue,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve had companies in our area express concern about their ability to attract and retain talent. We wanted to address their concerns … and create a climate where everyone feels welcome in Michigan.”

Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said it is time to address the law that people view as discriminatory.

“We know that the Legislature needs to hear from the business community to push this issue up to the top,” he said. “We plan on spending the summer talking to them a lot on the issue, and we’re hopeful that come fall we’ll be able to take it up and get the issue off the table.”

The comments from Snyder, who is seeking re-election later this year, were welcomed by the state’s leading gay rights group and Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing.

Ex-Indiana Gov. Daniels says Michigan getting its mojo back

From: The Detroit News

By Kim Kozlowski

May 29, 2014

Michigan used to have a reputation outside the state as a leader, and it’s good to see it returning, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told officials attending the Mackinac Policy Conference on Thursday.

“Until not that long ago, most people where I live and most people elsewhere thought of Michigan as a vanguard state, as a progressive state, as a state that often led and innovated,” Daniels said. “Some of the bloom has been off that rose and now you are recovering it.”

Daniels, a Republican, was a keynote speaker during the second day of the three-day policy conference held annually on Mackinac Island. A former budget director under President George W. Bush, Daniels was mentioned as a possible 2012 presidential candidate and is now the president of Purdue University.

For years, organizers of the policy conference have been trying to land him as a speaker.

When Daniels was Indiana’s governor from 2005 to 2013, he cut and capped state property taxes, balanced the budget and cut state workers by 18 percent. He also signed the state’s right-to-work law.

“But no two states are alike and I would not presume for a minute that I know what the right choices are, or the right steps forward for your great state,” Daniels said.

“It’s never going to be easy, it’s never going to be fast,” Daniels said. “Now, the converse is true. … It takes a long, long time to build a great state. You can tear it down pretty fast.”

Indiana has been rarely, if ever, been known for initiative and innovation, the state’s former governor said.

“This is something motivated those of us who came together a decade ago try to make something different happen,” Daniels said. “And we fought it every day. And we preached it every day. I used to say if you tread water in this state, you will sink. We had that to wrestle with, not a tradition of leadership.”

Great things are possible always, he said.

“It is important to try to find a vocabulary, specific proposals, a style of politics that gathers people together at a time in which we suffer from very discouraging, and in some respects dangerous, divisions across society,” Daniels said. “Big change requires a big majority.”

Public leadership starts with honesty, then simple confidence, he said. It must also be pragmatic.

Daniels said when he was governor, his administration tackled and improved child welfare, the corrections food department, the bureau of motor vehicles and infrastructure.

“Public confidence is important,” he said.

Pay your bills and don’t go broke, Daniels said.

“If you display honesty and a total commitment to integrity and you are very serious about delivering basic public services well and if you are careful about the public’s money, that’s the price of admission,” Daniels said. “The entry price for asking the public to join you and join together do big things, the kind of things you are trying to do here, the kind of things we were intent on doing in Indiana.”

If Indiana can do it, Daniels said Michigan can too.

“It’s great to see Michigan resuming a lot of forward progress and innovative ideas and the kind of leadership we’ve associated with you,” Daniels said. “Seeing Michigan back to leadership is a great thing for us all.”

Tom Walsh: Optimism about Detroit seizes Mackinac Policy Conference

From: Detroit Free Press

By Tom Walsh

May 29, 2014

MACKINAC ISLAND — Improbable as it may seem, optimism about the city of Detroit — bankrupt, blighted Detroit — is running higher among Michigan’s business and civic leaders than anytime I can remember in a generation or more.

The sense of growing confidence about the city’s future is palpable, even infectious. It’s everywhere I turn among the 1,600 attendees at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference this week, where I’ve been watching and talking with state and metro Detroit political and business leaders.

After decades of fits and starts, false renaissances and disappointing setbacks, the new and old guard up here feel this time is different. They believe Gov. Rick Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan are the right kind of measurement-and-accountability guys who can bring home real change in the Motor City. Some of the Mackinac faithful have been attending this conference for decades, and they finally believe it’s true.

What’s driving this nearly unbridled optimism? It’s really a convergence of five things.

■ Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy is moving steadily toward a conclusion that can give the dysfunctional city a fresh financial start.

■ Private-sector entrepreneurs Dan Gilbert, Roger Penske, the Ilitch family and others are pouring passion and money into the city, just as the region’s auto industry bounded back.

■ Philanthropic foundations, locally and nationally based, have funneled huge sums into Detroit and are pledging more to help the industry exit bankruptcy.

■ Snyder has faced up to the long-festering Detroit crisis and taken controversial, politically unpopular steps to deal it.

■ Duggan has been a force of nature since taking office in January, managing to get streetlights turned on, EMS response times down and a massive anti-blight offensive coordinated — even though the city is largely under the legal control of emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

Duggan himself, in an energetic speech here Tuesday, began by framing Detroit’s challenge in simple, personal terms. “I’m 55 years old, and the population of the city of Detroit has declined every single year I’ve been alive,” he said.

“Every day,” he added, “we focus on what we can do to reverse the population decline. It governs every single decision we make. We do not have a future if we don’t start growing.”

His fervor is tempered by a sense of reality and a fanatical devotion to data and measurement of progress.

Detroit’s population is still dropping, although the rate has slowed. Detroit’s delivery of city services is still substandard, but improving.

Duggan rattled off numbers about abandoned houses being saved and sold at auction to new owners; about EMS response times dropping from 18 minutes in January to less than 13 last week; about adding 6,000 new functioning streetlights since February.

That emphasis on measurement and accountability is music to the ears of the chamber of commerce crowd. So it’s no surprise that the Mackinac conference crowd is encouraged by the signs of turnaround.

Duggan makes the difference
For the past 40 years, the terms of previous Detroit mayors and Michigan governors have been marked by episodic accomplishments and brief illusionary spurts of progress.

Mayor Coleman Young kept the Red Wings hockey team from fleeing to the suburbs, worked with the Ilitch family on fixing the Fox Theatre and bringing Little Caesars headquarters downtown. He expanded Cobo Center, ushering in the North American Auto Show as a premier global event.

Mayor Dennis Archer persuaded Peter Karmanos to bring Compuware downtown, and Campus Martius Park, Comerica Park and Ford Fields were developed on his watch.

Kwame Kilpatrick’s first term as mayor saw General Motors and the Kresge Foundation lead a massive redevelopment of the Detroit riverfront.

But until now, Detroit’s population, its neighborhoods and its schools have continued to erode. As tax revenue stalled or dwindled, so, too, did city services.

So what makes the Mackinac crowd this week so upbeat, so seemingly convinced that this time Detroit’s long slide may be ending, even reversing?

Certainly the prospect of a successful bankruptcy exit and a clean balance sheet is important — and there is a general understanding that the Chapter 9 exit could be derailed, or delayed, by still-simmering conflicts over the water system or a “no” vote by retirees on Orr’s bankruptcy plan.

What’s different now than last year, though, is Duggan, a man who does not quietly accept no for an answer.

Beth Niblock, Detroit’s new chief information technology officer, found that out after twice rejecting Detroit’s overtures to hire her away from the same post in Louisville, Ky.

When Duggan called her personally on the phone, he told her he’d never been to Louisville, asked her what it was like, if it had any good restaurants. She said she was yakking away when Duggan jumped off the phone for a minute, asking her to hold on.

When he came back on the line, Duggan told her he had made a 7 p.m. dinner reservation at a Louisville restaurant a night or two later, and asked her to join him. Flummoxed, she agreed — and after four or five hours with him, she was hooked.

Panelists touch on Michigan’s successes, shortfalls at Detroit Regional Chamber conference

From: The Detroit News

By Christine Ferretti 

May 29, 2014

Infrastructure, education and population growth are among the areas that will be key to the long-term revitalization across Michigan and its largest city, panelists said Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference.

Participants in the Mackinac Island discussion touched on the state’s successes, shortfalls and future needs to boost investment and grow jobs in the state’s most prominent cities.

Mackinac Policy Conference Co-Chairman Henry Cooney, president and CEO of the Plunkett Cooney law firm, called the “grittiness” of Detroit an attraction for young people and said the city is experiencing progress under Mayor Mike Duggan.

Cooney hit on the city’s two main needs: jobs and residents and stressed the importance of projects like the M1-Rail.

“Those kinds of investments in the city will bring people — the kind of people we need — to stay there, to live there, work there and raise their families,” he said, noting good schools and shops “are coming,” but are going to be challenges moving forward.

To continue to lead, Michigan needs to keep its focus on transportation, including infrastructure improvements in and around Detroit and the state to attract business, he added.

“It’s key for Detroit and our entire state,” he said, noting legislation to finance a new Detroit River bridge. “That’s got to get done. It will drive the economy and development in the city.”

Cooney was joined Thursday by Sam Cummings, partner for Grand Rapids-based CWD Real Estate Investment, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman.

There’s an opportunity to duplicate the successes of west Michigan in Detroit, Cummings said.

“We have, in west Michigan, this culture of caring that has manifested itself repeatedly in our urban center,” he said, noting major philanthropic initiatives have anchored the urban renewal in Grand Rapids. “We’ve lucked out. …we are just in an extraordinary position.”

The state, he said, needs to hone the model.

“We are not San Francisco, we are not New York, we are Michigan,” Cummings added. “We need to focus on what works and scale it and exploit it.”

Rossman-McKinney chimed in, comparing Grand Rapids to a “cheerful, upbeat cousin,” and said Detroit is “get tough” and “gritty.” Meanwhile, she said Lansing is still struggling with its personality.

“The challenge is making sure that the state creates ways in which every city can thrive, build on its own personality and deliver the services everybody wants for their families and their businesses,” she said.

Both Rossman-McKinney and Cummings voiced concern over quality schools and its corresponding impact on population retention. Cummings says schools have not created a roadblock to a revitalized urban core, but may create a challenge in retaining young families.

“When they decide to procreate, we are going to have an at-bat, and we need to be ready,” he said.

For his part, Patterson touted his county’s three-year budget, paid-off pension and retiree health care costs, Main Street initiatives and long-range planning.

“We know what our strengths are,” he said, noting the county’s strong economic base, green technology and emerging sectors.

The Oakland County executive said Snyder is taking “the right approach,” but the business climate needs to improve further.

“It’s still not a very hospitable place to do business,” he said. “We’ve got to work on that.”

Another area Rossman-McKinney called “one last piece of the puzzle” for Michigan, is the importance of gaining voter support on Aug. 5 for Proposal 1, a state ballot measure that would eliminate the personal property tax on industry and small businesses. Revenue for local communities would be replaced by other sources under the proposal.

Gov. Rick Snyder and other opponents of the tax have called it an impediment to growth that fosters new jobs. It has already been abolished in surrounding states.