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Foundations help set agenda at Mackinac Policy Conference

April 14, 2019

Crain’s Detroit Business

Sherri Welch

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At this year’s conference set for May 28-31, foundations are hosting — that is, sponsoring and presenting — six of nine sessions on the agenda.

That’s up from five the past two years, four in 2014, two in 2013 and just one in 2012: by the Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Even more foundations (and others) would come in, if there were space on the agenda and at the Grand Hotel, chamber COO Tammy Carnrike said.

Kellogg is returning to this year’s conference along with Kresge Foundation, Skillman Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and the William Davidson Foundation, a newcomer to the hosted sessions in 2019.

Like other sessions at the conference, the foundation-hosted events align with the conference pillars.

This year’s conference theme, “One Michigan,” will focus on the pillars “prepare, grow and love.”

More specifically, sessions will focus on education and talent development/retention, entrepreneurial and economic development and stewardship and sustainability of the resources, industries and other assets Michigan currently has.

Foundations use the sessions as a forum to release new studies and research, explore topics of regional and statewide importance and leverage their connections to feature national speakers on important topics, Carnrike said, sponsoring programs that wouldn’t otherwise happen.

“They have the ability to see where there are other experts they can bring in from other areas of the country (and) where other regions are doing well and bring those experts in to share their experience and their best practice.”

The foundation hosts contribute to valuable conversation, attracting standing-room only crowds to their sessions due to strong content and speakers, Carnrike said.

Given that, the chamber has invited them to help plan the conference and to take part in mainstage programs, Carnrike said.

For example, Skillman President and CEO Tonya Allen will participate in a panel discussion on boosting education excellence in Michigan.

Government is at the conference to speak out from a policy standpoint and business to speak on economic issues, Carnrike said.

“To have the philanthropic community … be there to say, ‘We are also part of the solution, here’s the work we do and resources we’re bringing to it’ … really helps solidify what gets discussed in their sessions.”

Foundations and other hosts are still finalizing topics for their sessions, but three have working themes, said Kelly Weatherwax, director of communications for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Those are:

  • C.S. Mott Foundation will focus on transforming municipal funding.
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation will focus on the 2020 Census.
  • William Davidson Foundation’s session will focus on the Detroit region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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