Chamber Statement Following Governor Whitmer’s State of the State Address

DETROIT, February 12, 2019– Today, Detroit Regional Chamber released the following statement following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State Address:

“In her inaugural State of the State address, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer showed her strength and leadership. As the only business organization to endorse Gov. Whitmer in the 2018 election, the Chamber thanks the Governor for recognizing the importance of building a robust talent pipeline and sharing the goal of 60 percent degree attainment for adults by 2030. We are committed to working with the Governor on her plan for infrastructure and to strengthen the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.”

Sandy K. Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber

Pass the Torch: Regional Women Business Leaders Share Their Advice

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. As this day reminds us, everyone has a role to play in ensuring the workforce remains diverse and that all generations use fair, inclusive business practices.

The Detroit Regional Chamber is hosting the inaugural International Women’s Day Lunch on Monday, March 11 at the Detroit Golf Club. At this event, a panel of regional women business leaders will discuss their strategies for success and answer the question “What does it mean to lead with purpose?”

In preparation for the event, the Chamber asked each panelist their advice for aspiring business leaders in the region:

Ana Almeida, Vice President, Customer Business Unit, Faurecia Automotive Seating
“To advance your career, you need to create value for your organization. There are no shortcuts that will work in the long term. Take care of your education and continue learning to develop the necessary skills and competencies.”

Najah Bazzy, Executive Director and Founder, Zaman International
“My advice to aspiring leaders is to be positive and remember to build for the future wellbeing of whatever you touch. We are built to leave but our work is built to last.”

Adrienne Bennett, President and CEO, Benkari Mechanical LLC
“In our region, change is occurring very fast. Have patience. Not everyone is on the same level or has the insight you have. Surround yourself with other people that are smarter than you are. Be passionate for the goals you set, stay focused and always believe in yourself.”

Leigh Ann Hello, Vice President, The Cabinet Studio

“My advice would be to take the time to truly understand what the purpose of your organization is and if you don’t have a strong, positive, emotional response when you think of it, reframe it to really speak to what drives you. If you’re not inspired it will be extremely difficult to inspire and lead those around you.”

Christy McDonald, Anchor, Detroit Public Television

“Watch. Listen. Find someone in leadership whom you admire in position and management style and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything. Be prepared.  Engage yourself not only in your position but get an understanding of what happens in other departments around you. If someone critiques you, take it and learn from it.”

Hear more from these inspirational leaders at the International Women’s Day Lunch on Monday, March 11. Please note, registration prices increase for this event on Monday, February 25.


Pamela Lewis

Director, New Economy Initiative

Pamela Lewis is the director of the New Economy Initiative (NEI), a collaboration of foundations building a network of support for entrepreneurs in Southeast Michigan. Lewis joined NEI in 2011 as a senior program officer, leading the initiative’s efforts to build a regional network of high-tech commercialization and business acceleration. She was named NEI’s director in 2016.

Before joining NEI, Lewis served as a consultant to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where she was responsible for developing asset maps and overseeing data reporting for Kauffman-funded programs in Detroit. Prior to that Lewis served as NextEnergy’s manager of entrepreneurial programs, where she focused on accelerating clean energy startups.

Lewis earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a master’s degree from Spring Arbor University. In 2016, she was named one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Michigan by Crain’s Detroit Business. Lewis was also recognized by Crain’s in their Notable Women in Nonprofits coverage in 2018.

Ora Hirsch Pescovitz and Richard Rassel: Taking on the talent gap

February 10, 2019

Crain’s Detroit Business

By: Ora Hirsch Pescovitz and Richard Rassel

In a few days Governor Gretchen Whitmer will deliver her first State of the State address. A major step in preparing for the state’s economic future is to ensure more residents complete postsecondary degrees and certifications.

In the heated competition with other states to attract private business investment, Michigan must elevate its profile as a talent pipeline to a range of industries in need of exceptionally qualified employees.

Yet before Michigan can boast a plentiful well-educated and highly trained workforce, there’s a pressing need to increase individuals with postsecondary degrees and high-skill job credentials. Degrees and credentials are prerequisites for advancement in a U.S. economy where 65 percent of jobs will require postsecondary credentials by next year.

By 2020, Michigan employers expect to need 176,000 more college grads to fill openings, and 126,000 skilled workers with a two-year degree or certificate, according to the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce. Of the current “Hot 50” high-demand, high-wage jobs in the state, 36 require at least a four-year degree.

The stark reality, however, is 72 percent of metro Detroit’s high school graduates enroll in a college or university within a year after graduation whereas only 27 percent of them earn a bachelor’s degree within six years.

There’s work to be done.

Detroit Drives Degrees is a collaborative initiative undertaken by regional leaders in higher education, K-12, business, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. Led by the Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation, Detroit Drives Degrees seeks to increase postsecondary degrees or certificates to 60 percent of the population by 2030.

To improve job preparedness and the appeal of the regional workforce to regional, national and global employers, this plan calls for increasing access to education for high school students and adults; improving student success and removing barriers to degrees, and retaining and attracting talent to the region.

Currently, Michigan ranks 36th in the nation in college attainment with 28.3 percent of the population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the U.S. Census Community Survey. Michigan falls below the national average of 31.3 percent.

But with Michigan having the fifth-highest share of population with some postsecondary education but no degree or credential, there is a timely opportunity to make significant progress toward the 60-percent target. Detroit Drives Degrees and its partners are actively seeking to re-engage the 690,000 adults in metro Detroit who enrolled in college but did not finish.

The appeal is straightforward: More education translates strongly into higher wages and stronger state economies. Indeed, the top 15 states ranked by higher education attainment are also states with the highest GDP per capita.

Postsecondary education isn’t strictly about economics. Odds are five times greater for the poorest Detroit residents, for instance, to advance economically from poverty with a postsecondary education, according to the Pew Charitable Trust.

Together, more credentials and college degrees will deepen and broaden the region’s talent pool, a necessary road to take as Gov. Whitmer formulates the next phase of the state’s economic development strategy.

Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, president of Oakland University, and Richard Rassel, chair/director of global relations at Butzel Long, are co-chairs of Detroit Drives Degrees leadership council.

View the original article here

Opinion: Civility and progress go together

February 10, 2019

The Detroit News

Sandy K. Baruah 

Regardless of where you reside on the political spectrum, most Americans can agree that what they see from Washington leaves much to be desired. Many of our national leaders and media voices no longer seem to be conversing. This has led to political stalemate. The only time it seems that something gets done is when one side muscles something over the objections of the other side.

Given the progress Michigan and Detroit have made in recent years — and how much remains to be accomplished — we cannot afford to follow the example of incivility that grips much of our national dialogue. The continuation and acceleration of Michigan’s progress is dependent upon all of us working together, finding common ground and handling our inevitable disagreements with humility and grace.

We are a nation of 325 million and a state of 10 million people. Each of us has a perspective and opinion on matters great and small. Our Founding Fathers knew this and built a system based on representation, balance of power and compromise. Our system of governance is specifically designed to drive compromise.

In Michigan, we are fortunate that civility is still visible. Our former governor made a point to never criticize political opponents, even when he was criticized by them. Our new governor, Gretchen Whitmer, is following a similar ethos and is actively working to build bridges with the Republican leaders of the legislature, who are responding in kind.

Being civil toward each other does not mean suppressing ideas or agreeing just to agree. There is an art to disagreeing without being disagreeable. If we begin our conversations with the knowledge that others have the right to believe in what they believe, and their life experiences may be very different than ours, we can view these interactions as an opportunity to learn a different point of view, not necessarily change our own.

Furthermore, while we often disagree about how to accomplish something (e.g. access to health care, providing more job opportunities) our end goal is often the same.

As a “Reagan-Bush era” Republican, I readily acknowledge that our society is stronger thanks to the leadership and contribution of those more politically conservative or liberal than me.

The opportunities and challenges Michigan faces are too great to be bogged down by the incivility driven by hyperpartisanship. Our state is poised to be the global leader in the transformation of how society moves. Positive economic outcomes for more citizens continue to build. Our global reputation remains on the ascent.

But despite the good news, there are warning signs we must recognize. The Detroit Regional Chamber’s State of Region report shows that our growth is lagging our peer regions across the nation. Business Leaders for Michigan data reports similar findings comparing Michigan with other states.

As Michiganians we can’t allow our leaders and citizens to follow Washington’s lead.  We have too much at stake.

Sandy K. Baruah is CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for President Bush.

View the original article here

Michigan Matters: Congressman John Dingell’s Imprint and Helping the Community

February 8, 2019 

Michigan Matters

CBS Detroit

Congressman John Dingell’s legacy went far beyond Detroit or Michigan as the MICHIGAN MATTERS roundtable of Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Detroit Regional Chamber President & Sandy Baruah, and Amy Nederlander, Founder of L!FE Leaders, Inc., talked about as they joined Host Carol Cain and shared stories.

View the original article here


February 11, 2019

Michigan Matters

CBS Detroit


Flashpoint 2/10/19: Remembering John Dingell; Gretchen Whitmer to give State of the State address

February 10, 2019 



Former Michigan Rep. John Dingell died Thursday at the age of 92, his family confirmed. Dingell spent 59 years representing Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives before retiring in 2015. On Sunday’s episode of Flashpoint there was a discussion on the life and times of Dingell.

There was also a discussion about the upcoming State of the State address that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is scheduled to deliver this week.

Segment Two: Upcoming State of the State Address

Nolan Finley, editorial page editor, The Detroit News; Zoe Clark, program director, Michigan Radio; Chastity Pratt Dawsey, reporter, Bridge Magazine and Sandy Baruah, president and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber.

View the full article here

Dingell not only ‘witness to history … but a maker of it’

February 7, 2019

The Detroit News

By: Mark Hicks and Melissa Nann Burke

Former U.S. Rep. John Dingell Jr.’s death Thursday prompted an outpouring of praise from across Michigan and across the political aisles, as leaders from all walks of life agreed he was “not merely a witness to history … but a maker of it.”

From former presidents to titans of industry to those who knew him as a champion for his state, many said Dingell fought politically to find common ground, was deeply rooted in public service and focused on improving lives for generations.


Dingell “paved the way for the kind of statesman-like leadership we long for today, embodying civility and an effortless way of working across the aisle,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, which has made the restoration of political civility a major priority.

“John was a champion for Michigan and always placed the interests of people above party. This loss will not only be felt across the state, but the nation as well.”

View the full article here

Marsh & McLennan Agency Welcomes Geoff Brieden as Vice President, Health & Benefits

Troy, Michigan – February 11, 2019 – Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC (MMA) recently appointed Geoff Brieden as a vice president with the health and benefits practice in Troy, Mich. In his new position, Brieden identifies best practices and strategic solutions that optimally fit his clients’ group benefit needs.

Prior to joining MMA, Brieden owned Kane Atwood Group Services for over ten years, assisting employers with their benefits strategies. During this time, he developed a particular affinity for and understanding of the unique needs of the health care industry. Before starting his own firm, Brieden garnered thirteen years of experience with a third party administrator.

As a vice president of health & benefits with MMA, Brieden will leverage his extensive background to help employers design strategic benefits plans that meet their business management goals as well as help achieve their talent recruitment and engagement goals.

“We are honored to welcome Geoff to our team: his entrepreneurial spirit and thoughtful approach are a great addition to MMA. Geoff understands the complex and changing needs of mid-size and larger employers and takes a thorough approach to addressing those challenges,” said Rebecca A. McLaughlan, president & ceo of Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC’s Michigan Health & Benefits operations.

“I chose to join MMA because of the energy and intelligence of the people, and the resources that MMA brings to the table. I am excited for what the future holds,” added Brieden.

Brieden received his BA in Business & Economics from Kalamazoo College and an MBA in Business & Finance from Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business. A competitive sailor, Brieden is also an active supporter of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, Wreaths Across America, and the LivLife Foundation.

If you would like more information, or to schedule an interview, please contact Ryan Bowers at (248)822-6231 or