For the fourth year, the Conference brought together some of Michigan’s most prominent thought leaders from a variety of backgrounds to engage in spirited banter on the state’s most critical issues. This year’s topics were:
Employer Vaccine Mandates
In the coming weeks, there will be an official announcement from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding the vaccination mandate, said Plunkett Cooney’s Dennis Cowan. Regardless of lawsuits that arise from the implementation, Cowan’s advice to employers is to get their plan to comply with the OSHA terms.
Jared Fleisher, vice president of government affairs and economic development for Rock Central and the Family of Companies, had the same policy implemented in their offices several weeks prior to President Biden’s announcement. Fleisher reiterated that this isn’t a mandate for vaccination, there is an option for testing.
Rock companies is currently testing around 2,300 employees across the United States.
The policy itself equalizes all employers. When all employers have to use the same rules regarding vaccinations, there is no concern that employees will move on to other employers that don’t require vaccinations or tests, Cowan said.
“At the end of the day, everyone wants to see this pandemic over as soon as possible,” Cowan said.
The Future of Talent and DE&I
“Diversity in talent is a necessity, it makes business sense,” said Dan Garrison, Detroit office managing director at Accenture, which sponsored Evening View: Mackinac Uncensored in a segment hosted by Dennis W. Archer Jr., Chief Executive Officer, Ignition Media Group and founding partner of Archer Corporate Services.
This conversation came from the most recent conversations regarding the talent pipeline in relation to the new push for diversity in the workplace.
Garrison runs an apprenticeship program that focuses on underprivileged areas and matches students with employers and provides them necessary education to complete a job they weren’t qualified for prior, leading to a more robust talent pipeline in a market with labor shortages.
Ronia Kruse, president and Chief Executive Officer, OpTech, LLC and OpTech Solutions said that we are not reaching diverse children early enough in our education system. She wants to start more intense STEM programs earlier in the school system, exposing kids to the future of our labor market.
When asked how she has retained her diverse employees and what she advises employers to do, Kruse recommends providing wraparound services and advancement opportunities to diverse candidates.
Garrison personally spoke with every single diverse employer at Accenture, saying that what he heard was eye-opening but important in understanding the true problems that diverse employers face.
Final Five Voting
Detroit Regional Chamber’s Vice President of Government Relations Brad Williams moderated an Evening View session focused on Final Five Voting with co-founders of Esys Automation and Final Five Michigan, Scott Claxton and Chris Marcus. During the panel, Claxton and Marcus discussed their transition from the business world into the sphere of “political innovation.”
The friends and co-founders developed the idea of Final Five voting and introduced it for the first time at the Conference. This method counters the current voting process that relies on 25% of registered voters to decide 75% of elected officials during the primary voting process, according to the co-founders.
“What we’re proposing is open up the primary,” Claxton said. “Allow everybody to vote in the primary. Allow everybody to vote their values in the primary. Allow everybody to vote across the piece of paper [Democratic and Republican] in the primary.”
The way Final Five voting would work is that after registered voters vote in the primary, the top five vote winners move forward to the general election. Claxton said this ensures more voices get to participate and are reflected in the general election. And rather than just two options in the general election, voters will see five and use rank choice voting to decide the ultimate winner. Rank choice voting ensures the candidate who wins has 50% or greater support as opposed to plurality voting, which is today’s method.
“Our candidates today are trapped in a system that dictates how they operate. It’s in their best interest to appeal to the party first, not to the voters first. And we want to change that. Our business experience tells us if our business system is broken, we can interchange people all day long. And we’re going to see pretty much the same results over and over again. You’ve got to fix the system, and we can do that with this Final Five voting,” Marcus said.
Currently, Marcus and Claxton are garnering support from people across the political spectrum for Final Five voting. Connect with them to learn more at email@example.com.
Women on Corporate Boards
Zoe Clark, program director of Michigan Radio, moderated a session with Portia Roberson, president and chief executive officer of Focus Hope, and David Parent, managing partner of Deloitte. During the panel, Roberson and Parent discussed the presence, or lack thereof, of women on boards and actions people can take to get more women and minorities on boards. This session continued the conversation Carla Walker-Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Walker-Miller Energy LLC, had during today’s session Racial Equity in the Workplace.
Parent shared how Deloitte conducted a study about the percentage of women on boards of directors with the Alliance for Board Diversity. It looked at long-term data from 2004 to 2020 and showed that there has been progress among Fortune 500 companies over the years. Currently, 41% of board positions are held by women or minorities with a positive trajectory, according to Parent.
There are also seven states that enacted legislation to add more women and minorities in the board room, which aligns with the positive trajectory of diversifying the board.
“When you talk about needing to enact legislation to force boards to diversify, it really speaks to how much resistance it is to it. The problem to that resistance is it doesn’t serve anyone well. Women sitting on corporate boards give you the kind of knowledge you need to promote what you’re selling. More so than legislation is how it hits your pocket. When you make that mistake because you didn’t have any women, any Black people on your board, you pay for it. You can eliminate that and avoid that by having a diverse board and diverse voices,” Roberson said.
In the most recent presidential election, there were assertions about the election being stolen that brought up questions about voting rights and voting security. With a package of bills up for vote, moving in a bipartisan direction will be key, State Representative Jim Lilly (R-Park Township), and Nancy Kaffer, columnist for the Detroit Free Press, sat down to discuss opinions from both sides of the aisle.
There is a package of bills before the State House of Representatives and Senate that addresses possible changes to voting requirements, including showing a photo ID to get a ballot and a ban on mailing absentee ballot applications.
As a State Representative, Lilly noted that, “We do our best to reassure our constituents that elections in Michigan are free and fair…but we have identified a number of issues in the process that we think can be better.”
A recent poll showed that 88% of people feel that voting is a right and that there shouldn’t be additional impediments to voting in an election.
When asked about that poll, Lilly argued that while no one is trying to suggest that voting itself is not a right, that “we have to make sure that when are deciding whether or not they are going to the poll…that they feel like when they get there their vote is counted appropriately, and I think that’s what this is really about.”
Kaffer seconded that it’s important to make sure our elections are free and fair but contended that they already are.
“There is no widespread fraud, no one has been prosecuted for voting fraud…that hasn’t happened in years,” said Kaffer. “So trying to pass a bunch of rules that make it harder to vote in elections that are already safe and secure…you have to ask what the real point of that is.”
Lilly noted that he doesn’t think they are suggesting changing the whole system and agreed that there’s not systemic fraud in our system but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t clean up certain points to clear up election perception problems.
The session was moderated by Rick Pluta, senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Public Radio Network.
Rebuilding Urban Cities
Grand Rapids and Detroit are moving through a period of transformation, and inspiring smaller cities in Michigan to the process. Rick Baker, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, and Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., sat down to discuss what their organizations have done to promote positive growth in their respective cities.
“The key to our success has been significant corporate investment,” said Johnson. “Without critical mass, downtowns won’t work. So, to be able to attract retail was facilitated by large corporate investments.”
As for Grand Rapids, the city has experienced the ‘pebble effect’ where one large project sends ripples through the whole city, resulting in rapid development made possible through strong partnerships.
Noted Baker, “Strong partnerships between government and business, with business leading the effort. They want to make a community that people want to live in and bring their business too.”
One key priority of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. has been investing in not only downtown, but also the neighborhoods.
“Detroit is a city built on neighborhoods, with strong neighborhoods anchoring the city. If the neighborhoods don’t work, downtown doesn’t work,” said Johnson. “If you invest in neighborhoods, commercial development and retail development will follow.”
When asked what advice he has for smaller cities moving toward a rebuild, Johnson noted the importance of sticking to their core fundamentals.
2022 Election Roundtable
With another election around the corner, Mark Burton, partner at Honigman LLP, and former chief strategist for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Matthew Schneider, partner at Hongiman LLP, and former United States Attorney for the Trump Administration, joined the Conference to discuss the political climate moving out of one our country’s most divisive elections.
Schneider opened by noting the importance of having open dialogues, “I hope that we aren’t on a downward trend…that we can bring back civility, I think a conference like this can get that conversation started.”
Historically, incumbents in Michigan tend to fair well. The last time an incumbent governor lost an election was back when James Blanchard lost the race. And in 2019, Gov. Whitmer was able to navigate her primary very effectively winning every county.
But narrowing down the top candidates to go head-to-head with Gov. Whitmer, will come down to who is most connected, who has the most money, and who will appeal to both sides.
“I think Chief Craig is in the strongest position,” said Schneider. “He has the ability to bring money into this race and that more populist approach that I think will do him well.”
“I think the primary is going to continue to push on that extreme part of the spectrum. I do agree that there will be two or three highly competitive ones moving into the primary,” said Burton. “The bigger picture is how extreme do they go.”
When asked about the House and Senate, Burton noted that there are opportunities for Democrats in both, but it is likely too early to determine exactly who will fare better.
But Burton added that, “The top of the ticket is going to be strong. I think President Biden’s numbers are going to be well above where they are…I think when federal resources began hitting the streets, not just in Michigan but across the country, the numbers will begin going up.”
This program was sponsored by Accenture.