2021 Mackinac Policy Conference Focuses on Reimagining a Healthy Michigan

While the pandemic is far from over, charting a path to recover, heal, and thrive as a state is critical – and the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference serves as a platform to hear from national thought-leaders on the significant issues that Michigan and the nation is facing at this critical time in history. This year’s theme “Reimagining a Healthy Michigan” highlights what should be a top priority for the state in 2022. Read more here.

The Conference conversations are focused around three pillars that will be vital in accomplishing that goal:

  1. Accelerating our COVID-19 economic recovery and sustainability.
  2. Advancing racial justice and equity for all.
  3. Investing in the health of our people and our communities.

Lassiter: Charting a Path for Michigan’s Recovery Requires Authentic Foundational Change

“Reimagining a Healthy Michigan” highlights what should be a top priority for the state in 2022, according to Conference Chairman, Wright L. Lassiter III, president and chief executive officer of Henry Ford Health System who kicked off the event challenging attendees to see themselves as part of the solution to the major problems the state is facing.

He also said that we need to think broadly about what health means and begin to focus on the role that social and economic conditions play in the health of our communities. Opportunity is key for communities to thrive – opportunities to access healthy food, clean water, safe neighborhoods, equal employment, affordable housing, reliable transportation, and voting.

“We need to move beyond band-aid solutions and toward authentic foundational, scalable change. It has to be an intentional strategy and requires a long-term commitment,” Lassiter said.

With communities at the heart, people will be key to improving the health of Michigan as everyone plays a role in improving the lives of others. This year’s Conference lineup features speakers that share the common mission of uplifting all communities, with uniquely diverse viewpoints.

Added Lassiter, “When we ignore basic challenges faced by people who have been historically left behind, we all experience negative and lasting effects on economic growth, prosperity, and health. And the reverse is true: when we lift up the underserved, we all can experience that success.”

In closing, Lassiter said that as we continue to live through the impact of COVID-19 for years to come, we can use our experiences to create a more resilient society with a focus on equity and quality of life for all.

Baruah: America’s Continuum of ‘We the People’ and ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Making Collective Action Difficult

As the Detroit Regional Chamber planned this year’s Conference experience, there was a strong focus on retaining and regaining economic and social normality, while prioritizing health, safety, and increased vaccination rates. The Conference returns as Michigan faces critical challenges during a pandemic where polarization has made collective action more difficult.

“This is the first large event in Michigan that has this level of safety protocols and we really feel we are setting an example for others in terms of how to do this right,” said Sandy K. Baruah, president and chief executive officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “We were either going to do this event right or not at all.”

Today’s political dynamic and society’s current state were key drivers for the Chamber to proceed with this year’s Conference. America consists on a continuum of two ideas: ‘We the People’ and ‘Don’t Tread on Me.’ And while both elements are key to the success of our nation, collective action becomes difficult when our society leans more to the individualistic side.

As always, civility is key for compromise and comprise is a driving factor in getting anything done in America. With that in mind, the Conference has and continues to serve as a place where civility thrives.

“Let’s face it our political system is not working as well as it needs to be, and it’s up to those of us who influence the political system to step up to help the political system make some of these big decisions that we need to make as Americans,” said Baruah.

Conference Remembers Champion of Civility: U.S. Senator Carl Levin

Few lawmakers championed civility and the art of compromise quite like former U.S. Senator Carl Levin. It was only fitting for the Conference to open with a tribute to the late senator on Michigan’s Center Stage.

Paul W. Smith, host of WJR NewsTalk 760 AM sat down with Dennis W. Archer Sr., chairman of Emeritus, Dickinson Wright PLLC, and former mayor of Detroit, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Mariam Noland, president of the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, to discuss the life and career of Michigan’s longest serving senator.

Sen. Levin had a love for learning and a strong passion for knowledge, truth, and facts. While she currently serves as Secretary of State, Benson didn’t meet Sen. Levin through politics, instead through academia, when she served as dean of Wayne State University Law School, where she co-taught a class with Senator Levin.

“Every day, he gave every moment his best. It was such a privilege to work alongside him in that role and that capacity because he pushed us all as leaders to be better, to do better, and even in the academic world he pushed me every day to read more, to prepare more, to study more, and to always think more on how we can do better as leaders,” Benson said.

Former Mayor Archer retold a story about former President Bill Clinton calling him to implore Sen. Levin to run for another a term because the country needed his leadership in Congress as an example of how special he was.

“[As a senator] Carl Levin took it a step above. Because of his belief in civility and how he respected people and the issues of the state of Michigan, he bent over backwards to make sure that everyone understood his position and he listened to others,” said friend and colleague, Archer Sr. “You always learned from Carl Levin, you learned how to treat people and he encouraged all of us to be respectful of each other.”

The Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School was created to preserve the legacy of Carl Levin in Michigan and train another generation of leaders to exhibit the same thoughtful bipartisan oversight that Levin exemplified throughout his career.

Added Smith, “I may be the only person on stage who may have had disagreements with Carl Levin. But he knew how to disagree without being disagreeable. I never felt that he didn’t respect me…we need more of that in politics today, we don’t have it at all.”

Sen. Levin would always acknowledge the complexity of problems and the fact that there aren’t always easy answers, explained Benson. “And that is a real humility and honesty in leadership that we don’t see too often today,” Benson said.

Added Noland, “He always told the truth, he knew what he believed and if he said he was going to do something or support it, he did.”

Automotive Roundtable: Forging Pathways to Developing Michigan’s Robust, Diverse Talent Pool

More than 100 automotive professionals gathered for MICHauto’s annual Automotive Roundtable at MICHauto on the Island during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference. Kristine Coogan of KPMG set the stage with thought leadership on investing in the talent pipeline process. Brief “Talent Talks” from HELLA’s Madison Weston, OpTech LLC’s Ronia Kruse, Ford Motor Company’s Marjace Miles, and Global Strategic Supply Solution’s Lisa Lunsford, chair of the MICHauto Board of Directors, addressed the need for a pathway to developing a robust and diverse talent pool here in Michigan.

Coogan highlighted that automotive and mobility companies are now competing with tech giants for talent as product innovation moves toward electric vehicles and enablers of autonomous driving. Citing a 2021 KPMG Survey of Automotive HR Executives, Coogan stated that 76% of human resource executives say they are competing for talent with technology companies. With increased competition for talent, automotive and mobility organizations need to tout compelling employment experiences that combine recognition of employee efforts and skills with the connection to making an impact.

HELLA’s Weston, a featured emerging young professional in the Discover Auto: You Drive the Future campaign, talked about the importance of showing young people what the automotive and mobility industry looks like today.

“I grew up in Plymouth, Michigan, 20 minutes from Dearborn, and automotive never crossed my mind. I never learned about what the automotive industry is today, only the 20th century version,” Weston said.

She also said we need to teach kids about the automotive and mobility industry as it is today because it is all about the technology that goes into a vehicle.

Kruse stated that the demand for talent continues to grow, with over 9 million open jobs in the U.S., a record high as of April 2021. By 2030, there could be as many as 85 million jobs that go unfilled because there aren’t enough skilled people to take them. This is an opportunity for more collaboration between industry, academia, and government to fill the high-tech talent pipeline. Programs like ReturnPro can help fill the high-tech gap, Kruse says, but we also need to retain more Michigan students.

Miles agreed sharing that only 5% of his graduating college class stayed in Southeast Michigan. Miles believes that we must control the narrative to solve this problem, and we can do that by focusing on community, culture, and careers. As a Let’s Detroit Ambassador, Miles connects with people considering opportunities in Detroit and talks to them about the multitude of opportunities to live, work, and play in Michigan.

Lunsford wrapped up the talent talks by discussing the importance of taking an approach to diverse talent through open and candid conversation. A member of the CEO Coalition for Change, Lunsford says there is a clear relationship between workforce development and social justice. Sharing a recent, personal example on why it is important to keep the dialogue open, Lunsford calls for change in a push for industry collaboration.

After the panel discussion, Steven Kiefer, founder of the Kiefer Foundation and president of General Motors International, took the stage to talk about the importance of legislating a hands-free Michigan to save lives. Sharing an impactful video of an accident resulting from driving while distracted, Kiefer shared his own personal story about losing his son Mitchell five years ago to a distracted driver. Statistically, 94% of drivers admittedly know that driving while distracted is highly dangerous. Yet 84% of those surveyed still drive distracted. Passing House Bills 4277, 4278, and 4279 to protect Michigan drivers is the next step in saving lives. Kiefer closed with a call to action for everyone to reach out to their legislators to press for a floor vote, and to tell friends and loved ones to put down the phone and Just Drive.

New book by Walsh IT faculty provides cyber risk mitigation strategy for organizations

TROY, Mich., Sept. 21, 2021 — Walsh College has announced the publication of “The Force of Technology,” a book co-authored by information technology/decision sciences (ITDS) faculty Dave Schippers, DSc, CISSP, Michael Simko, DSc, CISSP and Terri Richards, Ph.D. and edited by Jennifer O’Meara, Ph.D., associate professor, business communication. “The Force of Technology” examines the importance of understanding technology operations and protections in business and offers attainable strategies for designing, leading and managing cyber risk mitigation in any organization up to the enterprise level. Published by Iron Dog LLC, “The Force of Technology” is available for purchase on Amazon and is being used in Walsh’s Master of Business Administration (MBA), Cyber MBA and Master of Science in Information Technology Leadership curriculum.

“We live in a connected age and those interconnections, while convenient, can pose serious threats to organizations’ security, data and our way of life. ‘The Force of Technology’ is a playbook for business leaders, whether they have a technical background or not, to level up their understanding of technology and learn to lead critical cyber risk mitigation in their organizations,” said Schippers.

Schippers serves as chair of Walsh’s ITDS department and has decades of experience in IT, cybersecurity and project management. He also holds a professional investigator license in Michigan. Simko has experience as a cybersecurity architect and manager and currently works as a deputy director of IT in addition to teaching at Walsh. Richards has more than 20 years of IT industry experience in a range of roles including leading teams of developers in Michigan and India.

All proceeds from the “The Force of Technology” will be donated to the Lesia Mahon Scholarship Fund, named for the late Walsh IT professor.

For more information about Walsh, visit www.walshcollege.edu.

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ABOUT WALSH
Walsh is an all-business, private, independent, not-for-profit, fully accredited college offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral business and technology degrees, as well as certificate programs. Founded in 1922, Walsh is one of Southeast Michigan’s largest graduate business schools, offering classes in several locations and online. Our internationally and nationally-ranked programs integrate theory and application to prepare graduates for successful careers. Walsh degree programs include accounting, data analytics, finance, information technology, human resources, management, marketing, taxation and other fields. For more information, please visit www.walshcollege.edu.

Walsh is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (www.hlcommission.org) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs (www.acbsp.org).

Poverty to Prosperity: Investing in People Over Place

Key Takeaways:

  • To move from poverty to prosperity, we must enable people to have power and make decisions as they relate to their lives.
  • Poverty must be prevented in the first place and the damage that has been done over the course of history has to be repaired.
  • The focus must be beyond poverty, it must also include improving the middle class. In Detroit, we must identify opportunities to grow the middle class that is already there.
  • Nothing grows without investment. Investing in people over place is essential to reparative work. Putting the focus on investing in places over people will raise value but push people out. We have to emphasize human capabilities and invest in that.
  • To move forward and create change, we must have a government that empowers its people. A government that recognizes the role of economic rights, and promotes quality housing, quality health care, and access to resources for all.
  • Housing policies and pay must be examined. There are things that can be done on the housing front in terms of pay that could restore value quickly.
  • Capital is the most direct way to address the racial wealth gap.

There are multidimensional causes that have shaped and continue to contribute to the racial wealth gap, including historic policy decisions and discriminatory practices. Day two of the 2021 Conference opened with a discussion on the impact of race and economic inequity, and the role that public and private sectors can play to create an equitable economic future for Michigan.

“The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the racial wealth and employment disparities forcing long overdue conversations about the need for governmental intervention to address them,” said Kim Trent, deputy director of prosperity for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Trent was joined onstage by Anika Goss, chief executive officer of Detroit Future City, Darrick Hamilton, Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy and founding director of the Institute on Race and Political Economy for the New School Milano, and Andre M. Perry, senior fellow at Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

Moving from Poverty to Prosperity: What Does it Mean?

“When I think of moving from poverty to prosperity one of the things that comes to mind immediately is the idea that 54% of middle-class African Americans live outside of Detroit, which means that right now Detroit is not a place that is cultivating prosperity,” noted Goss.

Currently in Detroit, to grow your own wealth and generate opportunities you must move outside of the city. And while this is not unique to Detroit, it’s problematic since Detroit is 78% African American. By creating concentrated areas of Detroit with such deep poverty, educational attainment is impacted, which then hinders the path to achieving prosperity.

Added Hamilton, “From poverty to prosperity, I guess we would know it when someone’s race, gender, or ethnicity no longer has transactional value. When you can go into the marketplace, and you’re not diminished because you’re Black. When you can go into the marketplace and not be diminished because you’re a woman.”

An important aspect of moving from poverty to prosperity is power. If you are devoid of essential resources or don’t have power within a transaction, you become subject to exploitation.

“We have to acknowledge that poverty is a manmade disaster, and that racism is a primary tool of that disaster,” noted Perry. “When things go wrong in Black communities, we blame Black people. There is nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.”

Addressing the racial wealth gap requires addressing policy and investing in underappreciated assets.

Reparative Lens: What Must Be Done

“You invest in people because if you invest in place over people, you essentially will raise values and folks will be pushed out. You have to provide direct capital to people,” said Perry.

Continued Perry, it is also essential that we divest in racism which promotes practices that prevent growth from happening.

In addition, we need a government that promotes anti-racism economic rights, and provides equal access to quality housing, health care, and education.

“If we value education, then should provide it without debt for all our people. We can provide this, poverty is a political choice,” said Hamilton.

Continued Hamilton, “We need a government that empowers it’s people…human rights is incomplete if we think only about political and civil rights and don’t recognize the role of economic rights.”

The session was hosted by The Kresge Foundation.

General Motors, Detroit Regional Chamber Launch Fourth Annual NeighborHub Grant Program at Mackinac Policy Conference

DETROIT, MICH. (Sept. 21, 2021) – Today, at the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference, General Motors. President Mark Reuss announced an expanded NeighborHUB community grant program in partnership with the Detroit Regional Chamber. Now in its fourth year of funding neighborhood-focused projects, NeighborHUB will provide $500,000 in grants and additional consulting and support services to recipients of the grants to ensure that projects are successful and sustainable.

This year the program recognized the need to support small businesses, as important foundations for neighborhoods, especially in traditionally underinvested small business corridors. Registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and small businesses located in Detroit, Hamtramck, or Highland Park are encouraged to apply for grants and additional business support. The application period will be open until mid-November with 20 awardees notified this fall.

  • 10 grants of up to $30,000 will be awarded to non-profits.
  •  10 grants of up to $15,000 will be awarded to small businesses.
  •  With this year’s grant, the program will have awarded 44 grants totaling over $1 million ($1.19 million) to community nonprofits and small businesses that have created and enhanced spaces designed to foster collaboration, change, and positively impact their neighborhoods.
  • Eligible projects will be paired with GM volunteers who have expertise in areas such as marketing, engineering, law, information technology, etc.

“General Motors is proud to support the NeighborHUB program with more than $1 million in grant awards over the last four years,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “Over the last eighteen months, Detroiters’ have persevered through extraordinary challenges, and we hear directly from our neighbors about what it takes to make substantive change in the community and build a brighter future.”

The core belief behind the NeighborHUB program is that the residents and stakeholders of Detroit’s neighborhoods know better than anyone else what their communities need. The program lets those closest to the neighborhood (nonprofits, block clubs, small business owners) dictate and design projects and spaces that directly address those needs and make the most significant impact.

“Throughout the pandemic seeing past NeighborHUB grantees use their spaces to help is exactly why we created this program to empower neighborhoods from within their community,” said Tammy Carnrike, chief operating officer for the Detroit Regional Chamber. “The Detroit Regional Chamber is proud to partner with GM to empower community-based leaders to make a difference in their neighborhoods.”

Past NeighborHUB grantee George Adams of 360 Detroit has been distributing PPE kits along with first aid supplies and toys for kids to local residents in the Virginia Park neighborhood, where their NeigborHUB project is located. Another grantee, Tacara Woods of the M.I.C.H.A.E.L organization, launched the group’s first-ever “Virtual Summer Camp,” amid the pandemic that is focused on helping children cope with the loss of a parent or relative due to violent crime.

The applicants that propose the most innovative and collaborative solutions to pressing issues facing their neighborhoods will be awarded a grant of up to $30,000, as well as complementary support services from the Chamber and GM. Successful proposals will have programming centered around a physical space and address a specific need or needs within the neighborhood. So examples include refurbishing a bus stop and organizing ride-sharing in that location; renovating a vacant storefront to provide services to adults to engage in education and work opportunities; building out an existing coffee shop to facilitate co-working and professional development; or improving a public park to provide after-school programming or promote community gathering.

A committee with representatives from local organizations helps with the selection of grant recipients. In addition to the Chamber and GM, the committee includes representatives from Michigan Community Resources, City of Detroit, Co.act Detroit, BLAC Detroit Magazine, and TechTown.

To apply or register for an informational session, please visit detroitchamber.com/neighborhub.

About the Detroit Regional Chamber

Serving the business community for more than 100 years, the Detroit Regional Chamber is one of the oldest, largest, and most respected chambers of commerce in the country. As the voice for business in the 11-county Southeast Michigan region, the Chamber’s mission is carried out by creating a business-friendly climate and providing value for members. The Chamber also executes the statewide automotive and mobility cluster association, MICHauto, and hosts the nationally recognized Mackinac Policy Conference. Additionally, the Chamber leads the most comprehensive education and talent strategy in the state.

About General Motors 

General Motors (NYSE:GM) is a global company focused on advancing an all-electric future that is inclusive and accessible to all. At the heart of this strategy is the Ultium battery platform, which will power everything from mass-market to high-performance vehicles. General Motors, its subsidiaries and its joint venture entities sell vehicles under the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Baojun and Wuling brands. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety and security services, can be found at https://www.gm.com.

The Link Between Art and Business: A Tool for Evoking Emotion and Cultivating Healthy Spaces

Key Takeaways:

  • Art programs should be made to support the employee experience just as much as the patient healing experience.
  • To convince stakeholders that an investment in art will be worthwhile for patient, community, and employee health, managers should showcase data that supports art as an integral component in the mental, emotional, and physical healing process.
  • To effectively connect with the diverse population of patients and staff, arts programs should feature different mediums to ensure they can be accessed by everyone.
  • Support artists in the community. “Henry Ford is an anchor in so many communities across Southeast Michigan and Jackson and there are lots of creative people doing really wonderful things around our hospitals. Through our program, I want to invest in their work so that they are supported,” said Winkel.
  • Establish a collaborative process for aligning your company’s goals with the goals of the artist to make the art experience feel authentic.

Art is essential to the mental, emotional, and physical healing process and should be infused into an organization’s culture for optimal patient and employee experiences.

Wright L. Lassiter III, president and chief executive officer of Henry Ford Health System and Chairman of 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference, and Megan Winkel, manager of Healing Arts Program and Lindsay Anderson Curator of Art for the Division of Supportive Oncology Services at Henry Ford, discussed why the arts are essential to the health care experience in a conversation moderated by Omari Rush, executive director of CultureSource at the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference.

Through its Healing Arts Program, Henry Ford embraces art as a tool for evoking emotion and cultivating healthy spaces for patients, employees, and communities.

“Art has a restorative power, as well as a healing power, that is powerful both for physical and mental restoration,” said Lassiter.

This program is connecting the passion of local artists with the potential passion of healing patients. The program also focuses art projects around supporting staff.

“Your greatest asset is talent. While a lot of this is about the restorative power of art for our patient care mission, this is really also about creating an environment for the people who are doing the work to have the most productive environment and the most positive environment,” said Lassiter.

When business leaders decide they want to bring art into their workplace, they often feel overwhelmed with the task of creating something internally.

“Look into your community,” said Winkel. “There are so many organizations in the City of Detroit and surrounding areas, there are so many people who are doing amazing projects. Nonprofits and businesses who are looking to infuse art should be looking to those people and putting their support there.”

Lassiter echoed Winkel’s advice and encouraged businesses to simply start and “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

This session was sponsored by Henry Ford Health System.

Making Big Data Actionable: Economist Raj Chetty Brings Unique Brand of Research to Equity and Education

By Karen Dybis

Taxes, educational equity, unemployment: When it comes to research, Raj Chetty takes on topics other economists might avoid.

Chetty’s work as one of the nation’s top economists could be boiled down to one question: How can we as a country give children from disadvantaged backgrounds better opportunities? Chetty believes that with data, innovative programs and a lot of curiosity, the United States can help more people achieve the American Dream.

“We’re trying to bring modern data – ‘Big Data’ – to bear on these questions of equality and social mobility,” Chetty said from his office as the William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University. He also is the director of Opportunity Insights, which uses big data to understand how the United States can boost the success rate for children of disadvantaged backgrounds.

What makes Chetty’s work stand out is the way he works – he blends empirical evidence with his expertise in economic theory. The result is easy-to-understand solutions that take government programs and long-standing notions about poverty, education and economic mobility and turns them into effective policies.

DATA SHOWS INEQUALITY  OF OPPORTUNITY 

In other words, Chetty is the kind of economist who wants to make data not only accessible but actionable. For example, he delved into IRS tax data to show what he calls “inequality of opportunity” right down to the neighborhood level. He looks at cities from a micro and macro perspective, including Detroit and Michigan, to understand why some children rise and others, especially Black young men, can face downward mobility.

“In Detroit, the racial divide is significant. As a population, it’s an important issue. How do you create better opportunity for Black Americans living in Detroit?” Chetty asked. “Where are they living? How can they do better? An important piece of the puzzle that we find in our data is … there is a persistent effect of racial disparity. It’s not just about giving more resources to schools. It’s about why Black kids going to the best schools still have disparities.”

One solution Chetty recommends is early intervention with quality preschool as well as top-tier teachers early on. Others include mentorship and looking at the criminal justice system to ensure Black men are present in neighborhoods as fathers and leaders.

INTERRUPTIONS AT YOUNGER AGES HAVE LIFELONG IMPACTS 

In other words, action based on data will lead to important changes for mobility, equality and a better life for all. In that regard, he walks the talk: Chetty is part of a pilot program in Seattle working with families to help them better utilize housing vouchers to move to higher-opportunity areas. These interventions at younger ages have life-long impacts on income potential and overall success, he notes. Detroit could create similar programs, he said.

“Detroit has made great strides in recent years, bringing back major employers and its overall revitalization,” Chetty said. “But does that benefit current Detroiters versus people moving in? … To remedy that, you need a deliberate strategy to increase upward mobility and connect (Detroit residents) to these jobs.”

Business and governmental leaders need to think about how to build a pipeline for people to succeed – and that all comes back to the things that matter most, such as taxes, educational equity and unemployment.

“For the business community, they need to understand that at the end of the day, their ability to thrive depends on human capital. How can you build up a better pool of skills? You invest in the people, and especially in the kids growing up in Detroit,” Chetty said. “It’s in their own interests in the long run to make these investments, to give back to the local community and to create a pipeline to opportunity.”

Karen Dybis is a freelance writer in Metro Detroit. 

What Michiganders Want: Investments in Children

A poll issued by The Skillman Foundation and Michigan’s Children found that Michigan residents want to prioritize investing in children. Across all geographies and demographics, voters expect their dollars to be put to work to help children lead healthy, productive lives. Matt Gillard, president and chief executive officer of Michigan’s Children, and Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, joined the Conference to present findings from a statewide poll and examine what it indicates for policymakers and child advocates, in a session hosted by The Skillman Foundation. Angelique Power, president and chief executive officer of The Skillman Foundation, moderated the discussion.

“Children are the barometer of our well-being and so if children are thriving, then we collectively, as a society, are thriving. And if children are suffering today then our collective tomorrows will be difficult,” said Powers.

The pandemic had a traumatic impact on society, particularly children. The data collected in the phone survey of 800 Michigan voters was targeted at discovering what Michiganders know about the impact on children and what they expect in terms of investment.

Added Powers, “Across the beautiful state of Michigan, across racial and ethnic lines, across geography and socio-economic stratospheres, there is a universality of a response to this poll that is very unique in this time of difference. There is a call and a mandate that we center children and their needs.”

The poll found that overall, Michiganders want more investment and expect more investment in children by their elected officials. In fact, over 58% of respondents expect more public investments in children across the state, even if it meant raising their own taxes.

“The general public gets it; the voters get it. They understand that to emerge from this pandemic is going to take significant investment in order for us to help those kids that were so tremendously impacted and still being impacted by the pandemic, as you see it today,” said Gillard.

In addition, the poll demonstrated that across every geographical area of the state, the results were similar in supporting increased investment.

“There’s not many issues where you will see, across the geographical spectrum of Michigan, support for one type of investment or one particular area of focus…this is going to be critically important,” Gillard said.

Top concerns outlined by the poll: 

  • Children falling behind in school due to the pandemic
  • Children living in households that struggle to afford basic needs
  • Exposure to trauma in homes and communities
  • Mental health of children
  • Not every child getting the learning support they need

“Out of school time learning opportunities are going to be critically important for us to be able to mitigate the damage that has been done educationally for a whole generation of children who have made it through this pandemic,” noted Gillard.

Where investments should be made: 

  • Career exposure, job training, and skill building
  • Programs to improve children’s mental health
  • Programs that reduce the number of youths in the criminal justice system
  • More affordable child care
  • Expanded learning time

In general, affordable child care has become a hot topic not only in the state, but around the country, demonstrated through increased federal support through pandemic relief bills.

“Child care is a critical component as our economy emerges from this, and we have really seen the business community, here in Michigan in particular, step up and start to lean on investments in child care,” said Gillard.

What does the future look like with more investment in children: 

  • Fewer children will experience abuse or neglect
  • Children will be better prepared for the workforce and a successful future
  • Michigan’s economy will improve
  • The number of youths in the juvenile justice system will decrease
  • Children’s mental health will improve
  • Economic and racial inequity will be reduced

Michigan Results Compared to National Results 

Compared to the national results, the Michigan results are quite similar. Voters really see children as an investment in the future, the economy and in the recovery from the pandemic.

One of the things that the poll demonstrated is stronger in Michigan than nationally is the equality and equity frame.

“Michigan really wants to provide opportunity to every child and that really unites rural Michigan and Detroit, suburban Michigan and Grand Rapids. It’s really a unifying theme across the state,” said Lake.

In addition, there is strong consensus in Michigan that not enough is being done to support children, especially post-pandemic. There is real intensity behind three forces:

  1. Children and youth falling behind because of COVID-19 learning losses
  2. Inadequate help for kids suffering from mental health problems
  3. Helping children and youth that live in households that are struggling to afford basic needs

What Next? 

While the purpose of the poll was to understand where voters are and how they feel about current and future investments in children, it is not the “what” that it is important, it’s the “how.” The path forward will be the difficult part, but the similarity in responses across demographic areas is encouraging.

“We haven’t had data or a consensus of opinion statewide around these issues to fight back on that, to say no we have to figure this out, so it works for everybody. And that’s where I hope we can build from this survey and build from this conversation,” said Gillard.

The Pandemic and Parks: COVID-19 Reinforced the Value of Public Spaces and Outdoor Recreation, Need for Investment

When a global pandemic kept people home from their offices, schools, businesses, and vacations, millions of Michiganders “re-discovered” their public parks, where they could safely hang with friends and family and decompress. This increased attendance underscores the need for increased investment and staffing solutions.

“The true value of public parks is a lesson that must outlast the pandemic to ensure that these resources and the significant value they bring to us intrinsically and economically last for generations to come,” said Amy McMillan, director of Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

McMillan was joined by fellow panelists Alicia Bradford, parks director for the Office of the Wayne County Executive, and Dan Eichinger, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, in a conversation moderated by the City of Detroit’s and WWJ Newsradio 950’s Vickie Thomas.

Managing Increased Attendance

Thomas aptly described the state’s parks and public as “our saving graces” throughout the pandemic when so many were seeking a way to escape and connect safely. This is evidenced by significant increases in attendance at parks across the state and participation in outdoor recreation activities like golfing, camping, biking, and boating.

Despite experiencing declining rates over several years, McMillan shared that attendance increased by 35%. Bradford noted similar increases in Wayne County’s parks – around 25-30%. Eichinger also shared how these increases impacted a key milestone for the state; though the state usually reaches its one millionth camp night in October, it was able to reach that benchmark by August this year.

Staffing, Infrastructure Maintenance Remain a Challenges

Despite the positive impacts of the increased attendance driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid influx posed both challenges and opportunities for improving spaces and services. Just as with the broader business community, staffing and labor shortages continue to be an issue for the state’s parks and public spaces.

Bradford cited particular difficulties with staffing maintenance workers in Wayne County. Competition with other industries and businesses offering signing bonuses and new benefits has proven difficult, especially for these entities that have restricted government funding.

Further, this uptick in traffic to local outdoor spaces has taken a toll on physical infrastructure, exacerbating existing needs for targeting investment and updates.

“There are a lot of facilities that were brand spanking new in the 1950s and the 1960s, and we’re still kind of coasting on the fumes of those investments,” Eichinger said. “There’s a lot of work for us to do, I think, in you know, trying to build up a contemporary system that is relatively easy for us to manage, that the facilities are in good condition, where it’s relatively easier for us to recruit and retain employees.”

What’s Needed Next

Though these challenges remain, they go to show just how essential these outdoor resources are for Michigan’s residents and their physical, mental, and economic health. These spaces should be treated as priorities in terms of strategic investment and funding. In the meantime, leaders are exploring innovative ways to update and optimize visitors’ experiences.

McMillan, for instance, shared how Metroparks is using allocated funds to focus on updating trails and improving accessibility.

Bradford noted a trend of visitors requesting WiFi in certain areas of their parks where they have been working remotely, and although they encourage people to use the parks to enjoy and disconnect, her team is receptive to their visitors’ needs.

“We’ve been tapped on to look at putting in electric vehicle charging stations,” Bradford said. “And then just really opening up and engaging our waterways and promoting those even more.”

Eichinger also acknowledged the state’s responsibility to increase its efforts in urban and underserved areas as an essential step toward the successful, inclusive future of these valued spaces.

“I would like to see us be a lot more intentional about being present and active in urban communities providing outdoor recreation services,” he said.

Thank you to Huron-Clinton Metroparks for hosting this session.

Plagues Have Playbooks: Nicholas Christakis on the Enduring Impact of COVID-19

By James Martinez

In early 2020, Dr. Nicholas Christakis knew the COVID-19 virus deserved serious attention. The Yale professor had been collaborating with Chinese scientists for several years using cell phone data to study human interactions. Tracking data from the movements of 11 million people, he and others were able to predict the timing, intensity and location of the pandemic early on throughout China.

Growing more concerned, he sounded the alarm about the risks of public transmission in the U.S. by tweeting basic epidemiology information.

“To my amazement many of these threads went viral and gave me the idea that there was a lot of hunger out there for such information,” said Christakis.

The experience prompted the best-selling author, physician and sociologist to write “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live.” Starting in March 2020, he completed the book in just four months.

One of the overarching themes of the book is that challenges and responses during times of pandemic, both good and bad, are timeless dating back to ancient times despite modern society’s technological and medical advances.

“(We) think that this experience we’re having is so alien and not natural, but it’s not. Plagues are not new to our species, they’re just new to us. We think it’s crazy what’s happening. But our ancestors have been confronting plagues for thousands of years,” said Christakis. “And in fact, this plague is not as bad as some of the plagues that our ancestors had to deal with, but it is nevertheless following a playbook.”

That playbook is comprised of responses and factors such as fear, denial, superstition, the rapid spread of misinformation, and the undermining of science and health experts, which have long accompanied the spread of germs, according to Christakis.

Those elements of the pandemic wreaked havoc on early mitigation efforts and continue to undermine vaccination efforts. This has provided the paradox of the United States’ ability to develop and administer highly effective vaccines in record time, but inability to convince many people to get vaccinated.

“The problem is most Americans have not personally experienced serious epidemics. And so although it’s in our historical memory, and we have medical historians and epidemiologists and other experts in our society who can understand this situation, the citizen on the street doesn’t have that personal experience, so we took it lightly.”

ON THE CONTINUUM OF PLAGUES – COVID-19 COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE 

As bad and tragic as the current pandemic has been and continues to be, Christakis points out that the lethality of pathogens varies and COVID-19 was not as deadly as smallpox or cholera.

In other words, when we are beyond it, things likely could have been worse, and perhaps the next one will be.

“I want people to understand the reality of the situation,” said Christakis.  “This is why for decades, the CIA and the White House, and other organs of government have rightly seen pandemics as national security threats. They are a threat to our way of life. Just as much as we might fear human enemies, we should fear viral enemies. They could destroy our way of life.”

PREPARED FOR THE NEXT PANDEMIC? IT MAY BE A MATTER OF TIMING 

For Christakis, the level of preparedness for the next pandemic will largely come down to timing. If too long passes before the next serious pandemic, people may have collectively forgotten or downplayed the hardships and lessons presented by COVID-19.

“I fear that if the next one comes more than 30 years from now, everything will happen again. We’ll make the same mistakes again,” said Christakis. •

James Martinez is a freelance writer and content creation consultant in Metro Detroit.