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Back to the island: Quieter Mackinac Policy Conference eases back toward ‘normal’

Crain’s Detroit Business
Sep. 26, 2021

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference went on as planned last week — a little slower, a little gentler and at least a little less crowded.

Attendance was capped at 1,300, as opposed to the usual 1,700, amid COVID protocols, and the conference saw 1,034 actual attendees. Many elected leaders, including Attorney General Dana Nessel, county executives from Macomb and Oakland counties and many legislators elected to skip the confab.

But much was familiar: The speakers took the stage, and the attendees hobnobbed and networked.

Here are some highlights of Crain’s coverage of this year’s unusual conference. You can read all our coverage, listen to our Mackinac podcasts with top leaders and check out a large array of photos from the conference at crainsdetroit.com/mackinac-policy-conference.

So far, so good

Concerns about possible COVID exposures colored much of the preparation for the event.

Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah in his welcome to the conference offered up a hotline for any attendees to report potential COVID exposures or symptoms.

The chamber said Friday that the hotline had received three calls during the conference.

They included:

  • One conference attendee who reported a risk of exposure prior to departure for Mackinac Island. That person then tested negative and continued with travel and participation in the event.
  • One registrant who self-reported not feeling well prior to departure and did not attend the event.
  • A third registrant who reported not feeling well at the event. The registrant was in the Grand Hotel’s parlor area and conference registration area for a total of about an hour, and was fully masked the entire time. The person left the island and subsequently tested negative for COVID.

The chamber told Crain’s it planned to keep the hotline active through the weekend.

Lassiter lays out MSU Detroit vision

Henry Ford Health System’s months-old 30-year affiliation with Michigan State University could lead to construction of a medical school in Midtown Detroit, potentially unlocking new real estate development opportunities in the city.

That’s according to Henry Ford Health System CEO Wright Lassiter III, who laid out some of his vision last week for establishing a research-intensive medical school in Midtown that could raise the national prominence of HFHS research and medical innovation.

“I have a strong desire to increase the production of medical students in the state of Michigan and I’d like to bring a new medical school into the city of Detroit,” Lassiter said Tuesday night during a dinner of business executives at the conference that was co-sponsored by Crain’s Detroit Business.

Lassiter said he’s eyeing an area between West Grand Boulevard in New Center stretching south to 1 Ford Place — the headquarters for HFHS — to construct a medical school in partnership with MSU.

“There could be the ability to garner real estate and development that could produce a research center or a medical school, a new hospital complex,” he said. “We’ve been a catalyst for redevelopment in Midtown Detroit for a long time, and I think there’s a lot more that can and will happen.”

Lassiter made the comments in an interview with KC Crain at a dinner during the conference.

State budget makes big child-care investment

A nearly $70 billion state budget fueled by surplus tax revenue and federal stimulus funds that took shape Tuesday contains major investments in the child care industry in an effort to get more parents back in a pandemic-disrupted workforce.

The spending plan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration brokered with the Republican-controlled Legislature would invest $108.1 million more into the state’s child care subsidies, making 105,000 more children eligible for the program.

The budget blueprint contains $158 million for an ongoing 30 percent increase in the provider rate for child care centers as well as another $222 for a temporary pay raise for providers.

“This is a pretty tremendous and a significant expansion of the state’s child care program,” State Budget Director Dave Massaron said Tuesday in an interview with Crain’s.

Massaron said the rate increases for child care providers are “designed to increase the sustainability” of their business model, which has been upended during the pandemic as parents chose to keep their children at home to mitigate their potential exposure to COVID-19.

State to build Lake Michigan EV circuit

Michigan plans to build a route of charging stations around tourist destinations called the Lake Michigan Electric Vehicle Circuit, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

In its quest to make clean energy and mobility jobs a key piece of Michigan’s economic recovery, the governor’s administration also said it expects to start the Michigan Revolution for Electrification of Vehicles Academy, or MiREV.

“We are going to equip our workforce with the specific knowledge and skill demands of the emerging mobility and electrification industry,” Whitmer said in a news conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

The road-trip circuit builds on other announcements of mobility-forward corridors, such as Whitmer’s announcement Tuesday about plans to build the country’s first wireless charging road for electric vehicles in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties. The state also said more than a year ago that it wanted to construct a multi-faceted “mobility corridor” from Detroit to Ann Arbor along Michigan Avenue. Talk Wednesday focused on electrification and mobility in the state’s automotive industry and not on public transit.

“As the state that put the whole world on wheels, we appreciate the great American road trip more than most,” Whitmer said. “But just as the auto industry evolves to an electric fuel cell-propelled future, the way people are traveling is changing as well. Eco-tourism and environmentally conscious travel continues to grow in popularity.”

Duggan: ‘Very good idea’ on pavement buckling

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said he has a “very good idea of what happened” in southwest Detroit to cause roadway to buckle upward a week and a half ago, and the city needs to take steps to make sure it doesn’t recur.

Detroit may need to change its rules around storage of heavy materials, Duggan said while speaking about the incident around Fort and Dearborn streets during an interview Tuesday at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Experts have told the city they’ve never seen anything like this, where the road mounded upward in two areas, also causing a building to heave up and require demolition. An investigation into the cause is ongoing and no final analysis is near release, according to a city spokeswoman. It may be a week or more away.

Duggan stopped short of directly disclosing the theory for what happened, but said Tuesday that he has an idea of what needs to come next.

“I think we have a very good idea of what happened, but we’re going to let the final reports come out,” Duggan said. “But this is the second time in three years that we’ve had a major soil issue in southwest Detroit. A couple years ago you had a good chunk of soil fall into the Detroit River.”

Survey finds support for education funding

Nearly two-thirds of Michigan residents surveyed in a recent poll said they would support increased public funding for children and youth to counter inequities and COVID-19 pandemic-related ills.

Detroit-based Skilllman Foundation and Michigan’s Children, a Lansing-based advocacy group working to reduce disparities in child outcomes from cradle to career through policy change, commissioned the poll, which was released late Monday afternoon at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

Washington, D.C.-based Lake Research Partners conducted the poll of 800 residents (and likely general election voters) from all regions and demographics July 27-Aug. 3.

Among other results, 62 percent of those surveyed said they supported increased public funding for children and youth for issues spurred by the pandemic, including disrupted learning and impaired mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and ADHD.

“This is a moment for Michigan,” Skillman President and CEO Angelique Power said in the release. “Despite polarizing times, Michiganders across race, ethnicity, gender, economics, and geography are loudly saying we must all invest in children. To me, this isn’t a request, it’s a full-throated mandate.”

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