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Detroit may host, but Mackinac Policy Conference is a Michigan affair

DETROIT, MI – The Detroit Regional Chamber hosts the annual Mackinac Policy Conference, but the annual gathering of ritzy gathering of movers and shakers has turned into a Michigan affair.

“The Detroit Regional Chamber has worked hard to ensure the Mackinac Policy Conference has evolved into a statewide conversation both in programming and attendance,” said Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah. “As a state, we need to embrace the reality that in the global economy a win for one part of Michigan is a win for everyone in Michigan. States and regions that collaborate outperform those that do not.”

Baruah and Joe Welch, CEO of ITC Holdings and chair of the 2013 conference, said MPC organizers made a concerted effort to reach across Michigan. Baruah credited Michigan CEOs and Gov. Rick Snyder’s involvement with the annual conference for the statewide appeal.

A working group of CEOs reached out to peers around Michigan to invite them to participate in the policy conference. At the same time, Snyder has taken an active role by speaking at the conference, offering input on panels, and sticking around throughout the week to meet with people and do business.

“He doesn’t just show up, give a speech and leave,” Baruah said.

Welch said the conference, along with the West Michigan Policy Forum, are bridging the east-west gap in the state.

“We’ve been working with the western side of the state,” Welch said. “You’ll see a lot of the attendance there. The quid pro quo is the people from the eastern side of the state to attend the west side.”

Jim Dunlap, chairman of the West Michigan Policy Forum, said he’s seeing business and policy leaders crossing the state to learn from each other.

About 60 people from the east side of Michigan attended the 2012 West Michigan Policy Forum, and at least 40 people from West Michigan are planning to attend the Mackinac this year, Dunlap said.

“We look forward to adding our perspective to the discussion up there,” he said. “It’s about Michigan learning from each other.”

Dunlap said he agreed with Baruah and Walsh on the Mackinac Policy Conference broadening its focus to all of Michigan.

“It has certainly evolved to a statewide conversation over the past two to three years,” Dunlap said.

This year’s Mackinac Policy Conference includes several panels focused on statewide issues including manufacturing, education, and jobs. The scheduled announced last week shows a somewhat diminished role for Detroit at the exclusive gathering of state leaders.

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is taking a pass on this year’s conference, and Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, a fixture at Mackinac for two decades, announced he won’t attend as he recovers from his car crash. Patterson’s absence means the popular “Big Four” panel with the heads of Detroit and Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties won’t happen this year.

The conference’s main Detroit event will be a mayoral debate, the first of its kind this election season. The initial agenda also includes a panel on urban renewal.

“Obviously you can’t have a conversation about Michigan’s political and economic future without including its largest city in that dialogue,” Baruah said. “You’ll see as the Mackinac Policy Conference agenda fleshes out that we’ll address some of the key issues facing Detroit as part of a larger statewide discussion.”