Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > Let’s Bridge the Future Together: A Q & A With Conference Chair Suzanne Shank

Let’s Bridge the Future Together: A Q & A With Conference Chair Suzanne Shank

May 28, 2024

What is the greatest opportunity we have as a state?

We’ve seen a lot of positive momentum generated in Michigan in recent years. The renovation of Michigan Central Station as an innovation hub, major expansions of health care facilities, securing the NFL Draft in Detroit – we even had most of the country rooting for the Lions in the playoffs! We must leverage this positive attention and embrace our many attributes – our strong manufacturing center, our rapidly growing technology sector, significant natural resources, and a reputable higher education ecosystem – especially as Michigan will be a key state in the presidential race.

What is the biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge in the state is our lagging K-12 performance. As recently reported by Launch Michigan, school districts in Michigan are underperforming their peers in top-performing states in math, reading, and graduation rates. Our inadequate K-12 educational systems statewide result in a less skilled workforce, contributes to higher rates of poverty in our communities, and is a deterrent to businesses and families considering relocating to Michigan.

Siebert Williams Shank has been able to work with districts all over the country to bring billions in much needed resources to begin addressing equity gaps so that students can have a better infrastructure in which to learn and thrive.  We must prepare our students for a future world with jobs that haven’t even been contemplated yet.  When we make progress in closing student achievement gaps, we can ensure better outcomes for our communities and bolster our economy at the same time.

Why is the Conference theme “Bridging the Future Together” so important?

The conference theme this year is intended to carry forward the strong momentum from last year’s The Power of & in hopes of promoting cooperation among dissimilar groups in our state. By fostering dialogue and collaboration, “bridging the future together” better enables us to embrace change so that we can seize new opportunities rather than trying to make progress in silos. My hope is that building a more robust spirit of cooperation in the state will lead to innovative solutions, increased economic opportunities, and a more prosperous economy in Michigan.

Suzanne Shank headshot

“My hope is that building a more robust spirit of cooperation in the state will lead to innovative solutions, increased economic opportunities, and a more prosperous economy in Michigan.”

Suzanne Shank, President and Chief Executive Officer, Siebert Williams Shank & Co., LLC


What is radical collaboration and how can radical collaboration bridge divides in Michigan?

Radical collaboration involves having uncomfortable conversations and challenging the status quo. It encourages open communication, shared resources, and mutual trust among divergent participants. Our state can already tout strong examples of bringing together stakeholders from business, government, and philanthropy to work in concert toward common goals while solving complex problems. Now we must work across party lines and across the state to break down barriers and embrace different perspectives.  Only then will we really see impactful change in our state.

What do you hope attendees will get out of the 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference?

My primary hope is that attendees will come away from the conference motivated and energized to take action. In the end, I would assert we have a lot more in common than we think. We all want great schools for our children; we all want safe, thriving communities; we all want to have a robust, talented workforce to fill key roles to amplify our businesses. I’m hoping insights from all the dynamic speakers this year will spur our leaders to focus on similarities rather than differences so that we can address our issues together. Let’s bridge the future together!

What do other states where you do business do, in terms of economic development or driving business growth, that Michigan should consider emulating?

Siebert Williams Shank is one of the nation’s most active investment banks helping states and cities access the capital markets, so we have seen how major investments in infrastructure and transportation have stimulated economic development in certain areas. The states driving major growth have also provided incentives for businesses to relocate or expand in the state, supported workforce development to ensure a skilled labor force, and fostered a business-friendly regulatory and tax environment. Economic development incentives also play an important role. The lesson learned from other states is that they proactively work on their weaknesses, leverage their assets, and invest in high quality economic development talent to create a focused approach driving growth.