Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > Mackinac Policy Conference leaders set stage for business deals, bipartisanship

Mackinac Policy Conference leaders set stage for business deals, bipartisanship

May 4, 2022
Crain’s Detroit Business
Kurt Nagl
May 3, 2022

Michigan’s political and business leaders are scheduled to convene at the Mackinac Policy Conference in a month for the annual bipartisan bid to solve the state’s biggest issues.

That’s the essence of the conference every year even though the issues and political divisions change, Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said Tuesday as part of the agenda rollout for the chamber’s marquee event set for May 31-June 3.

Politicians will gather on the island in the wake of a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court suggesting it is poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which threatens to deepen political divisions in Michigan. It is an example of an issue that transcends politics and one that should be addressed head-on at the conference, said Arn Tellem, the vice chairman of Pistons Sports and Entertainment who was tapped as chairman of the conference this year.

“The fact that we’re going to talk about it is part of the answer,” Tellem told reporters. “Everybody will come at it differently, but I think that’s part of what this conference is all about: to convene us, bring us all together.”

Politics aside, the conference is fertile ground for doing business deals, Baruah said.

“Certainly, big things happen at the conference, but what the conference provides every year is essentially a management retreat for Michigan’s leaders,” Baruah told Crain’s. “My guess is there will be at least one, maybe a couple, sizable announcements that will be made on the island that will definitely be newsworthy.”

He did not elaborate.

New agenda items announced Tuesday include Van Jones, CNN host, and political commentator, signing on as a keynote speaker.

Tellem is taking up the mantle from Wright Lassiter III, who announced last week that he will be leaving his post as president and CEO of Henry Ford Health. Lassiter still plans to attend the Mackinac conference this year as a speaker.

Other notable attendees include:

  • Steve Ballmer, co-founder of the Ballmer Group and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Awenate Cobbina, CEO of Bedrock Group LP and committee member of Michigan Economic Development Corp.
  • Joi Harris, president and CEO of DTE Gas
  • Jon Meacham, presidential historian
  • Cindy Pasky, CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions
  • Angelique Power, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation
  • Dug Song, co-founder of Duo Security and chief strategy officer at Cisco Security
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
  • Detroit Mayor Mike Mike Duggan

The conference will return to its normal schedule for the first time since 2019, following two years of COVID-19 pandemic disruption.

Organizers dropped the vaccine mandate for this year and will allow those attending to submit a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to their arrival.

Baruah said Tuesday that the COVID policy was made to conform with current public health guidance and not because members of the Republican party pushed for it.

“All the COVID protocols, including the outside protocols, were the chamber’s decision,” he said.

Baruah said it has not been determined which candidates will attend the Republican gubernatorial debate being staged on the island June 2.

The conference agenda is on the Detroit Regional Chamber’s website.

“If you talk to political leaders or business leaders, they say they make more connections, have more conversations, get more business done the three days on the island than they do the six months in their day jobs,” Baruah said.

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