Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference Media Coverage > Suzanne Shank: ‘Bridging the Future Together’ for a Better Michigan

Suzanne Shank: ‘Bridging the Future Together’ for a Better Michigan

May 29, 2024

The Detroit News
Suzanne Shank
May 28, 2024

As a civil engineer turned investment banker whose career pivoted towards financing public infrastructure and economic development initiatives, I understand what it takes to fund, design and build bridges. As chair of the Detroit Regional Chambers 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference, that experience helped shape the conference theme of “Bridging the Future Together.”

Michigan’s top business, government and philanthropic leaders will congregate on Mackinac Island at a precarious moment for our nation. On the state level, Michigan ranks 49 out of 50 for population growth, and our loss of talented young people adds uncertainty to an otherwise encouraging jobs report. Launch Michigan recently reported that statewide, our K-12 schools are underperforming peer systems across the country.

On the national level, we are headed toward a divisive presidential election while the spread of misinformation continues to chip away at our core institutions. And on a fundamental level, the dizzying acceleration of AI and decarbonization are altering the contours of society in ways big and small. Clearly, this is not a moment to stand pat and see what happens.

By fostering dialogue and collaboration, “Bridging the Future Together” better enables us to embrace change so that we can seize new opportunities for our state and region. Some would say we are toxically divided, having retreated to our echo chambers. My hope is that building a more robust spirit of cooperation will lead to innovative solutions, increased job opportunities and a more promising economy in Michigan. This approach requires win-wins — because the only way to effectively create solutions to our biggest challenges is if there’s something in it for everyone.

Radical collaboration involves having uncomfortable conversations and challenging the status quo. It encourages open communication, shared resources and mutual trust among divergent participants.

We must work across party lines and across Michigan to break down barriers and embrace different perspectives — and most importantly, agree to common sets of facts that guide our policy discussions. Only then will we see impactful change and unleash the power of the private sector to drive prosperity.

Siebert Williams Shank & Co., the firm I co-founded, is among the nation’s most active investment banks helping states, cities and corporations access the capital markets, raising trillions of dollars of capital since our inception. We have seen how major investments in infrastructure and transportation have stimulated economic development. The states driving major growth have 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. The lessons learned are that successful states proactively confront their weaknesses, leverage their assets and invest in high-quality economic development, education and talent development to create a focused, long-term approach to driving prosperity.

We’ve seen a lot of positive momentum in recent years, a sign that transformational investment can alter our trajectory for the long run. We must leverage this positive attention and embrace our many attributes — our strong manufacturing center, a rapidly growing technology sector, significant natural resources and a renowned higher education ecosystem — especially as Michigan will be a key state in the upcoming presidential race.

In the end, we have more in common than we think. We all want great schools for our children, safe, thriving communities and a robust, talented workforce to bolster our businesses. I hope insights from the dialogue and collaboration at this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference will spur our leaders to focus on the growth and opportunities ahead.

If we do so, nothing is impossible.

Suzanne Shank is president and CEO of Siebert Williams Shank & Co. and chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference.