Collaboration is key: 2013 Mackinac Policy

2013 Mackinac Policy Conference will align diverse groups in statewide conversation

Emerging from its troubled state, Michigan is poised for a seismic economic turnaround that may be right around the corner.

While some critics and pundits predicted that it would take decades to turn Detroit around and years to address Michigan’s languishing economy, there is growing optimism that the biggest issues blocking the city’s financial recovery will be addressed soon — perhaps within the next 365 days.

Timing is everything, and in a city like Detroit, time is money.

“Detroit’s biggest prob­­lems will not all be resolved overnight, but the process to get the city on the right track is on the horizon,” according to Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

With Baruah at the helm, the Chamber, which sits squarely in the center of economic recovery efforts in Detroit, is gaining recognition for its role in helping spur an increase in regional collaboration in economic development.

There may be no better opportunity to measure the relative success of this effort than the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference, which draws on a diverse audience of more than 1,500 of the state’s leading political, business and community leaders annually.

This year’s conference will address cultural change, education and the 21st century global market, amidst a very diverse group of panelists and participants.

Baruah and ITC Holdings Corp. CEO and conference chair Joseph Welch plan to use the Mackinac Policy Conference as a platform to accelerate collaborative efforts statewide.

“Once isolated, our stakeholders no longer clearly identify themselves by geographic, racial or economic boundaries,” said Baruah, who has introduced innovative programs to bridge divides between Michigan leaders over the last several years.

Together, the two aim to further advance global thinking among conference participants, who they hope will emerge with a better understanding of Michigan’s role as an international player in the world marketplace, which is much “flatter,” more competitive and ever-reliant on a global consumer base.

Economic interests —employed as both a carrot and a binding agent — will serve to attract and keep conference participants aligned.

While Michigan is already home to many international automotive, furnishings and pharmaceutical manufacturers, until recently its hyper-competitive stakeholders often did not collaborate effectively or position their respective interests collectively, according to Baruah.

“Michigan is the eighth largest export state in the U.S.,” he said. “Although we hold an incredible market position, we’ve yet to fully leverage it.”

The Chamber’s MICHauto program, celebrating its second year as part of the Chamber’s economic development portfolio, is helping to change that. The successful public-private strategy is helping align automotive players to better compete and to leverage Michigan as a global epicenter of automotive and manufacturing competency.

The effort requires increased participation among Tier 1 automotive suppliers and associated businesses, which is why this year’s conference will include first-time representatives from these often silent business sectors and forums to address their unique business needs.

Immigration and education will also be on the discussion table.

Welch believes there is a need to continue to attract and retain international businesses and workers. This will be a key factor in maintaining our position in today’s global marketplace. He also supports equally, if not more aggressive, efforts to educate, train and employ Michigan residents for jobs in high growth business sectors

Logically, Detroit will be at the center of many informal conversations on the island and will be the focus of two of the scheduled conference events.

The “Detroit: On the Path to Turnaround” session features panelists Matt Cullen, president and CEO, Rock Ventures, LLC; Andy Dillon, treasurer, State of Michigan; Robert Kurnick Jr., president, Penske Corp.; and will be moderated by Sandra E. Pierce, vice chairman, FirstMerit Corporation.

The “Detroit: Legacy Leaders” panel will feature Dennis W. Archer, chairman and CEO, Dennis W. Archer PLLC, former mayor, City of Detroit; Dennis W. Archer, Jr., founding principal and president, Archer Corporate Services; Shelia Cockrel, president, Crossroads Consulting Group, former councilwoman, City of Detroit; Katy Cockrel, director, strategic communications, Ignition Media Group; John Rakolta Jr,. chairman and CEO, Walbridge; and John Rakolta III, business development manager, Walbridge. WXYZ-TV news anchor Stephen Clark will moderate the past-present-future perspectives among a multi-generational group of participants.

The city focus in these sessions, as part of a larger statewide conversation of the conference, offers an incredible opportunity to redefine our future, according to Baruah.

“Gov. Rick Snyder stepped up, despite great political risk, to tackle Detroit’s problems in a very meaningful way,” said Baruah.

The EFM appointment has helped put Detroit’s issues further into focus and will result in the opportunity to make change quickly, according to the Chamber president who commented:

“The entire state, and certainly Detroit, has suffered over the last 30 years as a consequence of being run in a process-oriented manner. Today, the EFM has the opportunity to change that and put results first.”

Results are the cornerstone of Sandy Baruah’s leadership style and, indeed, the Mackinac Policy Conference agenda.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about the 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference, gain insight on participant activity and panel discussions, visit

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