Mackinac 2011
8:17 pm
Wed June 1, 2011

Do YOU care about the Mackinac Policy Conference?

So, what is this Mackinac Policy Conference?

By now, you’ve probably heard about this huge gathering of businesspeople and politicians, reporters and lobbyists.

It happens every year on Mackinac Island at the Grand Hotel. It’s hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber and this year it lasts three days. It’s got all the trappings of any other big conference:  lots of speakers and meetings, lots of hob-nobbing, lots of drinking (in fact, there’s a vodka ice luge this year out on the Grand Hotel's famous porch). 

And, of course, there’s a lot of arm-twisting and deal-making.

But, maybe you’re wondering why?  Why do they need to go up to Mackinac Island to talk about the same stuff they do all the rest of the year in Lansing?

Here’s how the Detroit Regional Chamber describes it on their website, “This year’s Conference is focused on bringing business and government leaders together to create a globally competitive, financially attractive business environment in Michigan.”

Ok, so maybe it’s about fixing Michigan’s economy… trying to get ‘everyone’ on the same page to move the state forward.

However, this year is a little different than past years.  This conference was organized with Governor Rick Snyder in mind.  It’s all about Snyder’s “reinventing, rebuilding, and re-energizing” of Michigan. In fact, Snyder made opening remarks at the conference, he’ll hold several press conferences and is scheduled to be part of a panel discussion with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

So, that’s what the conference IS. If you want more information about the conference, click here. And, be sure, to click here for Michigan Radio’s coverage of the conference.

But, I think, the bigger question is: why should you care about what happens here?

Well, I could explain about the panels upon panels about ‘reinventing Michigan’ and ‘Michigan’s future’ (Think: Defining the Road to Economic Recovery, or Working Together to Make Michigan Globally Competitive, or Re-bounding and Re-building: A Path to Recovery… get the picture?). Or, I could list the hundreds upon hundreds of attendees (Think: Governor Rick Snyder; Detroit Mayor Dave Bing; Mark Murray, President of Meijer; Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin; Bob King, President of the United Auto Workers; Roy Roberts, the new Emergency Financial Manger of the Detroit Public Schools; and a whole ton of state and local lawmakers).

But, after speaking with Rick Pluta of the Michigan Public Radio Network (and, a conference veteran) I figured I’d just quote what he said to me, after I asked him, “Pluta, why should someone actually care about this conference?”

His answer:

"Because once a year – the political center of gravity of Michigan moves to this island [Mackinac] … decisions may or may not be made here… but certainly there is an effort underfoot to make things happen. You have to understand: Mackinac Island has become the state Capitol for the rest of this week.

Do you care about the economy? All the business movers-and-shakers are up here. You care about what happens at the state Capitol? All the political movers-and-shakers are here. And, all of these movers-and-shakers are talking to each other. And, they’ll affect things like job creation, education, taxes… this is everyone’s best chance, all year long to make their best pitch for what they care about. That’s why you have CEO’s, top politicians, university presidents, non-profit organizations… all here trying to make the case for whatever matters to them.”

So, maybe you still don’t quite care about the conference. And, that’s OK: it’s a little hard to grasp. But, at the very least, maybe you understand now why some people do care and why you’ll be hearing a lot about the conference in the days, weeks, and months to come.

- With help from Lester Graham