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Ken Winter

Ken Winter

This Mac Conference Could Be a Hot One!

May 27, 2016

MACKINAC ISLAND— Next week’s 2016 Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Policy Conference will offer a star-studded program along with, perhaps, some unscripted, uncomfortable moments for state and metro leaders.

A record-breaking crowd of Michigan business, institutional and political leaders are expected to gather for the Conference that runs from May 31st thru June 3rd .   It takes up all 396 rooms and conference facilities of the Grand Hotel.  Most of the other island lodging spots are booked as well, leaving many participants with having to find rooms on the mainland.   Last year, the conference had a record-breaking 1,600 registered attendees.

Expect the Grand’s, “World’s longest front porch” to be a gathering spot for many political conversations between the conference sessions and hosted cocktail hours.  The Grand Hotel is known for attracting a number of notable visitors since its construction in 1887, including five U.S. presidents and even Mark Twain.  This year proves to be no different when looking at the advance conference registration list.  It looks like a “Who’s Who” in Michigan business, education, non-profit, government and other organizations.

The event, now in its 36th year, attracts most of the Metro Detroit and Michigan power brokers, politicians and lobbyissts who listen to many expert on dealing with Detroit regional and state issues ranging from education to retraining a workforce to better meet 21st Century needs.

Several potentially sensitive political moments could emerge from the Chamber’s Keynote Speakers.  They include Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, each of whom are being promoted as sharing “…their insights on how to sustain Detroit’s and Michigan’s momentum against the backdrop of the Conference pillars of entrepreneurship, urban education and investing in the future”.

Snyder, who has previously been a conference favorite, finds himself in the wake of a lot of unsettled issues that could prove to be explosive.  They range from the Flint water and Detroit Public School’s financial crises, to poor state education achievement, the use of governor-appointed Emergency Managers, ailing local government balance sheets, Enbridge’s oil Pipeline #5 that stretches underneath the Straits of Mackinac presenting a potential threat to one of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water, and a host of other state issues that continue to spring up.

Missing from the official program appear to be discussions on Michigan’s environment and the controversial government non-resident work visa program that was severely cut back for several years, resulting in problems for businesses now facing labor shortages.

Conference organizers have more recently focused programming on the pillars of entrepreneurship, urban education and investing in the future.  This year is no exception as attendees will hear speakers discuss topics including sustainable education, adapting Michigan’s economy to unprecedented domestic and global change, compensation for corporate executives, better regional transportation and, of course, national politics and the 2016 presidential election.

Driving the program will be many nationally recognized names:  Harold Ford Jr., former U.S. Congressman and political analyst for MSNBC; Soledad O’Brien, anchor and special correspondent, CNN; former Michigan Supreme Court Justice and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, Jr.; GM President David Ammann; Daymond John, CEO and Founder of FUBU and co-host of “Shark Tank”; Shal Kahn, Founder, Khan Academy and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Director of the Pedriatric Residency program at Flint’s Hurley Hospital and associate professor at MSU’s Medical School.

The one-time Detroit centric conference has, in more recent years, reached to outstate chamber and business leaders in an attempt to find common ground while establishing a unified approach in tackling federal issues that affect the entire state, especially federal support for municipal infrastructure, road repair and replacement, job training, federally-subsidized loans, as well as funds to help business, industry, health and education.

Conference attendees should expect to be asked to financially support various Political Action Committees (PACs) and political candidates, based on the number of private receptions being held outside the official conference program.

They can also expect to meet many candidates vying for congressional seats, including Northern Michigan’s 1st Congressional District. Incumbent Dr. Dan Benishek (R), who began serving in Congress in 2010, left his seat open by choosing not to seek re-election in 2016.  Republicans Tom Casperson, a UP state senator, Jason Allen, a former state senator, and Jack Bergman, a retired USMC general, will compete for the nomination. 

On the Democratic side, Michigan Democratic Party leader Lon Johnson and former Kalkaska County Sheriff Jerry Cannon filed to run in Michigan’s Aug. 2nd primary.  Johnson threw his hat in the ring after attending last year’s conference as a candidate for chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and defeating the previous longtime leader, Mark Brewer.

Ken Winter, former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review and member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, teaches political science and journalism at North in Petoskey and Michigan State University.

May 26, 2016 · Filed under Winter

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Anagnorisis // May 27, 2016 at 8:05 am

    Whew! Hot indeed and the weather’s right with it. One might like to have a drone hovering to record some of those conversations but security will be so tight and attendees so collectively massive they might vibrate enough energy to trigger that pipeline break so imminent.



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