MACKINAC ISLAND — Well, it’s over. Three days of panel discussions, keynotes and informal networking on the future of Michigan and its economy have concluded, and more than 1,500 movers, shakers and difference-makers are headed back south along Michigan’s major roads — well, except for a few who came here from the U.P.
Now we’ll see if all those shrimp died for naught, or if something actually comes of all this.
If my calculations are correct, spread across two decades and two employers, this was my 10th time at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. And I can say without question that this one was different, and better, than the rest.
Why? Well, because it wasn’t just Big Old Detroit talking to Big Old Detroit. The conference itself kicked off with a panel of young entrepreneurs, who created jobs making everything from salsa to Web sites. Even the automotive sessions concentrated on stuff like alternative energy and vehicle-to-vehicle wireless computer communication. And throughout the week, the emphasis was on innovation, high tech and new business formation. Heck, at times it felt like my Tech Tour.
Another plus: A storyboard artist did a better job of taking notes on major sessions than I’ve ever seen. And there was a different vibe to the crowd itself. Dare I say younger? Dare I say Generation X is beginning to take over the business world from us increasingly geezerish Boomers?
Yes, it was still held in the opulent Grand Hotel. You can call it wretched excess if you want, but you’d be wrong. The Grand Hotel simply has so much timeless class and style that it isn’t, and can’t possibly ever be, termed wretched. Maybe it’s timeless, impeccable, perfect excess? Whatever, I think every Michigander by birthright ought to get at least one evening watching the sun sink over the U.P. from the Grand Hotel’s porch, clutching some kind of chilled intoxicant and reveling in the mingled odors of horse and cigar. Man, that’s old school, and it’s just the best.
But dreams of egalitarian opulence aside, the Chamber conference did leave town with a to-do list, announced Thursday afternoon by 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference Chairman Nancy Schlichting and Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah, with agreement from Gov. Rick Snyder. Here goes:
1. Partner with Gov. Snyder and key institutions to host a statewide military veterans hiring conference with the goal of securing Michigan employment for veterans.
2. Engage in an effort to help Detroit-based businesses cut through local government red tape to help promote business start-ups and success.
3. Lead a delegation of Detroit-area business leaders on a lessons learned trip to Washington, D.C. in partnership with Whole Foods Market and former Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams.
4. Accept the challenge from John McElroy, WWJ automotive commentator and the host of “Autoline,” and partner with the College for Creative Studies to engage in a Detroit Future Envisioning project.
5. Develop a program at the Detroit Regional Chamber to support promising entrepreneurs and businesses with access to coaching in best practices and capital.
Sounds good. Ready? Go.