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Carol Cain: East-side, west-side Michigan relations warm up

From The Detroit Free Press
November 26, 2012

By Carol Cain

The east and west sides of Michigan used to eye each other with suspicion.

But the economic tsunami of 2008 impacted much, including that often-adversarial relationship.

Today, it’s more east meets west as relations start to warm with organizations like the West Michigan Policy Forum, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Grand Rapids Chamber and Business Leaders For Michigan working together.

It’s even impacting things culturally speaking as Detroiter Larry Callahan can attest.

Callahan, founder and director of the Selected of God choir — which teamed with Eminem in turning his “Lose Yourself” tune into Chrysler’s “Born of Fire” Super Bowl ad, has been contacted by organizations across the state to perform, including Grand Rapids.

The choir, which came out with its new “Evolution II” CD last week that is selling like hotcakes at Walmart, Target and other stores, performed at the recent West Michigan Policy Forum, where more than 600 gathered in Grand Rapids.

“People there were so friendly,” Callahan said. “We were walking around. We weren’t dressed in our choir robes or anything so they knew who we were. I was just impressed.”

“The idea of having the Selected of God choir perform meshed with our theme of bringing all parts of Michigan together to hear from and discuss the most-pressing public policy issues,” said Jared Rodriguez, president of West Michigan Policy Forum.

“Their ‘one shot, one opportunity’ message is what we believe we have to do to get it right in Michigan to make the world understand we are open for business.”

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, who traveled with a busload of 30 executives to the biannual West Michigan Policy Forum event, came armed with stickers to hand out.

“The ‘Detroit Hearts Grand Rapids’ sticker reinforces the idea of ‘One Michigan’ and the importance of collaboration to Michigan’s success that Gov. Rick Snyder talks about,” Baruah said.

The two sides got a boost when the Grand Rapids Chamber, along with WMPF, Business Leaders For Michigan and Baruah’s organization began getting more acquainted. A Detroit delegation visited Grand Rapids in 2011, which was followed by a visit of West Michigan leaders to Detroit in 2012.

That spawned conversations that led to the Detroit Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference and the WMPF agreeing to a statewide focus.

“When I moved here, I didn’t know the west side but I kept hearing about the tension and competition,” Baruah said. “Once I got over there and spent some time, I was pleasantly surprised to hear and see how supportive the business community was of the east side. And I know how important the west side is to the east side.”

Rodriguez agreed.

“We need to think of our entire state working toward a unified goal of making Michigan more dynamic, more diverse and more enticing for job providers,” Rodriguez said. “We need to create a best-in-the-world environment whether someone is considering a new factory in the U.P., a biotech start-up in Kalamazoo or a web-services company in Detroit.

“There’s plenty of competition knocking down our doors. The last thing we need is to compete against ourselves,” Rodriguez added.

Indeed, with the joining of Chrysler, a gospel choir and a hip-hop star to propel the Motor City, perhaps this newfound momentum can do the same for the entire state.

Contact Carol Cain at 313-222-6732 or She is senior producer and host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs at 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62.