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Mackinac Conference to focus on education, jobs, cultural change

From Crain’s Detroit Business

By Chris Gautz

April 30, 2013

The Detroit Regional Chamber rolled out its agenda for the 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference today, and the focus areas of talent, education and culture change are meant to appeal to a statewide audience of decision-makers and legislators.

Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah said the three pillars of this year’s conference are actually intertwined in many ways.

Joseph Welch, chairman, president and CEO of ITC Holdings Corp., and the chairman of this year’s conference, said education is a major focus of his and that he will speak on a panel about jobs in the 21st century and the role education plays.

“The talent gene pool is thin,” Welch said.

Also planning to speak on education is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who will take the stage after Gov. Rick Snyder opens the conference at 1:30 p.m., May 29.

Because the conference is beginning earlier this year, Baruah is encouraging attendees to come up to the island Tuesday night, rather than leave the Detroit region by 5 a.m. in order to make it up on time.

The conference ends on Friday, May 31 with a keynote address from Snyder at 11 a.m. Attendance right now is about 1,300, and is on par with where it was at this point last year, Baruah said.

Immigration is expected to be a major focus, with both Bush and Carlos Gutierrez, the former U.S. Commerce secretary and former CEO of Kellogg Co., speaking on the topic.

Baruah said several senior members of Congress are planning to speak as well and will touch on immigration and other issues.

Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, described by Baruah as the Dan Gilbert of Washington D.C., will discuss the role the private sector can play in urban redevelopment.

One person vital to that role in Detroit may not be there, Baruah said. Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is unlikely to attend, he said, due to his busy schedule.

And with the absence this year of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, Baruah said there will not be a Fab Five panel with the leaders of the Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties, along with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. Those regional leaders will still have a yet-to-be-determined role in the conference.

Baruah said he understands Patterson can’t make because of the injuries he is still recovering from after his automobile accident, and said he looks forward to having him back next year and “walking on stage.”

There will also be a series of panel discussions on manufacturing, particularly on the role of those in the supply chain play, and on infrastructure and financial stability.

And at the end of the conference there will be another to-do list created with actionable items to check off before next year’s conference.

Baruah said the chamber is close to completing the five items that resulted from the 2012 conference. One of those was to lead a delegation of Detroit area business leaders to Washington, D.C., to learn about the redevelopment that has taken place there. That trip is scheduled for early next month.

For more information on the conference, visit