Every year, the state’s top policymakers, C-suite business executives, academics, community and civic leaders head to Mackinac Island for the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference to discuss the challenges and opportunities that Michigan has before it. This year’s conference is set to explore the theme “The Power of And,” emphasizing the importance of collaboration, innovation and inclusive solutions to shape the future of Detroit and the state.  

With an array of thought-provoking discussions, interactive sessions and networking opportunities, the 2023 Mackinac Policy Conference is expected to be a platform for meaningful conversations and transformative ideas, much like previous ideas that began at the conference including the bipartisan auto-reform policy, rebounding Detroit from bankruptcy, and more.  

One Detroit’s 2023 Mackinac Policy Conference correspondent Zoe Clark, political director for Michigan Radio, sat down with Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah and Bank of America Michigan President Matt Elliott, this year’s conference chair, for a preview of the annual conference and what attendees can expect. They talk about the conference theme, the future of work, what each are looking forward to, and how the conference’s conversations affect the daily lives of Michiganders.  

Detroit Public TV will provide live coverage of the 2023 Mackinac Policy Conference beginning Tuesday, May 30. Stream key conversations from the conference here.  Plus, don’t miss a special one-hour One Detroit episode from the conference airing at 7 p.m. ET Thursday, June 1.

Full Transcript:

Zoe Clark, Political Director, Michigan Radio: So for folks who are new to Michigan or haven’t heard of the Mackinac Policy Conference before, what is it? Why does it matter? 

Sandy Baruah, President & CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber: So the Mackinac Policy Conference is unique. It’s a terrific asset that the chamber happens to be stewards of, but it’s essentially Michigan’s senior management retreat that takes place on an island where we have you sequestered with no cars. Mediocre cell phone reception. But it’s really a it’s a management retreat in the sense that we’re bringing together academic leaders, business leaders, civic leaders, obviously political leaders to be in one place at one time to really address the opportunities and challenges that Michigan has before us. 

What are we going to do about these opportunities and challenges? And the great thing about it is, is that all these leaders are there. These are all C-suite leaders and they’re all accessible. If you’re media, if you’re a fellow attendee. Everyone’s accessible on equal terms and relationships are created. Discussions are had that would take months to schedule individually, but you’re going to have dozens of them in the span of an hour. 

Zoe Clark: Matt, as chair of the conference, you get to put a big imprint into the theme. And the theme this year is ‘The Power of And’. Tell me about that and how you’re thinking about that theme. 

Matt Elliot, Michigan Market President, Bank of America: Well, as Sandy mentioned, that this is a conversation amongst business leaders, civic leaders and others that in the current environment is very often framed in either or terms. Okay, you’re Democrat or a Republican. You’re left or right, you’re Spartan Wolverine. But we all know from a lot of personal experience and all of us have this, is that the best ideas, the best solutions come when multiple points of view are brought to the table, sometimes after a really healthy debate. And so what we want to do is leverage that power of and bring some concepts together that may have some constructive tension to them and see if we can drive forward for better solutions for everybody. 

Zoe Clark: That’s really saying something, though, that ‘The Power of And’ can work for Spartans and Wolverines. I mean you’re throwing down there. 

Matt Elliot: I’m throwing down the gantlet. And I say that as someone who grew up in mid-Michigan and a Spartan. 

Zoe Clark: Here at One Detroit, the future of work is something we talk a lot about. Talk to me about the future of work and how that might intertwine into these conversations up at the island. 

Matt Elliot: We will cover the future of work in several different ways. The most obvious one is we’ll talk a lot about talent. And one of the things we’re going to do not only in this session but others, is try to do a level set with some data. You know, it’s you can’t have an and unless you agree on a common set of facts. So we’ll start with that. And then we’ll bring out some different points of view about how we develop talent more effectively so that people can be more effective in the future of work. We’ll also talk about things like electrification and the transformation of the automotive and mobility industry, which will have a huge impact on all of us in Michigan. 

Zoe Clark: Sandy, you mentioned the sort of senior managers up on the island. As I mentioned, these are philanthropists. You know, there’s it’s heady, weighty stuff.  Help me understand for someone living right now in Detroit, in southeast Michigan, who isn’t going to the island. How what is happening on the island could affect daily lives in the future of Michigan. 

Sandy Baruah: So I’d say two things. First of all, it what happens on the island doesn’t stay on the island. It is the opposite of Las Vegas. You know, first of all, the sessions are streamed. So what our audience is seeing when you’re sitting in that, you know, that main theater room listening to either Bill Ford or Liz Cheney or Fareed Zakaria or Santa Ono, you can watch for free, thanks to our partnership with Detroit Public Television. 

The second thing I would say is that the conference has a great history of working on long-term challenges that eventually come to fruition that affect all of us. For example one, outside these windows, you can see the building of the Gordie Howe Bridge. That is something that the conference and the chamber worked on for literally 20 years, highlighted at the conference. The car insurance reform bill was signed at the conference in 2019 celebrating a bipartisan win and today’s very non, non bipartisan environment. The final pieces of the grand bargain that got Detroit through municipal bankruptcy were sealed at the conference. So there’s a whole history of things, both big and small, that kind of come to fruition or get their route started at the conference. 

Zoe Clark: This is going to be the first conference in, well, ever where Democrats are running the show in Lansing. Right. The governor, both chambers of the legislature. Has that changed the dynamic as you put this conference together or expectations of what might happen with this sort of trifecta? 

Sandy Baruah: Regardless, you know who’s in control, if it’s the R’s or the D’s. We try to program the conference in a very bipartisan way. We take pride in the fact that the Detroit Regional Chamber is a bipartisan business organization. We work with and equally are offended by both sides of the aisle.  The way it does changes is that obviously when you know, when you have Democrats in control or Republicans control, you will see more of that party on stage. Like, for example, our governor and the mayor of Detroit, both Democrats, they’re going to be featured. If they were Republicans, you would see them as Republicans. 

Zoe Clark: Matt, what are you most looking forward to from the conference this year? 

Matt Elliot: I’m very excited about a lot of the speakers. You know, I have our CEO Brian Moynihan coming. He’ll talk about how ‘The Power of And’ impacts our company and the work that we do around the world. Liz Cheney, we’ve mentioned, will also be there. And what we’re hoping is that those speakers, but also many of the panelists, drive a dialog that sounds different and lasts longer, frankly, and as Sandy said, should leave, should go beyond the porch, should go beyond the island, because we really want to sort of start conversations that drive forward for more and’s for the state of Michigan. 

Zoe Clark: Sandy, what are you most looking forward to? 

Sandy Baruah: I am really looking forward to this kind of this umbrella theme that Matt has created about ‘The Power of And’. Knitting things together. You know, we need to move as Michiganders away from trying to address our challenges and address our opportunities through purely a programmatic approach. We need to set an umbrella. What is the culture in which these programs are taking place? What is our North Star? So tying together or weaving together these multiple and’s to create a bigger picture for a bigger strategy?

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