Think the Mackinac Policy Conference is for ‘elite’ types? Not with Detroit Unspun there


Here’s a word that should annoy, bug, irritate, vex and otherwise make any normal Michigan resident more than a little irked: An “elite” conference.

I saw that word this morning as I was prepping to drive up to the Mackinac Policy Conference, and it got my solidly middle-class blood boiling. Granted, with limited space and a sizable price tag, getting into the Mackinac Policy Conference is an effort for any individual. There’s a price to pay to be part of the greater conversation about Michigan, its current issues and its future.

DetroitBut it is a price that a person of any status can pay. Now, I’m not saying that it’s easy to save the conference price or find inexpensive lodging on or near Mackinac Island. But it is possible. There are less expensive hotels than the conference site, the Grand Hotel. There are ways to make this work – you can save money over the course of 12 months and you can attend.

Is it truly elite? Yes, in one sense. It is an elite group of individuals who will come together: Business owners. Government stars. Incredible non-profit leaders. But then there are also schmucks like me, who got a sponsorship to go. There are young bucks like Rachel Lutz of the Peacock Room and Andy Didorosi of the Detroit Bus Company, who also received scholarships to get to the Island and bring their small-business agenda to the forefront.

Here’s really what I want to say about the next four days: They count. There will be discussions that could create big new things for Michigan and its cities, Detroit in particular. And if you think that only “elitists” get there, you’re wrong. I’m guarantee that the people who are there feel gratitude for their part in the Mackinac Policy Conference. And if they don’t, they should.

I figured I need an agenda as well while I’m there. And this is what I came up with: I’m there to be the eyes and ears of so-called normal people. I’m going to try to attend every session, be there for every roundtable discussion. And I’ll listen with my BS meter at full volume. I want to screen what’s said from a different perspective – that of a Mom, a woman, a small-business owner (of a sort; I’m my only employee), of a city booster, of a Detroit advocate, of a suburban wife, of a regular Jo.

Look to this space to see my regular reports from the Island – an Island that I know and love. I was a newspaper intern for the Mackinac Island Town Crier, and I lived on Mackinac for a summer. I also have visited more times than I can count. I feel like I know that place, both in terms of its geography and its residents. I still have friends there, and I try to stay in touch with Island life. I’m going to try to touch on their stories as well this week, to share what I know of the day-to-day life of this unusual place.

As for the Detroit Regional Chamber, they have a mission with this event as well. They want to tell the Michigan story with people and events. They want a conference to bond people on site. They want moments to happen – moments of inspiration, of wonder, of intellect. There will be a lot of small talk and blather, sure. But there also will be meetings where people who never thought they would be in the same room together will meet, see they have something in common and make plans to talk again. Change will happen, of that I truly believe.

MeThere are three main topics to this 2015 Mackinac Policy Conference: How to develop skilled trades, how to boost our urban centers and how to create a “Michigan voice” or cohesion. Every speaker, every subject brought forward will tackle these issues. There also is an underlying agenda of telling another story – of how people are doing well in this state by doing good. That could mean through their charity work, through their daily jobs, through their contributions.

There will be sensitive topics tackled as well – race, poverty, how we use power or misuse it in this state. There will be rallies that ask participants to do better, to be better and to bring new life to their communities upon their return. It is aspirational, I know. But I think it is achievable.

So is it elitist? Are only the elite on hand? Time will tell. I’ll keep an eye out for any fancy-pants discussions…maybe I’ll try to interrupt and add some reality. Maybe I won’t get a seat next to the Big Shooters, but I sure can write faster than they can, and I’ve got this here blog space to tell my version of each story. An old newspaper adage goes something like this: Never mess with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Here’s the modern version: Never mess with someone who has the digital world at their fingertips.

See you on the Island. Let’s do this.

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