Rowe: 'Prevailing age' more key than prevailing wage

The first day of the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference placed a special emphasis on addressing the state's gap in trained skilled trades workers.

The focus on developing a workforce of more construction workers comes as Republican lawmakers in the Legislature and some business groups are pushing for the repeal of prevailing wages for government building projects.

TV personality Mike Rowe, star of the former show "Dirty Jobs," gave one of the keynote speeches Wednesday. At a press conference with Gov. Rick Snyder, a Detroit News reporter asked Rowe whether a prevailing wage law is necessary to get more people to pursue careers in the dirty jobs he documented on his TV show.

"I have no idea," Rowe said, generating a roomful of laughter. "I have no idea at all."

Rowe talked about a campaign he worked on in Alabama a few years ago to get more young people in the construction workforce, which had an average age of 55.

"Nobody was talking about prevailing wage, they were talking about prevailing age," Rowe said. "And it reset the entire conversation."

Snyder reiterated his opposition to repealing Michigan's prevailing wage law for local government and school buildings.

'Future member' finds funding

Attending the Mackinac Policy Conference ain't cheap. Just ask Grant Bradley, a senior at Michigan State University.

Bradley attended the conference for the first time after launching a crowd-sourcing campaign on to raise $2,925 in sponsorships to pay the registration fee for "future members" of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

The 20-year-old native of Three Rivers, Mich., also raised enough money to cover the cost of a hotel room in Mackinaw City.

"I paid my own gas," Bradley said. "I'm grateful for (the donors)."

Bradley, who describes himself as a "moderate Republican," is spending the week introducing himself to GOP politicians and operatives, hoping to find a job working on a campaign next year.

Gov. Snyder gets award

Dean Kamen, a self-professed geek and inventor of the battery-powered Segway scooter, is passionate about igniting a spark in students to share his love of science and technology.

That's why he created a contest for students called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). High-school-aged participants are eligible to apply for more than $15 million in scholarships from leading colleges, universities and corporations.

Kamen also hands out "Make it Loud" awards during the championships.

"Last month, I decided whom to give the award to this year," Kamen said, noting it goes to Gov. Rick Snyder for encouragement of science learning.

"There were more rookie high school teams in the state of Michigan this year than rookies in the rest of the country combined," he said to thunderous applause from the audience.

Contributors: Chad Livengood, Shawn Lewis