Column: Mackinac is Mich.’s management seminar

Sandy Baruah and Stephen Polk

The Mackinac Policy Conference is Michigan’s management seminar: 1,700 people representing the state’s top corporate, civic and public leadership sequestered on a storied island, away from the distractions of the office, household chores and the like.

Our conversations are further enhanced by developing three unique “pillars” each year. This allows our programming and the participants to focus on three unique aspects of Michigan’s future. For 2017, our 37th year, our program pillars are: Restoring Civility in American Politics, Winning the Race in Connected Technology, and Increasing Economic Opportunity. Three things central to our society and economy in the years to come.

The Mackinac Policy Conference is unique in the nation. No other state has a state-wide management seminar that is such a fabric of the state’s conversation — and that has been as successful and long-running as Mackinac. Each year, leaders from organizations across the nation come to the Mackinac conference to see it for themselves. Despite their best efforts, no one has yet to replicate this unique experience. The leadership of the Detroit Regional Chamber fully understands that it is the steward of unique Michigan asset and we take this responsibly seriously.

Here’s what you can expect to hear about at this year’s conference:

Restoring civility in American politics: Society is beginning to devolve into tribes. The art of conversation and compromise seems to be disappearing before our eyes. The conference will highlight the role civic leaders can play in “lowering the volume” and returning to the practice of civil conversation — the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. National thought leaders such as presidential historian Michael Beschloss, MSNBC’s and Mackinac regular Harold Ford Jr., and documentary filmmaker Julie Winokur will help lead these discussions. National trend boiled over in the last year, leading to polarization and, too often, paralysis.

Winning the race in connected technology: Yes, the connected and autonomous vehicle is likely to change our world just as Henry Ford’s invention did over 100 years ago. But the future is far more than cars driving around by themselves. Big data and the internet of things is poised to change how we live our lives — and the efficiency of our society. Are Michigan companies and citizens prepared for this coming revolution? National experts such as Ingeborg Rocker of Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCity, John Kwant from Ford’s City Solutions, and Geoff Colvin of Fortune magazine will help shape this conversation.

Increasing economic opportunity: The 21st century economy has generated a lot of winners — and many will be on the island for the conference. But our society cannot achieve its full potential unless more of our citizens have a pathway to economic and social success. Closing the opportunity gap is something that everyone supports, but an agreed upon best way forward has not yet been found. We are pleased to welcome leading visionaries such as Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation, Amy Liu of the Brookings Institution as well as Wes Moore, the new head of the Robin Hood Foundation to help us wrestle with this critical issue.

Of course, there are plenty of other notables appearing at the conference, including Michigan leaders such as Gov. Snyder, Wright Lassiter III, Joe Lehman, Anya Babbitt, John McElroy and others. If you can’t make it to the island, don’t worry, thanks to our partnership with DPTV you can watch the Mackinac Policy Conference on any public television station or livestreamed on the DPTV or Detroit Regional Chamber website. We are proud that this is a Conference for the entire state, accessible to everyone.

Sandy Baruah is President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. Stephen Polk is the 2017 Mackinac Policy Conference Chair and President and CEO of Highgate, LLC.