Restoring Hope

Grand Hotel

Once ignored, now restored. 

That’s what has happened to interest  in Michigan’s urban centers, according to Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, who will welcome approximately 1,500 of the state’s most powerful stakeholders  at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference (MPC) on Mackinac Island next week.

“What happens on the island will not stay on the island,” promises Baruah, who led efforts to transform the conference’s reputation of being long on talk and short on action since taking the leadership helm in 2010.

Under Baruah’s leadership, the conference has emerged to become a critical conscience and catalyst of collaborative statewide efforts, including strategies for urban renewal.

Major conference initiatives are now assigned metrics and tracking mechanisms in order to better monitor progress through the Mackinac Policy To-Do List, which is now a Conference tradition. 


Detroit, long considered to be the state’s “problem child,” is poised to take on a “favored city” status at this year’s conference, which will focus on urban redevelopment initiatives.

“We cannot ignore Detroit’s challenges,”  said Baruah, adding:  

“Detroit is like a tale of two cities. While we are admittedly undergoing the worst of times and face daunting financial challenges, we also are on the precipice of what may well be the best of times with the momentum of commitments like Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan’s commitment to bring its total workforce to 6,000 employees downtown, Compuware, Price Waterhouse Coopers and Quicken Loans’ urban investments, and Chrysler’s move to bring more than 70 marketing executives into the Dime Building.”

“There is no one better to lead this effort  than our 2012 MPC Chair and Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) CEO Nancy Schlichting,” he stated. “HFHS- led ‘Live Midtown’ efforts with partners Detroit Medical Center (DMC) and Wayne State University (WSU) to encourage Midtown Detroit occupancy rates has exceeded our greatest expectations.

“Detroit needs more programs and people like this,” Baruah comments.


This year’s conference will put younger executives center stage. Why?

“We can’t expect to attract and retain younger professionals (YPs) to live, work and play in our urban centers if we don’t include them in constructive efforts,” he says.  

Chamber efforts to recruit a higher level of YP involvement at this year’s conference have resulted in a greater presence of YPs and entrepreneurs, critical to Michigan’s small and medium size business sector.


“The 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference is the perfect stage to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit and energy that is driving innovation in Michigan,” said Schlichting. “We have no greater asset than the entrepreneurs who continue to push the envelope and refuse to accept business as usual. This session will reflect the infusion of new ideas throughout Detroit and across the state that are leading Michigan’s continued recovery.


Baruah and Schlichting hope that the conference’s national speakers —  including Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist and New York Times bestselling author; Fareed Zakaria, host, Time magazine editor and Washington Post columnist; Donna Brazile, best-selling author, vice chair, Voter Registration and Participation, Democratic National Committee, who was also former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush; and Tucker Eskew, former director, White House Office of Global Communications, and others — will be inspired by conference activities and become vocal advocates of Detroit’s redevelopment activities.

EDs & MEDs

Two sectors sure to have a presence at this year’s conference are education (EDs) and healthcare (MEDs).  

“Michigan needs to better prepare students to compete for jobs in the high-growth healthcare industry, which is driving economic development statewide,” states Schlichting. “We need to identify more collaborative ways to fully utilize our universities and respective research capabilities here in Michigan.”


Straw polls planned at a session at this year’s conference will gauge participants’ response to issues from healthcare reform and tax incentives to transportation. Baruah and Schlichting want conference attendees to walk away from this year’s conference with a renewed sense of purpose and action plans to contribute to Michigan’s economic recovery efforts.

Our future may well depend on it.

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