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It was pandemic postponed.  Then it was called off altogether.  Then a September date was set, but the questions and speculation kept swirling.  There were more than a few dropouts.  A Great Lakes fog of uncertainty hovered over the 2021 Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference until the ferries left the dock. But I’ve been to plenty of policy conferences and once on the island there was that old, familiar feeling with a few new twists.

Every attendee had to show proof of vaccination through an online app.  You got your choice of green, yellow and red rubber bracelets, indicating your willingness to shake hands, bump elbows or just flash a friendly smile.  Meals and networking events were outdoors, and masks were the accessory of choice at conference sessions.  It was a little less crowded but no less engaging.

The pandemic policy conference carried a theme of “reimagining a healthy Michigan,” and was appropriately chaired by Henry Ford Health System CEO, Wright Lassiter III. (VDH managed the announcement of the historic partnership between Henry Ford and Michigan State University.) Responding to the events of the past 18 months, the conference brought focus to diversity, equity and racial justice and recovering from COVID – physically, economically, and mentally. 

As with past conferences there was a strong slate of speakers including VDH client, Anika Goss, CEO of Detroit Future City.  Anika headlined a panel identifying established power structures that continue to support systemic racism through evidence-based research and data showing the damage racism does not just to people of color but to overall economic growth and prosperity.  Lisa Lunsford, GS3 Global CEO and MichAuto Chair, was the keynote at breakfast where she outlined the challenges and opportunities in developing a diverse talent pipeline in high-tech jobs. Dennis Archer, Jr. moderated another panel on racial equity in the workplace and VDH client, David Egner, CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation led a panel in exploring how the infusion of American Rescue Plan dollars can foster collaborations between government and philanthropy. 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Mayor Mike Duggan, another VDH client, represented the Democrats vision of progress in post-pandemic times.  Michigan Republicans were in shorter supply with the Senate Majority Leader publicly denouncing the Chamber’s vaccine mandate, but Republicans did get a look at the future of their party through two very different lenses. One perspective came from Robert O’Brien, former U.S. National Security Advisor in the Trump administration, who aligned former Presidents Trump and Reagan and offered optimistic predictions for the GOP in 2022.  Counterpoint came from Michael Steele, former Chair of the Republican National Committee, who called on the Republican Party to stop litigating the 2020 election, denounce the January 6 assault on the Capitol and return to the solid economic and employment policies that, for him, characterize the GOP.  A similar discussion of the future of the Democrats and the push-pull between Moderates and Progressives would have been welcome. 

VDH managed plenty of media opportunities and introductions for clients over the four days including Business Leaders for Michigan, Deloitte, Detroit Future City, GS3 Global, Health Alliance Plan and Marathon Petroleum.  Media Row in the Grand Hotel was buzzing with VDH clients.

September meant more walks in the dark – both morning and evening – than May, but the conference maintained its position as a magnet for thought leaders and one of the best networking spots in Michigan.  And for those who swung by the Pink Pony after conference hours, it was like nothing had changed at all.

Client Highlights

Cheers to our clients! Invest Detroit's Randy Hyde and Health Alliance Plan's Mark Vanderburg on being recognized as Notable LGBTQ in Business (4)
Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design (2)
HAP Vaccines (5)
Obama Opening (2)
LIHTC (3)
Godfrey Hotel (2)
Kahn Apartments (2)
Eaze Launch (4)
Max Mara @ Somerset (2)
McNichols Sreetscape (2)
Marathon Op-Ed (4)
WCDPS Miller Bridge (2)

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