'Big picture' approach best method of survival

September 22, 2010
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The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce West Michigan Policy Forum last week will be noted for a handful of specific, selected initiatives and hundreds of quotable moments, but its overall impact will continue to ripple statewide for its demonstrated leaders united on the “big picture.” Public and private partnerships are the legend of this region and the “how-to” of that is slowly seeping into consciousness in other areas. Policy Forum co-chair Doug DeVos was passionate in his opening charge, “We need to stay united; this isn’t about (one business) group or another or about big business or small business. It’s about staying united and focused. And we have to be relentless.”

Some aspect of this was underscored during later remarks by the president of American Chamber of Commerce Executives Mick Fleming, who emphasized the importance of regional strategy as “imperative.”  He also noted the real and important grassroots (or grasstops) political charge across the country but further defined it saying research published in Ad Age shows it is most specific to “influential people influencing influentials. “There is now a smaller degree of separation between people. The grasstops matter.”

A number of highly regarded nationally known speakers reinforced the Forum committee’s objectives, with an additional focus on education and improvements. While non-partisan groups like Michigan Future and Center for Michigan have spent years formulating well-discussed and widely shared white papers on many of the initiatives discussed last week, their impact was multiplied by the synergy and passion coming from both the speakers and their audience of approximately 600.

It is interesting to note that the Downtown Rotary Club speaker across the street on Thursday was emphasizing Michigan’s Six Pillars for Prosperity and echoing much of what Forum speakers shared. Bill Rustem of Public Sector Consultants also held a rapt audience citing sources as varied as reports in Forbes, Richard Florida and the Brookings Institute, mirroring much of the Forum initiatives.

“What we need is leadership and vision,” Rustem told his Rotary audience. “You guys can influence that. If we make another decision on our governor based on what did or didn’t happen in China, we’re in trouble.” He also reiterated a dominant Policy Forum theme: the need for a regional approach to problem solving. “We’ve got to get by our fiefdom thinking in this state.”

It is also noteworthy that Twitter and Facebook carried the conference information in abbreviated segments that drew far more widespread audience than simply those attending. As all is said — or finally done — a newer generation of business leaders have been mentored. The entrepreneurial efforts discussed in detail last week (and those to be announced this week) have been fanned.

The initiatives given rank last week by those attending the Forum are imperatives for this state, but the exactness of the minutiae of process are, as DeVos said, less important. It’s about the mission, and the focus to see the mission through.

The success of the Forum will be measured by that “relentless” focus on the big picture.

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