West Michigan Policy Forum to be independent of chamber

February 5, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has unveiled plans to create a separate, independent organization for the West Michigan Policy Forum, which will allow it to continue to advocate throughout Michigan for pro-business policy reform in the state government of Michigan.

According to the chamber announcement, the new plan allows the WMPF to work with various partners to build a strong Michigan job base with other chambers of commerce and business leader groups. The WMPF will work with organizations and associations throughout the state to host discussions and establish priorities on policy issues, “with a focus on grassroots efforts to change policy on the state level,” according to GRACC.

Co-chairs of the West Michigan Policy Forum since its inception in 2008 are Doug DeVos, Jim Dunlap, Jeff Connolly and Peter Secchia, who will remain in leadership roles with the new entity as it organizes. They have asked Jared Rodriguez, senior vice president of government affairs at GRACC, to continue in his role as executive director of the new entity. A steering committee comprising business leaders, chambers of commerce and other statewide business organizations will be asked to advise the new entity.

The new organization will be “a separate, nonprofit 501(c)(4) entity, an advocacy entity, and it will not be housed at the Grand Rapids Chamber,” said Rodriguez. He couldn’t identify the office location of the new entity, which will have a staff of its own, but said it will be “right in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.”

“Once the Policy Forum is all set up and everything is ready to go, I will transition over to the new entity,” he said, adding that he expects his employment at the chamber to continue through March.

Rodriguez, who as head of GRACC’s government affairs focus, works much of the time in Lansing meeting with elected officials. He was named vice president of government affairs in 2005.

The first West Michigan Policy Forum (then called “Conference” instead of “Forum”) was held in Grand Rapids in September 2008, organized by a coalition of chambers led by the Grand Rapids Chamber. Several hundred people representing chambers and businesses from throughout the western half of the Lower Peninsula attended, and debated the issues hurting business in Michigan. By the end of the conference, they had voted in favor of five specific “directives” to the state government to revitalize Michigan’s economy. Those are:

  • Eliminate the Michigan Business Tax with corresponding spending cuts.

  • Implement a right-to-work status for Michigan.

  • Increase funding for health care providers with prevention practices.

  • Streamline the state government business permits process.

  • Update funding mechanisms for the state's transportation infrastructure.

“After 2008, it grew into something a big larger than just an event; it became more of a grassroots movement,” said Rodriguez.

The forums are held every two years; the second was held last September.

For the first event in 2008, GRACC set up executive and steering committees from throughout the region and invited a number of business leaders and other chambers to take part in the planning and promotion of the event.

“In 2010, the Policy Forum grew to successfully engage leaders from 24 Michigan communities,” said DeVos. “We found common ground and began to advocate successfully together on issues such as reforming Michigan’s Business Tax. Now we need to continue to expand and secure partners in all sorts of business associations to create a complete overhaul of the policies that make it difficult to do business and create jobs in our state.”

“Launching successful initiatives aimed at strengthening business is at the core of the chamber’s mission,” said Meg Goebel, GRACC board chair. “Through the years, the chamber has successfully developed and launched initiatives like The Right Place, Downtown Alliance, Experience Grand Rapids and others. In each case, the chamber becomes the seeding organization and, as the entity gains support, it can move on to further its mission and goals. We will continue to remain a partner and support their efforts.”

“Michigan is at a defining moment in our state’s history,” said Dunlap. “We have a unique opportunity to rid the state of a number of anti-business policies and procedures. The Policy Forum began an important grassroots-based conversation in our state that resonated with voters in the recent election. We believe that we have a responsibility to keep that message strong in Lansing. We need to help our elected officials remain accountable for developing a climate more conducive to recruiting and retaining business and jobs in our state.”

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