Policy forum undergoes some changes

June 18, 2012
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The third West Michigan Policy Forum promises to be different from the first two. First, the venue has changed for the bi-annual, two-day conference. Instead of being held at DeVos Place, which was the setting for the 2008 and 2010 events, the policy forum will convene at St. Cecilia Music Center Sept. 12 and at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Sept. 13.

Second, there has been a format change. “We’re looking to change things up a bit and speed things up,” WMPF President Jared Rodriquez said.

Speakers will have a maximum of 20 minutes to get their points across. Gone are the first 10 minutes they were previously allotted to get the audience warmed up and the last 10 minutes to cool them down.

“We want to involve more people than in the past. We’re focused on partnerships and we’re focused on the state,” said Rodriguez, who recently addressed the Grand Valley Metro Council.

The third, and possibly most entertaining change: Rodriguez said the forum will drop the standard “rubber-chicken dinner” and instead will treat attendees to A Taste of Grand Rapids.

Thirty-five speakers are on the agenda. Amway Corp. President Doug DeVos, also WMPF chairman, will open the two-day event at 8:45 a.m. Sept. 12. The topics will cover health care, the state’s economy, securing business talent, business and its relationship to labor, transportation and economic development.

A key session Sept. 13 will feature Northwood University professor Tim Nash, who will discuss the economic impact of becoming a right-to-work state. Gaining that status is the forum’s top priority, now that the Michigan Business Tax is history, even though Gov. Rick Snyder sees such legislation as too divisive for the state.

“We feel that would put an ‘Open for Business’ sign on our border. We are looking at creating jobs and opportunities in Michigan,” said Rodriguez.

Besides the right-to-work issue, other priorities are to increase funding for health care providers that have effective prevention practices; to streamline the business permit process at the state level; and to tackle funding methods for transportation infrastructure. “We will have voting again,” he said.

Rodriguez got involved with the forum by spending a decade handling government affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which was the umbrella organization the first two conferences. He left the chamber in 2010 to guide the policy forum. “We had to do more than just have a meeting.”

The forum has a seating capacity of 600. Registration is $425; more information can be found at wmpolicyforum.com.

“We’re all being forced to do more with less,” said Rodriguez, “and we’re going to bring up more ideas.”

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