Big names lined up for West Michigan Policy Forum

July 29, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Three of Michigan’s better known business leaders plus the representative of a newly famous educational organization and a bestselling author are on tap to make presentations at the 2012 West Michigan Policy Forum Sept. 12 and 13.

Khan Academy President Shantanu Sinha’s talk will help promote dialog about education and how good education policy can improve the lives of Michigan children. Khan Academy is actually a collection of more than 3,000 low-budget videos on math and science instruction made by Salman Khan, which have been viewed online, for free, all over the world — an estimated 160 million times. Khan is a former hedge-fund manager in Silicon Valley who originally just wanted to help his teenage cousin with her algebra homework.

As the leader of the renowned Khan Academy, Sinha is helping reshape the way people learn and use technology and innovative teaching methods that allow anyone anywhere to get a world-class education.

The renowned author lined up for the policy forum is former Medtronic chairman and CEO Bill George, who wrote his best-selling book about leadership, “True North,” after stepping down at Medtronic in 2002. He also became a professor of management at Harvard. His presentation will focus on finding one’s “authentic leadership.”

“We are honored to welcome Shantanu Sinha and Bill George for what we know will be the most forward-looking West Michigan Policy Forum thus far,” said Jared Rodriguez, president of the WMPF. “The issues our speakers discuss will inspire and allow event attendees to develop a policy agenda that will help move Michigan forward.”

Three of Michigan’s best-known business leaders will take the stage to discuss how investing in Michigan’s urban areas is helping the state’s economy grow and attract new talent. Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loans chairman and Detroit Venture Partners general partner, Dick DeVos, Windquest CEO and Grand Action co-chairman, and Dan Loepp, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, will make a joint appearance Sept. 13 to discuss their investments in some of Michigan’s urban core areas.

Rodriguez said their investments in core communities “as well as their philanthropic commitments are helping to revitalize our state’s economy and make our cities more vibrant places to live and work.”

Gilbert is helping reshape downtown Detroit with significant investments in “WEBward Avenue,” a play on words referring to Detroit’s famous Woodward Avenue. His work has resulted in the restoration of several historic downtown buildings, the relocation of Quicken Loans headquarters to Campus Martius, and dozens of large and small employers opening new offices in downtown Detroit.

DeVos has helped spearhead Grand Action’s work in this region, resulting in a new arena and convention center downtown. He also has worked with his family on major private and philanthropic investments, including the recently opened Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, the Medical Mile and Cherry Street Landing.

Under Loepp’s leadership, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has invested in modern new offices that brought thousands of its employees into downtown Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing, spurring millions of dollars in spin-off economic activity.

The two-day conference will build on the momentum established at the first two West Michigan Policy Forum gatherings in 2008 and 2010. A major change this year is the location: The forum will be held at St. Cecilia’s Music Center and Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids instead of DeVos Place.

“In 2011, we celebrated success with the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax, a central pillar of the WMPF agenda in 2008 and 2010,” Rodriguez said. “But there is still work to be done when it comes to making Michigan a freedom-to-work state, retaining talent, building a solid transportation infrastructure network and health care policy.”

The WMPF is backed by partner chambers of commerce in Grand Haven, Grand Rapids, Holland, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Muskegon, Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, Saginaw and Traverse City along with the support of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan and Detroit Regional Chamber.

Amway Corp. President Doug DeVos, who is the chair of the WMPF board, will open the two-day conference the morning of Sept. 12. This year’s event co-chairs are Jeff Connolly, president for West Michigan at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; Jim Dunlap, regional president for Huntington Bank; and Matthew Haworth, chairman of Haworth Inc.

More than 500 attendees are expected at the conference, with each of them using a special iPad app to participate in real-time policy discussions and question-and-answer sessions. Attendees may either bring their own iPad or borrow one when they arrive.

Along with face-to-face networking and data from top business and policy experts, attendees will cast electronic votes to produce an agenda to drive policy actions in the Michigan Legislature.

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