Street Talk

Funny things happened at the Policy Forum

September 17, 2012
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The West Michigan Policy Forum drew participants from far and wide, extending to two happily vocal representatives of the Upper Peninsula and approximately 60 from east Michigan. The final score at the close of the extensive two-day political action party was Marge Byington Potter 1, Peter Secchia 0.

Some readers may recall the long political relationship the two have fostered since Byington’s service as the first woman on the Kent County Board of Commissioners and chief crusader for the Market Avenue trash-burning facility. Byington now serves as Detroit International Tunnel Partnership chief. She was able to tie the tunnel project funding to a more general transportation recommendation that made the top five initiatives for action at the close of the policy forum.

Secchia had argued passionately for Right To Work legislation, extending forum representation to Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, who provided analysis of job growth in states with such legislation in place, most recently including Indiana, which appeared to support Secchia’s argument that Right To Work is a job stimulus.

It failed, however, to make the final five action initiatives in votes cast by most of the 600 forum attendees. This made policy forum director Jared Rodriguez nervous — so much so that the Business Journal would not be surprised to see such legislation pursued, perhaps by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

The real snarl, however, was in the technology failures both with on-screen presentations, vote tabulation delays, Internet access and recharging stations with no power. But the power wasn’t in the technology anyway; it was in the networking among business leaders from across the state.

Such power also extended to invited guests with national perspective, including PAC reception speaker Rich Galen, a political analyst often seen on CNN and Fox news and former press secretary to House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Galen presented very interesting analysis of the presidential election polling, which no one could hear. The reception was hosted by Potomac Strategic Development, but forum planners held the reception in a tent outside St. Cecilia Music Center, making it difficult to hear him even with a microphone. Most of the attendees were busily networking and enjoying beer and cocktails amid his presentation.

Survey says

The WMPF took its constituents’ electronic pulse throughout the conference, including on what would become West Michigan’s message to Lansing: The five most important topics to be addressed in the next two years.

Here are the issues Gov. Rick Snyder was presented, as well as the voting breakdown, ranked by Extremely Important, Somewhat Important and Not Important.

  • Build the new International Trade Crossing, a new freight tunnel connecting Michigan to Canada: 86 percent, 11 percent and 3 percent.

  • Improve transportation infrastructure by creating policies that maximize federal matching funds: 76 percent, 20 percent and 4 percent.

  • Develop common K-12 and higher education metrics that better prepare students for Michigan’s future work force needs: 67 percent, 25 percent and 8 percent.

  • Dedicate funds to early childhood development in the state budget: 62 percent, 29 percent and 9 percent.

  • Support policies that enable local government consolidation: 55 percent, 40 percent and 5 percent.

Wisdom from above

A trio of Yoopers from Marquette were at the Forum and shared a wise perspective with the Business Journal.

Amy J. Clickner, CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership (an economic development agency covering the U.P. and based in Marquette) noted that she also attends the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. That granddaddy of Michigan policy conferences has been held for years each spring on Mackinac Island — that’s part of the UP, eh? — and gets a lot of attention in Lansing.

Clickner said she understood the WMPF came about because West Michigan’s business leaders felt this region had been slighted too often in Lansing, and southeast Michigan — as represented by the Mackinac Conference — was running the show.

But the new West Michigan conference may already have had an impact on the Mackinac Conference. The last two years she was there, Clickner said she found the conference to be “very engaging for all folks across the state. But I was told that it had really opened up since (the WMPF) originated.”

When it comes to being slighted, West Michigan can’t hold a candle to the Upper Peninsula. In 2009, in fact, Mike Lahti, a peeved state representative from Hancock, got a law passed that literally requires any state map published by the Michigan government to include the U.P.

“It’s sad that it has to be legislated, but you do eventually find it offensive when your part of the state is missing,” said Clickner. “We find that we all have the same issues and same policy concerns, just on different scales among the regions.”

Incidentally, the Packers won last week, “so we are very happy here in Marquette today,” Clickner reported on Friday.

See? We don’t all root for the Lions, either.

In other news

This just in: Kent County Commissioner and local attorney Jim Saalfeld has been appointed to the Michigan State Judicial Review Commission, a rather prestigious (and difficult) group of rulers of the rulers.

Be neighborly

My, how time flies. It seemed like just a few months ago the 22nd Annual Neighborhood Business Awards were awarded. But late last week, Neighborhood Ventures Executive Director Mark Lewis let us know it’s time to make nominations for the 23rd Annual Neighborhood Business Awards.

“Think your neighborhood restaurant is the best in Grand Rapids? What about that renovation down the street, is it better than the rest?” he asked.

Awards are made in 13 categories. The nominating form is at Time is of the essence: Nominations must be received by next week Friday. The awards ceremony will be held Nov. 1 from 5- 8 p.m. at the historic Wealthy Street Theater.

Custer’s stand

Custer and Steelcase on Wednesday are hosting a celebration as part of a year-long recognition of Steelcase’s 100th anniversary and its reinvention as a globally integrated enterprise, focused on the future of work.

Looking ahead to the next 100 years, Steelcase and Custer are launching a celebration called “100 Dreams, 100 Minds, 100 Years,” a dialog about the future and the innovation necessary to support the changing world of work. Steelcase began its anniversary initiative by asking children from around the world to envision how people will live and work in the future and to complete the sentence “One day ...” with their own ideas expressed in artwork and stories.

Highlights of these “100 Dreams” are captured in a documentary film titled “One Day” that will be seen at the 100-year anniversary event and is available online at, along with the children’s artwork.

The company also invited “100 Minds” — thought leaders from around the world — to share their ideas for the future. These contributors share their thoughts through words, drawings, photographs and other multimedia on the site. Locally, Custer has invited “100 Minds” from Grand Rapids to engage in a global conversation with other participants from around the globe.

“Since Steelcase was founded in 1912, and Custer was founded in 1981, we have partnered together to provide insights around work, workers and the workplace,” said Dave Custer, president.

“Steelcase’s centennial year is an opportunity to celebrate our partnership and cherish the legacy of our past and embrace our purpose going forward. The 100-year anniversary celebration with our ‘100 Minds’ will create a vision for the future of work and explore all that makes us optimistic for the next 100 years.”

The Custer 2012 ArtPrize opening night event celebrating Steelcase’s 100th anniversary is by invitation only.

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