It will be hard to find a discussion on Mackinac Island during this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference that won’t in some way, large or small, find itself related to either the Flint water crisis or the crisis that is Detroit Public Schools. Although the purpose of the annual forum is to highlight the wide variety of policy issues affecting the entire state, it’s not hard to determine where the centers of gravity will be located.
Recognizing the potential for either – or both – of these issues to overshadow the conference to an exaggerated extent, both Sandy Baruah, President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, and Dennis Archer Jr., this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference chair and president of both Archer Corporate Services and Ignition Media Group, are sensitive to the need to balance the oversized importance and urgency of both Flint and DPS, while at the same time trying to prevent so much baggage from weighting down the entire Mackinac experience.
It will not be an easy job, not unlike tap dancing through a minefield. During comments made during a Thursday morning press conference announcing the agenda of this year’s event, both Baruah and Archer carefully framed their comments to reflect their hopes for a productive conference that will ignite the sort of discussions and networking that could lead to some very necessary solutions.
“As Michiganders, we have a lot to be excited about and proud about in terms of the progress that we have made in the state. When you look at where our unemployment rate is, when you look at how our businesses are doing, when you look at the reputation of the state, it is largely positive,” said Baruah. “The Flint issue serves as a glaring exception to that narrative. What we need to be able to do is talk about Flint in a way that is productive and forward-looking. …We’re not going to be able to add much to the failures that happened in Flint. What we can do, however, is provide a policy and business platform for the state to come together to work on solving the issues of Flint that involve public infrastructure, that involve fundraising around today’s and tomorrow’s needs for Flint.”
Added Archer, “Today’s schools, especially in urban cities, are being challenged to do more with substantially less. The education crisis in Detroit underscores one of the biggest issues we’re facing. How to sustainably fund, and provide our students with a quality education. …Getting education right, particularly in our cities, will be essential for our region and state to prosper economically.”