Macomb at Mackinac

Four days of policy, progress and fudge

JPEach spring as the state of Michigan shakes off the last of the winter chill, thousands of leaders from the public and private sector make the pilgrimage to an island known for its fudge, horse drawn carriages and a great white hotel.  For 35 years Mackinac Island has been home to the famed Mackinac Policy Conference, an annual gathering of key decision makers across the state and nation. Hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, this four-day policy scrum unites individuals across the political and industry spectrum. From governors to startups, and everyone in-between, the Mackinac Policy Conference is a uniquely open, honest and refreshing forum to discuss and develop major public policy.

At this year’s conference, the chamber developed an agenda that was focused on three main policy pillars: talent, urban revitalization and cohesion. Throughout the week there were keynote addresses, panel discussions, think tanks, casual conversations and good spirited debate surrounding each of these topics. Gov. Rick Snyder highlighted Michigan’s resounding economic comeback. Mike Rowe from CNN’s “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” illustrated the necessity for skilled trades and developing a talented and diverse workforce. The Honorable Sandy Barauh, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber discussed the true force and impact of the policy conference providing a historical perspective on what has been accomplished. As each session ended conference attendees were left with a feeling of optimism and a newfound objective.

In this fast-paced setting with 1,600 attendees, dozens of programs, endless networking and a handful of social gatherings, it can be difficult for an organization to stand out. However, one of the most important aspects of the Mackinac Policy Conference is that it is a unique setting to showcase the value, impact and true passion of your organization. If you are one of the lucky few to be given a chance to present on the theater stage you have a captive audience, but outside of that you are left to the masses.  So, the question is how did Macomb County standout?  As in years past County Executive Mark A. Hackel developed a creative strategy that leveraged multiple forms of media to focus on Macomb County.

Macomb County was on full display on I-75 as conference attendees traveled north of the 45th Parallel with a series of billboards. One billboard promoted Mobilize Macomb a new transportation initiative launched by the county which is focused on developing safe and efficient ways to move people around.  Another billboard sponsored by Advancing Macomb, a newly formed philanthropic group, asked motorists “Do You Know Macomb?”  Right off the bat conference goers and media were talking about Macomb County. This provided the Macomb County delegation with a solid foundation to engage the media and engage perspective partners in dialogue. As Executive Hackel was approached for interviews and attended receptions, it was refreshing to see so many individuals talking about Macomb County, showing an interest in what we were doing. Another subtle element of Macomb County’s Mackinac presence was the distribution of thousands of coasters. This creative and cost effective form of “gorilla marketing” utilized coasters at restaurants around the island that promoted Make Macomb Your Home and illustrated interesting facts about the county. It was so successful WXYZ ran a story about them: http://www.wxyz.com/news/mackinac-policy-conference/macomb-county-takes-advantage-of-mackinac-bar-talk-with-fact-filled-coasters-at-policy-conference.

It was an eventful four days on the island. There were contacts made, agreements explored and ideas shared. I am proud to say that Macomb County was not simply a part of the conversation, but in many respects was helping lead it. Ultimately, we were successful in connecting more individuals, businesses and organizations to the many opportunities in Macomb County.

John Paul Rea is Assistant County Executive for the Macomb County Executive Office who attended the 2015 Mackinac Policy Conference.

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