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Friday, 31 May 2013 18:20

Mackinac Policy Conference: It's a wrap – Lessons & questions from MPC13

Written by  Kurt Brauer
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The main conference events concluded this morning with Gov. Rick Snyder's keynote address. The noticeably smaller, yet very enthusiastic, crowd was revved up and ready to listen to the governor talk about the future of Michigan and how we need to make tough decisions to keep moving Michigan forward.

It all started with a question: "In the last five years, how many of you here thought Michigan's best days were ahead of us or behind us?"

Most of us have wondered about that as our state absorbed the brunt of the "Great Recession." The governor reiterated his mantra that we are the "comeback state" – and, indeed, our best days are still ahead of us.

Consider: We're on track for recovery, unemployment is down, housing prices are up and the trend of losing population is reversing. We are reinventing government while at the same time, businesses are reinventing themselves to compete in the growing global marketplace.

Focusing on the "cultural change" pillar, Gov. Snyder admonished us to work on our mindset – in other words, changing our culture to embrace and be "loud and proud" about the positive movement and successes.

He addressed several issues head on:

  • First, how do we change the role of government to be responsive and provide great customer service at all levels? Becoming more of an asset to citizens and less of a roadblock to change and investment are paramount, he told the crowd.
  • Second, how can we be more financially responsible as a state? Government needs to act more like a family that looks at its obligations and makes good decisions based upon not just the current financial situation, but the long-term best interest of the group.
  • Third, government needs to take a long-term view for providing essential governmental services, not a year-by-year approach that ignores extended obligations – echoing John Nixon's earlier comments. Nixon said, "Anybody can balance a budget for one year. You need to consider the long-term viability of the state's financial resources if you are going to be responsible."
  • Fourth, adequate, reliable transportation funding is a top goal to be accomplished if we are going to stay on the road to prosperity, pun intended. As a state, we need to do an oil change (by fixing roads now), rather than replacing the whole engine (or the road) later because adequate maintenance has not been performed.

On education, the governor reminded us that we need to focus on making sure all students have the opportunity to grow and learn, rather than simply advancing students so they (maybe) get a diploma. Whether a young person is going to go to college, learning skilled trades or attending technical training schools, the opportunity needs to be in place.

Can we effectively deliver health care services, he queried. Clearly, the current unmanaged and uncontrolled system for delivering health care services to the uninsured or underinsured needs to be fixed by lowering costs and focusing on preventative care rather than using emergency rooms as primary health care service providers.

The question is: How do we do this in a smart way, properly allocating resources along with obtaining personal responsibility and accountability? As with education, continuing with the existing health care delivery model for governmental programs is simply insanity. That's my word, not the governor's – he may prefer "dumb." Even our current federal reforms do not address the underlying wellness crisis or funding for people that are not in the system.

Generally, there are significant changes that still need to be made in how government works and interacts with businesses and citizens. Snyder stressed that we need to break down the barriers created when public or private sectors refuse to look outside their silos. Also, we need to stop the "heroine drip of government" by working together in the private sector to solve problems where the government cannot (or should not) be the solution.

Collaboration is essential, he said, and nothing is more important than developing talent and fostering the environment to continue to lead the state to the best days that are ahead of us. Government is not the solution, it is simply the enabler to produce the environment in which the community, including businesses, can be successful.

Want to be a Michigan ambassador? Day two of the conference saw the launch of "Let's Do Something Michigan" to get people involved. How do you get involved? The Governor invited the audience to text the word "action" to 25827 to help spread the good news about Michigan. Since Thursday afternoon, 5,000 people have done so. Let's be "loud and proud" and trumpet our accomplishments so that the rest of the world understands what a great place Michigan is to live, work and play.

Gov. Snyder closed by reinforcing his message of "relentless positive action." We need to encourage an environment for entrepreneurs (such as Henry Ford with his third – and finally successful – iteration of the Ford Motor Co.) and not fear attempting something simply because you might fail.

Rather, we can accomplish more by learning from both failures and successes than we can accomplish through inaction because we fear a negative outcome. Is relentless positive action heading to Washington, D.C.? Time will tell. Michigan needs to set the bar high and lead by example – maybe the lesson will rub off, and our national government will focus on solving our nation's problems, much as Michigan is taking care of its own house.

It's been an exhilarating three days of action-packed discussion on how Michigan can continue on its upward trajectory, setting goals and instituting reform in many sectors, such as education, business and our culture. The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce is already working aggressively to tabulate the data from the conference, coming up with its "to-do" list of items to resolve before next year's conference and begin implementing the fixes.

Time will tell how much we can accomplish between now and next year's conference. Fingers crossed that the enthusiasm – and the momentum – continues.


Kurt M. Brauer is a partner at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP's Southfield office where he co-chairs the firm's economic incentives group. He can be reached at  [email protected].

Read 3932 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 12:19

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