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Thursday, 06 March 2014 23:44

Populus conference to discuss impact of public policy on Southwest Michigan communities

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A new Kalamazoo event aims to encourage people in Southwest Michigan to set aside political differences and start a conversation about building quality of life and a sustainable future.

The daylong gathering March 28 dubbed “Populus 2014” is being sponsored by Southwest Michigan First.  

Leaders with the economic development agency say the event is about people changing their community by bringing together thought leaders, policy makers and engaged citizens who share the vision of making Southwest Michigan a region of economic growth and relevance.

By attending Populus, officials with Southwest Michigan First said participants will take part in interactive discussions that will shape the region’s public policy agenda and set the direction for its collective voice in the state.

“We want to begin to have a different conversation as it relates to public policy and how that impacts our community,” said Tim Terrentine, vice president of Southwest Michigan First.

Although there was no one particular incident that sparked the Populus 2014 event, there was a growing realization that partisanship at the national level is negatively impacting efforts to move the United States forward, Terrentine said. Having more people from all backgrounds involved in conversations about improving the state of the communities they live in is necessary for the region’s success, he said.

On a regional level, these discussions will address issues of concern to individuals representing the philanthropic sector, students, the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, and faith-based communities, in addition to many others. The community conversation will lay the groundwork for these different groups to align with one another to address the issues they identify as being important to the success of the region and its residents, Terrentine said.

“Public policy is kind of the backdrop, but this really is about community and civic engagement and it’s about more than the usual suspects involved in the conversation,” he said.

Representatives with Southwest Michigan First have been reaching out to diverse groups in the region and making phone calls to encourage them to attend Populus 2014 and speak openly about the issues that are important to them as it relates to quality of life and vibrancy in their communities. The diversity goes beyond race to include age, gender, life experience, industry and their passions.

A trio of speakers will get the conversations started by highlighting the importance of creative thought, civic engagement and innovative ideas. The speakers include Richard Florida, best-selling author of The Rise of the Creative Class; Nigel Jacob from the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics; and Christopher Leinberger, Metropolitan Land Use Strategist and visiting fellow with The Brookings Institution.

“Populus 2014 was created to bring together leaders from around our region who want to make a difference by advocating for public policy that will help position our community to more aggressively achieve job creation,” Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First, said in a statement.

Kitchens has often said that a good-paying job is the most powerful force for change in a community. Two years ago, Southwest Michigan First began making a big push for a region-wide effort to work toward job creation. At that time, Kitchens said it was important to sell the entire eight county region – not just Kalamazoo County.

Business leaders say that workforce development is a big issue for them, Terrentine said. Matching available talent to the requirements of job postings involves community and economic development expertise as well as the participation of those who shape public policy, he said.

“To deal with workforce development, we need all hands on deck,” Terrentine said.

It also requires taking a look at what other communities are doing to create jobs and lay the groundwork for long-term success.

The issues and common visions shared by stakeholders in Southwest Michigan will help the region to buck national and state trends that show many communities are not investing or re-investing in their urban areas, Terrentine said. The region’s three major urban areas continue to grow and he said the rural communities each have micro-urban communities.

“There are certain things that are done and a certain way to work on policy, civic engagement and placemaking in those communities that have been successful,” Terrentine said. “We are continuing to invest and re-invest in our urban cities and making sure our investments are smart and that we’re all working together. This is a proactive approach to start working on issues the city of Kalamazoo is facing now.”

Community leaders and residents of Kalamazoo and the entire Southwest Michigan region must make the effort to attack issues of concern, he added, noting the area has a reputation for taking a forward-thinking approach.

“Sometimes, it’s kind of like realizing you’ve got the best seats on the Titanic,” he said. “We’ve got to work together and collectively to do business in a better way.”

• What: A daylong event to bring together diverse groups in Southwest Michigan to start a community conversation on public policy and its impact on the region. Sponsored by Southwest Michigan First.
• When: Friday, March 28, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Where: Kalamazoo State Theater, 404 South Burdick Street
• Cost: $100
Speaker include: Richard Florida, best-selling author; Nigel Jacob, the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics; Christopher Leinberger, Metropolitan Land Use Strategist and visiting fellow with The Brookings Institution. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley will also participate.
• More information:, or contact Justine Griffin: (616) 902-3175.


Read 2229 times Last modified on Thursday, 06 March 2014 23:50

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