Experiencing Northern Michigan: Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce Hosts Gretchen Whitmer at the 42nd Annual Governor’s Breakfast

You know NoMi’s like one big small town when you’re having breakfast with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer at the Wexford Civic Center in Cadillac before you head to work. There at The Wex last Friday morning, April 12, the gymnasium reverberated with conversing community voices, and an electric energy filled the space. Local high school students, community leaders, government officials, and members of the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce were all in attendance for this event that’s been part of Cadillac tradition for 42 years and counting.

Every spring, the Cadillac Chamber proudly organizes and sponsors the Governor’s Breakfast to bring the whole community together at the intersection between business, education, and government. It’s a meaningful tradition, a unique opportunity, and honestly just pretty cool how the sitting governor of Michigan makes it a point to visit Cadillac each year. To me, this illustrates a real connection and pathway for communication between the Cadillac community and Michigan’s public offices of leadership.

Roughly 700 people attended last Friday’s breakfast, which I enjoyed attending for the first time with my fellow classmates from this year’s Cadillac Leadership Program, an innovative, year-long leadership, fundraising, and community development program offered through the Chamber. Thanks to the volunteer efforts of Chamber members, the morning event offered a continental-style breakfast, including fresh fruit, bagels, muffins, cookies, mini donuts, lemon bars, fruit juice, and coffee.

Before the governor spoke, the Cadillac High School Symphony Band played a few tunes as everyone arrived, got seated, and mingled with others walking in. The band, led by director Mike Filkins, also performed the National Anthem to commence the breakfast after a nice welcome and opening remarks from Cadillac Chamber President David Miller. Pastor Brian Farmer of Cherry Grove Church of the Nazarene offered an invocation, and Simon Whitelocke from ITC Michigan introduced Governor Gretchen Whitmer on the stage.

The theme for Whitmer’s address at this year’s Governor’s Breakfast: “The Road to Opportunity.” She shared with the audience how our state is “at a crossroads,” particularly when it comes to our schools, water, and roads. This crossroads, Whitmer argued, provides an opportunity for the people of Michigan to work together toward bettering our future. The governor’s goals are as ambitious as they are totally achievable within the 11-year timeline of her 2030 plan. Fixing the roads is top on the governor’s list of vital issues facing Michigan now going forward (cue Whitmer’s “Fix the damn roads!” slogan, setting the goal for 90 percent of all Michigan roads to be in good/fair condition by 2030), with education and clean water being the other key priorities taking precedence through her administration.

For the health, safety, and well-being of every Michigander, Whitmer’s goal is to achieve 100 percent clean drinking water for all Michigan communities by the year 2030. Our governor is also vocal about closing the skills gap, with her proposal to increase the number of adults in Michigan with postsecondary education experience from 44 percent to 60 percent. By 2030, Whitmer also plans to make Michigan a top 10 state in third grade literacy, a goal I support wholeheartedly through volunteering, events, and teaching reading and writing in the Northern Michigan community. Listening to her presentation, I felt like Whitmer was refreshingly articulate, genuine, and inspiring in delivering her message, especially when she talked about education.

In Michigan, only 44 percent of adults have completed some form of postsecondary education, as in classes beyond high school. While not everyone plans on going to college, and many people choose to start careers or take time off to travel after graduating high school, it’s still a bit surprising to learn that less than half of our population in Michigan is educated beyond the 12th grade. And how, out of all 50 states, Michigan ranked dead last in revenue growth in education funding between 1995 and 2015, a 20-year period marked by unparalleled surges in technological innovation, an opportune moment in history which our state did not rise to meet with adequate funding. The sad truth: Michigan kids have been and still are falling behind. And that’s about to change.

The “current shell game,” as Governor Whitmer outlined it in her slides during her address, describes how three of Michigan’s funds—the Transportation Fund, the General Fund, and the School Aid Fund—are not being allocated in the most efficient or equitable way. As it is now, our School Aid Fund supports Pre-K-14 schools (including preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle schools, high schools, and community colleges throughout the state) as well as public universities. Money from our Transportation Fund is going toward roads, which makes sense. Yet Michigan’s vital General Fund—which would be more than $5 billion higher if it had kept up with inflation since 2000—is currently funding public universities and roads, leaving little to no budget left for our state to grow and thrive.

Whitmer’s plan for our state to realize and commit to “future fiscal responsibility” centers on the idea of long-term balance, which would return Michigan’s funding streams to their intended purposes. Roads, for one, would be funded by constitutionally dedicated restricted funds (that 45-cent gas tax). Public universities in Michigan would be funding entirely by the General Fund. In doing so, therefore, $507 million of the School Aid Fund would be returned to K-12 schools for much-needed investments in Michigan students, teachers, and infrastructure.

The Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce has hosted the Governor’s Breakfast for more than four decades, which has included the participation of all five governors since the inaugural breakfast took place in 1976. The heart and core mission of the Governor’s Breakfast centers around the collaboration of the Cadillac area’s education sector and business community, including members of the Chamber who support the breakfast through special sponsorships. 

Thanks to these sponsorships from local businesses, nearly 500 Cadillac area students are invited to attend the Governor’s Breakfast annually. Among these hundreds of Northern Michigan students—including high schoolers from Cadillac, Lake City, Pine River, Manton, McBain, Marion, Mesick, Northern Michigan Christian, Cadillac Heritage Christian, and Cadillac Innovation—three were selected to ask Governor Whitmer a question in the Q&A session after her address. All three students did a great job asking their questions and engaging with the political process as active citizens!

After her speech, Governor Whitmer visited the Wexford-Missaukee Career Tech Center to tour its variety of innovative programs. Sponsors who helped make the 42nd Annual Governor’s Breakfast possible are all members of the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce and include: 9&10 News, Baker College of Cadillac, the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau, Mercantile Bank of Michigan, Munson Healthcare Cadillac Hospital, Rexair LLC, Wolverine Power Cooperative, and nearly two dozen more local businesses part of the Cadillac community.

Inviting the governor to Cadillac every year raises awareness about the existence, significance, and resilience of our growing community here in the heart of Northern Michigan. There’s so much good going on in Cadillac, and there’s also a lot of work that needs to be done here—unique issues that might not affect others parts of the county or even the different communities in Michigan the same way they affect smaller, more rural NoMi towns like Cadillac. Going forward, let’s recognize and celebrate the good we’re grateful for while we do the hard work together toward a better future for all of us.

Categories: Experiencing Northern Michigan, the four