Both sides of the aisle are meeting in the middle, and meeting with local leaders, at this year’s Northern Michigan Policy Conference.
The fifth annual event brought a record crowd to Traverse City for the day-long conference. Hundreds of attendees include state and federal lawmakers, but also business owners, community leaders, and local officials.
State and federal politicians have a captive audience, one that has a stake in decisions that are made and legislation that comes forward.
“This this event really is about bringing together more of the Michigan business community. And when we say northern Michigan, we do mean the entire northern Michigan region from Manistee up to Marquette, bringing them here together with public policy makers to make sure that our voices are heard and that public policy at the state and federal level reflects the needs of northern Michigan,” says Traverse Connect President and CEO Warren Call. “I think what’s important to recognize here is that we have business leaders from across the region. We have community leaders, local officials. We have representatives of our education system and our public schools, our whole host of organizations, all represented here being having their voices heard with those key elected officials.”
“I think the new thing that we’re facing this year is that we’ve already had some momentum and some of the things that took a while to realize. So we had successful signing of child care legislation last year, successful housing legislation that passed last year,” Call adds. “I think we need to hear from lawmakers there, their priorities and their plans. And I think equally, they need to hear about our priorities and plans, both from a standpoint of economic and environmental and social issues that we need to address for this region.”
They want to build on successes while keeping the momentum.
Call says, “so now the question is, where do we go from here? And I think it’s really obvious what we need to do is continue to look at talent development and workforce issues like housing, but also look at what we need to do from an infrastructure standpoint to build out our physical and academic infrastructure to better support the growth of our region.”
The new State House Speaker, Democrat Joe Tate, wants to be a part of that change. “We’re ready to get to work. We’re ready to govern. So I want to travel around the state and talk to Michigan residents, understand their concerns, because there’s a lot that we have in common, whether you’re from, you know, Detroit or you’re from Traverse City. So we have a lot of opportunity for a lot to accomplish and put people first.”
U.S. Senators and Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters also say it’s important to get some face-time with local leaders. “The most important thing for me is jobs and quality of life in Michigan and making sure northern Michigan is taking advantage of the things we’ve done, like investing in infrastructure and high speed Internet and bringing manufacturing jobs home, supporting our farmers,” Stabenow says.
“This is a great policy conference that brings local leaders from across northern Michigan to come together to talk about issues that they all face in common and find solutions,” Peters adds. “The value is it builds those connections and then we are able to work with both local businesses as well as local governments. They know issues that we’re working on together and then can bring their input into that problem solving.”
Their Republican counterpart in the U.S. House agrees. Rep. John Moolenaar says, “it’s a great collaboration of different chambers of commerce throughout northern Michigan and talking about what we can do to help northern Michigan thrive. And, you know, it’s a really unique gathering, and I’m excited to be part of it. I think it’s important for us to hear, you know, what the needs are in the communities, what the challenges are, what the successes are that we can build upon, but also just to build those relationships so that people know if they have a problem with the federal government, they can reach out and talk to us and that’s something very important as well.”
And Peters adds, “then we work to figure out how we can work together. How can the state of Michigan and the federal government work with our local officials to provide quality services for residents in the communities and to make sure that we can help them with opportunities for them to be successful and to be able to enjoy their life.”