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Mackinac Policy Conference Begins With a Focus on State Population

It’s called “Michigan’s Main Stage.” The Mackinac Policy Conference is kicking off Tuesday on the island and the growth of Michigan seems to be the biggest point of order.

More than 1,500 of Michigan’s politicians and business leaders will hole up at the Grand Hotel for the next four days as they discuss the future of Michigan’s economic climate and how to strengthen the state compared to others.

From the outside this conference, which has been here on Mackinac Island for 43 years, can be seen as an elitist, networking schmooze-fest. There is some of that but there’s also a lot of key decisions being made.


“I love being surrounded by people who are very interested, excited and passionate about Michigan,” said Caitlyn Stark, president of the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce.

The future of Michigan needs to be one that works for rural and urban Michiganders. Too many times when policy is discussed, downstate Michigan are the ones with the loudest voices. The Mackinac Policy Conference is a chance for Northern Michigan to get to speak up.

“We have a lot more in common than people might think that we do,” said Henry Wolf, of Traverse Connect.

“Cadillac is going through many of the similar issues that the rest of the state is going through,” said Stark. “When it comes to workforce attraction and retention, we are going through housing, childcare loss, transportation, broadband.”


The focus this week seems to be population, increasing the number of people in Michigan can help solve a lot of issues that come with funding and workforce. For Northern Michigan, it’s more the specific type of people than the overall number.

“Fortunately, in Northern Michigan, we’ve seen population growth,” said Wolf. “People want to be in Northern Michigan. What Traverse Connect is focused on is bringing that working age population to some of the younger folks, members of the workforce up to Northern Michigan.”

Those are problems we have heard for decades. Solutions have never stuck. Stark hopes this group can cut through the noise.

“Talking honestly about what are the true barriers in this moment that are keeping us from solving it,” said Stark.


At the very least the conference attendees can get a good look at Northern Michigan this week and get a better understanding of what life is like up here.

“What a better place than Mackinac Island to showcase everything that Northern Michigan has to offer,” said Wolf.

The speaking events really kick up Wednesday and run through Thursday. Some of the notable speakers this year include Mark Cuban, Fareed Zakaria and Liz Cheney with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s keynote address on Thursday afternoon.

9&10 News will be sitting down 1-on-1 with Whitmer Wednesday morning.

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