According to the organization’s president, the most recent West Michigan Policy Forum was the best attended of the three that have been held.
“We did have a successful event,” said WMPF President Jared Rodriguez.
Rodriguez recently told the Grand Valley Metro Council that September’s two-day event drew 645 attendees, the largest turnout the biannual forum has had. He said the event attracted representatives from 48 communities, 17 chambers of commerce and four economic development organizations.
That turnout was key for the organization because the most recent event took on a much different format than the first two. This time the forum was held in two downtown locations. The first day the gathering was held at St. Cecilia Music Center, then moved to the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel for day two. The 2008 and 2010 forums were held in DeVos Place.
The business conference’s discussions and presentations also changed. Speakers were given a maximum of 20 minutes to get their point across to attendees, which eliminated roughly 20 minutes of speaking time for each speaker. Thirty-five speakers were on the agenda and they covered health care, the state’s economy, securing business talent, the relationship business has to labor, transportation and economic development.
WMPF also ditched the traditional “rubber-chicken” dinner, as Rodriguez called it, for a “Taste of Grand Rapids” culinary experience.
“It hasn’t been stagnant. It hasn’t been the same,” said GVMC Executive Director John Weiss of the policy forum. “Jared, the chamber and I have formed a tight bond and we’re speaking together on West Michigan for West Michigan.”
Rodriguez said the top issue that emerged from the September forum was getting the new International Trade Crossing Bridge built, along with a rail tunnel that would run from Michigan to Canada. Next was finding enough state funding to match federal transportation grants. A third was dedicating funds in the state’s budget for early childhood education.
Rodriguez then brought up a fourth issue that was right down the Metro Council’s alley. The forum’s participants want Lansing to develop policies that enable local governments to consolidate. “We just consolidated our police and fire departments, and the only roadblocks we ran into were at the state level,” said Rockford City Manager Michael Young.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘mandate’; I never do,” said Rodriguez. “The decision has to be made at the local level.”
Rodriguez did point out that, despite the forum’s new format and the new issues that surfaced from it, his organization’s overall goal is the same as when the event made its debut four years ago: to create jobs and opportunities in Michigan by removing barriers to competition.
“We believe we’re moving in that direction. We also believe we are at a crossroad in the state,” he said. “We are also looking at putting together a PAC in 2013.”