Forum strength rests on strong voices


The bi-annual West Michigan Policy Forum reservation line is open, even as the agenda still is taking shape for the Sept. 26 event, which currently gives emphasis to the GOP national agenda and presidential candidates. The strength of previous forums, all previously held over several days, has been the agenda items for immediate state legislative action, all given the power of (electronic) voting from each of the more than 500 attendees primarily representing the west side of Michigan.

The Forum was created in 2008 by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce just prior to the recognition of the onset of the Great Recession, and its strength was forged with a unified (and successful) demand to eliminate the reviled Michigan Business Tax. In the years following, state legislators took up recommendations on funding for early childhood development, expansion of college credits for work experience, support for the New International Trade Crossing and Right to Work, among others. That strength persevered well after the conference ended, when area business leaders kept a “promise” not to fund the legislative candidacies of those who did not act to end the debacle of transportation repair funding, targeting roads and bridges.

The defining characteristic that set the Forum apart from the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference was the West Michigan Policy Forum didn’t back down from what “may be too controversial or divisive.” Debate has been a part of the draw, but it also must be noted the West Michigan Forum membership has far less derision than that among the entities and areas represented by the Detroit chamber. There is strength, too, in the mutual support between both business entities and the several that join them.

 The Grand Rapids chamber no longer houses the Forum, but its president, Rick Baker, serves as a Forum board officer. One of the biggest changes for 2016 planning was hiring former House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, as a consultant for the 2016 Forum. No fewer than 18 additional presenters from across the country are identified for Forum presentations, including seven from the area business community.

Board officers have set the stage with the lure of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, which may make for interesting anecdotes for coffee klatch conversation. The strength of the Forum, however, is preserved only by attendees giving a strong voice to the issues facing Michigan businesses. Plenty of those issues still are unresolved.

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