Mackinac 2015 Kicking Off: Roads, Race, Talent, Transit, and D-Insurance, Oh My

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Good morning from the Blogger Zone at the Grand Hotel. When it comes to the Mackinac Policy Conference, we’re going to focus on a few key areas.

Although there are three official pillars of the conference – Talent, Urban Revitalization and Cohesion – we’re looking for stories that are a little more focused.

Here are the five things we’re looking to cover – but over the next few days, almost anything can happen.

Roads

It’s the predominant conversation up here that’s not on the agenda. Just sitting down to our computers, we’ve been hit up three times by politicians wanting to push their thing on roads. Polls show that voters would in fact be interested in a sales tax increase to help pay for them, but it’d have to be a simple machine – meaning that it really goes straight to roads – which probably won’t happen. The Republican legislature is hell-bent on not raising taxes even though the reality is that we spend amongst the least per-capita on something that’s crucial to our state, roads.

Race

It’s a hot-button issue important to the region moving forward, and it’s significant that it’s on the agenda this year. The demographics in the city are changing – with recent numbers showing 12,000 white folks have moved into the city, though the city still is experiencing an overall population loss. Gentrification is a big topic in the city, and the discussion here should revolve around Detroit’s revitalization as more inclusive. It’s interesting that this is ostensibly a business conference, that this is on the agenda, but check out this excerpt from the article above:

In the three years after the 2010 U.S. Census, though, Detroit’s white population grew from just under 76,000 residents to more than 88,000, according to a census estimate. The cheap cost of living, opportunities for young entrepreneurs and push by city-based companies to persuade workers to live nearby have made a big difference, experts say.

Talent

A major shift that state and local leaders have had to deal with is that millennials, now the largest portion of the labor force, in general have a different set of expectations when it comes to where they choose to live. It’s not just about the good job, but it’s also the amenities, especially those that are possible in urban, high-density areas, which Michigan has few of. How are companies and others going to help keep talent here? On a recent trip to Chicago, it seemed as though half of the people we spoke to were from Detroit. Although there is a lot of buzz on bringing folks into the city, as well as the state, a lot of work needs to be done to make it happen.

Transit

Transit continues to be going concern in the Detroit region. Although the city has recently acquired some new buses and the M-1 Rail Construction is well underway, these have simply small band aids to what is known internationally as a broken system. The Regional Transit Authority, which is now the guiding force on transit decisions for the region, has been underfunded and slow to leave the station. The rapid bus system is one example of something that’s been a lot of talk and little action. Right now, a master plan for the region is in the works and they’re seeking buy-in from community members. We’re hoping to find some answers about what is next with the RTA, and get a bearing on where the rubber meets the road on changing transit in our region.

D-Insurance

Car insurance is at the top of mind of almost every Detroit city resident, as it’s quite expensive compared to other areas. So much so, that it’s prohibitive to keeping residents in the city. As a state, Michigan is more expensive than others in the Midwest. Powerful lobbies are at work on all sides – how are insurance costs going to come down in Michigan, and especially Detroit? Who will Mayor Mike Duggan find to sponsor the legislative changes necessary to make these changes now that his champion on the topic State Senator Virgil Smith Jr. decided to go shoot off a shotgun outside his house during a domestic dispute? Now he’s back to work, but beyond voting, the stunt has made Smith legislatively feeble. What is it going to take to actually make progress and not just smoke?

To follow the conversation on social media, use the hashtag #MPC15 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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