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My mind has been swirling from everything discussed at the recent Detroit Policy Conference organized by the Detroit Regional Chamber, so here are my hot takes:

First, I LOVE this conference in January. It sets the stage for regional priorities, framing short and long-term challenges and opportunities for the Detroit region. The event offers excellent insights for any regional business leader.  

Sandy K. Baruah kicked off the conference by saying “I’m here to make the case that Michigan’s house is on fire,” pointing out that we lag behind national benchmarks in household income, average age, labor force and income growth.

The conference was themed Growing Michigan’s Population and set out to offer solutions to these issues. Much of the content was centered on a timely and compelling report from the new Growing Michigan Together Council, which was announced at the Mackinac Policy Conference in June. I was impressed with the work the Council has accomplished in just seven months.  

As Council Co-Chair (and friend) John Rakolta Jr. pointed out, population growth takes time. He suggested that Michigan will be the first state in the nation to increase prosperity without immediate population growth.  

Then our dear friend and Detroit advocate Jeanette Pierce reminded us of the assets our region DOES have. She isn’t wearing rose-colored glasses, but her mission is to help people understand and appreciate where they live and work. And she always brings the passion and energy to any stage or any conversation when the topic is the city she loves. And when she ends her presentation with a sweet photo of her #CityTriplets, it warms my heart even on the coldest of days.  

Most speakers seem to agree that education and transit are the main challenges facing our State. If we want to attract and retain talent, we simply have to do better. Everyone seemed surprised that young people don’t want cars, but this is not news. When you consider our household income and wage growth are low, many people in the workforce can’t afford cars and would much prefer to travel by mass transit.

And the challenges facing education are overwhelming. When I was at Harvard’s Young American Leaders Program last year, my cohort came away disheartened by Detroit’s education data but energized to help make a difference. Our biggest takeaway was so many people are working on this, but what’s missing is cross-sector collaboration. We reconvene next month, and after the Detroit Policy Conference, I’m armed with new ideas!  

I always look forward to what Mayor Duggan will share at these events. Of course, he shared some wins and accomplishments from 2023. But what I found most interesting is the partnership between the police department and Wayne State’s Mike Illitch School of Business where law enforcement leaders take business courses and can earn a leadership certificate toward an MBA. He’s leveled up his leaders, and the results are good.

I loved hearing about other innovations like solar fields and partnering with nonprofits to help with crime prevention, too.  

And none of these events would be good without the engagement of local media to moderate panels and interview leaders. Great work from familiar faces like Nolan Finley, Zoe Clark and Lloyd Jackson – and I loved the energy of newcomers like Orlando Bailey from BridgeDetroit and Shaina Humphries from CBS Detroit.  

Why do I care so much about this? The reason I get up every morning is because I am fiercely committed to the growth and shared prosperity of my Franco team, our clients and our community. This goes to the very heart of why Franco exists. So if you see us at these events, it’s because we’re here to make more than marketing videos and provide crisis counsel. We’re here to make an impact for another 60 years. Thanks again to the Detroit Regional Chamber for fanning that fire in me 😊 

Tina Kozak is Franco’s CEO. Connect with her on LinkedIn.