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Last month, I had the privilege of attending the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference for the first time, along with Franco CEO Tina Kozak and President and COO Tina Benvenuti Sullivan – and it was a whirlwind in all the best ways.

The opportunity to hear from our city, state and regional leaders on their vision for the future of Michigan was inspirational, exciting and fulfilling. From Dan Gilbert and Mayor Mike Duggan’s Detroit-centric sessions to Governor Whitmer’s keynote address, I left Mackinac with a refreshed outlook on what is possible in our state.  

Franco clients were also front-and-center at MPC, sharing some exciting news during the week: MichAuto launched its new brand and mission; Automation Alley joined a press conference with government leaders discussing their commitment to an expansion of Project DIAMOnD; and several others like ITC Holdings Corp. and The Salvation Army were in the halls of Media Row for interviews with reporters from across the state.  

But, as strong as the agenda was (and is every year), there is so much more to this conference than what happens on stage. Between networking events, post-conference receptions and even quick breaks on the porch of the Grand Hotel, I think the true value of MPC is in the relationships you make and the opportunities to connect with leaders across every level, industry and region.

I am by no means an MPC expert after a single trip, but for those interested in attending their first conference, read on for a few tips.

1. Prep, plan and practice

For any first-time Mackinac attendee, I cannot stress enough the importance of preparation. There is so much to do on the island over two and a half days that it is impossible to be everywhere. Taking time in advance to highlight the events and sessions you want to attend will help keep your head from spinning when you step off the ferry. Know where you want to be, and make sure you leave in time to get there. The walk is always just a bit longer than you think, so wear comfortable shoes.

In addition to knowing where you want to be, knowing who you want to meet and what you want to accomplish are just as important. Take time to review the attendee list and set up meetings with those you want to connect with in advance and practice your elevator speech(es) before you go. Lastly, don’t shy away from introducing yourself to those you want to meet.

2. Apply to Detroit Regional Chamber programs

There are many ways to make the most of your time on Mackinac Island, but there is one organization that can truly set you up for success in your first year – the organizer, the Detroit Regional Chamber. I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the Mackinac Future Leaders, a program for first-time MPC attendees that offers fantastic networking opportunities, small group sessions with leaders and opportunities to attend sessions and events with fellow future leaders. Plus, Mackinac Future Leaders have a hotel block to take the stress out of finding a place to stay.

Among other things, our group attended organized meet-and-greets with Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Mayor Duggan, Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah and Conference Chair Suzanne Shank, leadership receptions and other sessions, while still having the time and opportunity to explore the rest of MPC.

Leadership Detroit (shoutout Class 44, the best class ever!) should also be on the list for every leader looking to learn about the critical issues facing our region and connect with those working to address them. For those who aren’t natural-born networkers (i.e. me), participating in LD and Mackinac Future Leaders meant there was a group of people who I knew going into nearly every room at the conference. It meant building deeper connections within a group of people over three days and getting to know fellow Future Leaders who are invested in our state and community.

3. Make notes and follow up

As you can probably tell, there is a lot to take in throughout the week, and you will meet a lot of people. Set aside time to jot down a few notes after meetings and to reflect on each day. Block time on your calendar the following week to reach out to the connections you made and follow up on discussions.

My top 5 from MPC 2024 (in no particular order)

  • Mayor Duggan’s Future Leaders meet-and-greet and conference session with Police Chief James White on the need for expanded mental health services
  • Opening night at the Stables
  • Connecting with new people and learning about their goals, initiatives and organizations
  • Project DIAMOnD (Automation Alley) press conference with Gov. Whitmer, Lieutenant Gov. Gilchrist and Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County Executives
  • And of course… fudge, ice cream and reflecting on the day at the Pink Pony #PureMichigan

Dan Horn is an Integrated Communications Director at Franco. Connect with him on LinkedIn.