Northern Michigan Policy Convention, Celebration Gala set for Friday | Business
ACME — An annual conference provides a chance for northern Michigan officials to connect directly with state and national policymakers.
Connection will also be one of the central themes to the annual Northern Michigan Policy Conference Jan. 20 in the Michigan Ballroom at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Lt. gov. Garlin Gilchrist is the keynote speaker for the event.
In its fifth year, the conference is led by the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, a coalition of more than 16 chambers of commerce and economic development organizations with more than 7,000 member businesses from the region.
Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance Chair Sarah Van Horn said the conference is an opportunity to “move the needle forward and showcase what northern Michigan needs.”
“It’s our chance to push our policy needs to the forefront and have all the right people in the room,” said Van Horn, who is also president of the Charlevoix Area Chamber of Commerce.
Traverse Connect President and CEO Warren Call said the conference should build on childcare bills the organization helped “push across the finish line” in 2021 and housing bills adopted in the fall of 2022 thanks to efforts of partners like Housing North and the Housing Michigan Coalition.
“We’ve got some good momentum here,” Call said.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2023, Call said a second package of housing bills and implementation of the national infrastructure bill approved a year ago will be key areas. Call said infrastructure spending includes broadband and high-speed fiber connectivity, bridges, railroads and airports — all of which are key to the region.
The keynote address from the Gilchrist is expected to focus on economic development in the region and priorities for the new legislature, in addition to touching on broadband internet. The direction of the new state legislature could be interesting in 2023 since Democrats control both the Michigan House of Representatives and Michigan Senate for the first time since 1984.
The Democrats also control the office of governor, attorney general and secretary of state in Michigan.
Gilchrist’s keynote should begin at about 12:30 pm and be followed by a question-and-answer session. Northern Michigan Policy Conference closing remarks are slated for 1:15 pm before the conference adjourns at 1:30 pm
Prior to Gilchrist’s address is a broadband infrastructure panel discussion at 11:30 am On the panel are Eric Frederick, Chief Connectivity Officer for the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office; Gary Heidel, Acting Executive Director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority; and Brad Wieferich, Acting Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Van Horn said making sure northern Michigan has reliable internet access has long been a key topic of discussion.
“It’s very important, especially with the movement at the federal level with broadband funding and having that map put out for areas that need more broadband connectivity,” she said.
Registration for the Northern Michigan Policy Conference begins at 8:30 am Following opening remarks at 9 am is a Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance update.
U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and US Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) are scheduled to address the conference at 9:20 am US Rep. Jack Bergman (R -Mich.) is scheduled to deliver a video message.
The Northern Caucus Panel is scheduled for a 9:45 am session at the conference. Scheduled for the panel are state Sens. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) and Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton) and state Reps. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City), John Roth (R-Traverse City) and Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington).
Lunch and networking follows the Northern Michigan Caucus Panel.
Tickets to attend the Northern Michigan Policy Conference are $35 for open seating or $350 for a reserved table of eight.
Last year’s conference was held at Great Wolf Lodge and a full room of 150-200 attended, Van Horn said. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered the keynote address.
“It’s going to be a record attendance for the policy conference for sure,” Call said.
One of the reasons the 2023 conference was moved to Grand Traverse Resort and Spa was because the Michigan ballroom could accommodate more attendees. Van Horn reports about 300 people have reserved a spot as of mid-Friday morning.
“It’s really exciting,” Van Horn said of the expected attendance.
Annual Celebration Gala
Another reason the Northern Michigan Policy Conference was moved is because the Grand Traverse Resort is also hosting Traverse Connect’s Annual Celebration Gala.
The event celebrating the business community of the region will be held on the 16th and 17th floors of the Tower at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. and runs until midnight.
“Come to the Policy Conference, Stay for the Annual Celebration Gala,” a release announcing the events reads.
The Annual Celebration Gala is also advertised as “a party three years in the making.” Concerns about COVID canceled the event in 2021 and again in 2022.
“People are ready to get back at it,” Call said. “We’ve had good attendance so far (over the last year) and happy to do that event again.”
The black tie event is $150 and $100 for Traverse Connect investors. Admission includes complimentary valet parking outside as well as complimentary beer and wine and hors d’oeuvres inside. Cocktails are available for purchase.
Black tie attire recommendations include “floor-length gowns, dressy and elegant pantsuits, dark suit jackets paired with pants or skirts, tuxedos in any color and lapel style or dark suits — jacket required,” according to a release.
Registration and more information about both events is available at https://business.traverseconnect.com/events.