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West Michigan Elites host policy forum

September 16, 2010

(This is the first of several articles that GRIID will post over the next few days based upon our attendance at the West Michigan Regional Policy Forum.)

Today and tomorrow marks the West Michigan Regional Policy Forum in Grand Rapids. This is the second summit that seeks to build on the work of the first summit held in 2008.

The summit brings together many of the local economic and political power players, such as the DeVos & Van Andel families, Peter Seechia, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, local CEOs, lawyers and government leaders.

Secchia gave the open comments and began by taking a swipe at the Governor Granholm and vague remarks about the political climate that he claimed supports their platform. Seechia began with a progress report on the goals that the group came up with in 2008. Those goals are:

  • Governance: Eliminate the MBT with corresponding spending cuts.
  • Workforce of the Future: Implement a right-to-work status for Michigan.
  • Health Care and Life Sciences: Increase funding for providers with effective prevention practices.
  • Manufacturing and Design for the Future: Streamline the permitting process within state government.
  • Attraction and Retention of Talent: Update funding mechanisms for transportation infrastructure.

Seechia claims that candidates who support the elimination of the MBT will be elected in November. Seechia believes that the ground is now fertile for pushing for a right-to-work policy for Michigan and trashed the GR Press for editorializing against it, despite the fact that the Press articles on the subject were biased in favor of the anti-union policy.

Seechia points to the ongoing development of “medical mile” as evidence of the success of point number three, but did not provide any commentary on goal 4 and 5. Seechia concluded by saying that they have made much progress on the goal set forth in 2008.

Seechia gave the microphone over to Doug DeVos who continued to present information about the goals and objectives of the policy forum. DeVos spent quite a bit of time on the theme of “quality of life.” DeVos said that what the forum’s work is really about was “quality of life,” which is an interesting comment considering that DeVos comes from the wealthiest family in the area. His comments also ignore high-levels of poverty and growing number of unemployment and under-employment.

DeVos then made an interesting comment when he said that in a recent conversation with Bill Clinton, the former President in relation to his “relief work” in Haiti, that what “Haitians needed was economic development and not looking for a hand out.” This statement not only is clear lie, it omits the well-documented history of US military and economic intervention in Haiti.

The first invited speaker of the day was Michael Flemming, President of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. In a strange Orwellian way, Flemming’s talk was about how to do grassroots lobbying.

Flemming began with a joke, which in many ways reflected his attitudes about the economy and workers. The joke he claimed was from Minnesota and what they felt about people in Iowa. “Iowans don’t give their workers coffee breaks because they are afraid they won’t have enough time to retrain them.”

Flemming believes that there are five fundamental points for “grassroots lobbying.” First, is that businesses have to take positions and not remain neutral on policy. Second, businesses and trade associations need to have a broad perspective on economic and policy matters. What Flemming meant by that is business needs to not just think about profits in and of themselves, rather they need to see that thinking about public education may be relevant for the future of their business.

Third, business must adopt a regional strategy, which is what this forum is all about. Flemming also said that doing regional policy is more important than branding regional economies. The fourth imperative, according to Flemming, was that it is no longer about mass movements, but developing influence and influential’s. He said the business community needs to underwrite the “grassroots” working being done on policy matters.

The fifth and final imperative is that this strategy needs to work collaboratively with local governments. As Flemming talked about this issue what he really meant was the importance of what the business people refer to as private/public partnerships. This is really code for what people in Third World countries know as structural adjustment, where public services are defunded and privatized.

Flemming then gave some points about how to move forward with these 5 grassroots lobbying principles. He said people need to lead without authority, which he said was that since people in the business community are not elected they just need to lead because it is the right thing to do. Flemming gave Gandhi as an example of a leader who led without authority, which is an accurate example, but I find it hard to believe that most people in the room were aware of Gandhi’s views on economics, which would be in clear conflict with those of the West Michigan Policy Forum.

“The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the co-operation of the poor in society. If this knowledge were to penetrate to and spread amongst the poor, they would become strong and would learn how to free themselves by means of nonviolence.”                 Gandhi

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