Thursday starts the two-day event, Mackinac on the Grand, aka The West Michigan Regional Policy Conference, sponsored by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Nominally the conference is to advance the cause of West Michigan in the halls of Lansing, to articulate an agenda, to schmooze and of course, to lobby. Underneath however, a second issue lurks: how will West Michigan and the Midwest broadly deal with the issue of globalization?
The question at hand is not West Michigan v. Detroit; our business climate against the auto-dominated east. Rather it is West Michigan’s place in the global economy. As Richard Longworth notes in Caught in the Middle (more on that later), the golden days of the Midwest are behind it. In this new era, there will be winners and losers, “dislocations of people and places” is how John Austin relates it.
The old heavy manufacturing model is dead and in its place rise new sources of value: business services, hospitals, universities, tourism, communications. (Interestingly, these are the same themes being picked up by Dan Scripps, candidate for MI-101).
But if the region stands to shine, it also shares in the general reaction of denial found throughout the Midwest. There remains the understandable longing for the now departed past, with its factories and flourishing farms, and of course its older form of politics. There is in all this the danger, too, of a defeatist attitude that finds itself content with being a “mediocre people living in mediocre cities” (Longworth, 48).
Throughout the executive summaries two themes play against each other: the old one of politics as usual, backward glancing, a politics (and policy) of denial; and a new one centered on the questions of what must we do to meet our future.
Who will win? The vote is Friday.
Tomorrow, we will look at each of the eight summaries individually.