Several days before hundreds of participants make the journey to Mackinac Island to attend the Mackinac Policy Conference, about 35 very important voices gather at the island’s Grand Hotel for a private and secluded meeting with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
This event, called Auto on the Island, is hosted by MICHauto, a key economic development initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber, and moderated by longtime automotive journalist John McElroy. It’s a unique annual opportunity for the CEOs of Michigan's automotive manufacturers and suppliers to talk privately, without assistants, press, or any other influencers. Here, in a place where they can’t be called away to another meeting, participants share their thoughts, concerns, needs, and relevant industry insight with each other, and with Gov. Snyder.
The topics discussed by the attending executives are strictly confidential, but at the close of each Auto on the Island meeting, a list of emerging action items is undertaken by MICHauto to be researched, considered, worked upon and problem solved, and then revisited at the following year’s gathering, during which the whole process will begin again.
The event’s value to the stakeholders is a collective approach to policy discussions with Snyder, says Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. Given the automotive industry’s rapid changes as connected and autonomous technology becomes ever more sophisticated and proprietary, frank discussions with Michigan’s legislative power give way to the need for policy to keep pace with change.
“Really, Auto on the Island is about collective action,” says Baruah. “What do the CEOs want to do collectively to enhance the environment for mobility industry success?”
Together with other automotive-centric events at the Mackinac Policy Conference, including a MICHauto roundtable
discussion, Auto on the Island is an opportunity to elevate important conversations that matter to the economic vitality of our state.
“We feel that it’s tremendously important that executive leadership can communicate first with the industry leaders, the OEMs, and suppliers, and researchers, so that they can be part of the policy conversations and what we have built under Sandy’s leadership. It’s about how can we make them more inclusive in the agenda and in the actions,” says Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives for the Chamber.
”It’s a private discussion carried out collectively and collaboratively to make sure we are showing the automotive industry as a high tech global industry with opportunities, and one that is solving problems that the world has,” Stevens says.
“We white boarded short-, medium-, and long-term ideas, and came away with our marching orders from the executives,” he says.
As a moderator, John McElroy, host of “Autoline” and the Emmy Award-winning “Autoline This Week,” is a perfect fit because of his world-class credentials in the industry, says Baruah.
“John understands today’s and tomorrow’s auto industry unlike anyone I know,” he says. “He understands where the industry is going, and his ability to look around corners is just stunning. He also knows how to get the most out of a conversation.”
Ultimately, Auto on the Island is a valuable opportunity for Michigan’s most influential CEOs to connect with the governor who represents them, their companies, and their employees.
“This is a frank dialogue which allows feedback from the state’s largest employers,” says Baruah. “Here, they can share what the state could be doing differently.”