Op-Ed: Detroit Regional Chamber Recognizes the Role of Small Business at 2016 Mackinac Policy Conference

Guest contributor Catherine Kelly on why making conferences affordable to small business owners is of vital importance


For over a decade, WDET has been covering the annual Mackinac Policy Conference hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber. Held on Mackinac Island, this three-day policy meeting is attended by hundreds of elected officials, business executives and other leaders from around the state. This year, we offer you some alternative coverage. This piece comes from WDET guest contributor Catherine Kelly, a small business owner in Detroit. 

Joan Isabella

Entrepreneurship was a focus of this year’s Mackinac Policy conference.  Even ten years ago, this would have been unthinkable. In the past, small business people and entrepreneurs couldn’t hope to see their reality reflected in the three days of conference programming.

Policymakers were insulated by Michigan’s old economy which benefitted from a robust automotive industry.

The conference became known as a destination for people who work for big, cushy institutional structures – corporations, media, and government — or at least organizations that were once big and cushy.

The changing economy has had an equalizing effect – we are all doing more with less.

Today, post-bankruptcy, as the city and state hope to rebuild and grow, the Chamber and others are beginning to look to entrepreneurs during these uncertain economic times. Conference organizers recognize that we all have something to learn from entrepreneurs.

After all, entrepreneurs and Michigan policymakers are facing similar obstacles — financial constraints and desire for success – which, according to the conference’s keynote speaker, Daymond John, are an advantage.

John is the co-host of NBC’s “Shark Tank” which has helped bring the ethos of entrepreneurship to American homes. He is also the founder of the clothing line FUBU (For Us By Us) which at one point had sales of more than $300 million and was one of the largest African American owned clothing brands. He started his business with $40, hard work and hustle. He has said he made his worst business decisions when he was flush.  Lack of financial resources forced him to make good decisions.

John encouraged policymakers and businesses to support start-ups in Detroit and throughout the state. He also reminded the audience that failure plays a role in entrepreneurship, resilience is the spirit we must all adopt.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan talked about his administration’s efforts to encourage small business in the city including connecting 200 small business contractors with opportunities and creating the “20-minute neighborhood” where residents can walk or bike to find everything they need.

Certainly refocusing city resources to develop the 20-minute neighborhood holds opportunity for the entrepreneur.  And for a city that deals with complexities that include lack of access to jobs, returning citizens and poverty, entrepreneurship is key to creating community stakeholders who might not otherwise have opportunities.

Small businesses also account for 75 percent of the net new jobs in our economy, employ about half of private sector workers and exist in every neighborhood. Small business and entrepreneurship is a natural solution for the challenges facing Detroit and Michigan. Micro-businesses are increasingly important to our economy. As the Detroit Regional Chamber considers future conferences, making them affordable to small business owners and entreprenuers will be paramount.

Policymakers need to be responsive to this new reality.

What safety nets will exist for entrepreneurs who will likely fail and how will we reward resilience?

Most of us are going to have to become more entrepreneurial if we aren’t already. Within 10 years, one study estimates 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be freelance.

John says we will all need to work on our pitch, and he suggests that everyone should be able to describe yourself in five words. And be prepared to pitch, always.


Views expressed in Catherine Kelly’s commentary are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of WDET, its management or the station licensee, Wayne State University.



  • Catherine Kelly
    Catherine Kelly is a small business owner in Detroit. She is the Our/Detroit local partner and was the publisher of the Michigan Citizen. She believes that small business and entrepreneurs will make a sustainable Detroit.