The Detroit Regional Chamber has been hosting the Mackinac Policy Conference for decades. But this year, while the country and state are still mired in the COVID-19 pandemic, the prominent conference looks a little different. More public health safety protocols have been implemented than ever before, and racial and social justice are cornerstones of the conversations taking place on the island.
Listen: Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah talks about the necessary changes to this year’s MPC.
Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber and host of the conference, says it was impossible to logistically conduct a live conference last year. He says the chamber waited until everyone could get a vaccine safely before deciding to make the 2021 conference live. “We were not going to adequately do this unless we could find a way to do it safely,” Baruah says.
Safety protocols were a top priority, according to the chamber CEO. Mask requirements are mandated in more high-traffic areas, the event is at reduced capacity, attendees have bands signaling how comfortable they are being in close proximity with others and all in attendance needed to have tested negative for COVID-19. In general, the CEO says the safety protocols have proven successful. “It is a much more relaxed experience,” says Baruah, adding, “The conference is the same song, just performed by a different artist.”
The CEO says hosting the conference live was important because live events are some of the only opportunities for people to tone down their partisan bickering in favor of listening to others with respect and civility. Baruah also explains “racial justice and equity for all” needed to be one of the conference’s pillars this year. “You cannot look back on these 18 months and not recognize that there’s been a sea change … in the values of this country, including the values around the business community around racial and social justice,” says Baruah.