In a professional world where it seems like every single moment is consumed by meetings, the Mackinac Policy Conference is an important reminder about the value of serendipity.
For three or four days, leadership from across the state can be found on Mackinac Island, captive by its boundaries and focused on learning, renewing partnerships, networking and forging creative solutions to problems that challenge the collective good.
Nowhere else can you find the highest-level executives from government, philanthropy, nonprofit, economic development and industry gathered at the same time and the same place for the same reasons.
It is the unique combination of people, place and time, that seems to freeze the universe for a moment and allow people who may not necessarily find themselves in each other’s company, ready and without planning, able to connect.
This year, I celebrated the one-year anniversary of one such serendipitous encounter: when I met Kirk Mayes, executive director of the Brightmoor Alliance. We both walked out of a conference session and began to talk, immediately connecting around our passion for reviving the neighborhoods of Detroit. Four hours later, we had developed a partnership and hatched a plan to move forward together and make magic.
While on the island this year, Kirk and I delighted in our memory of that first meeting, and reflected on the work we’d accomplished since then.
Immediately following the 2012 conference, TechTown, in partnership with the Brightmoor Alliance, launched its SWOT City program (bringing business acceleration strategies to underrepresented neighborhoods) in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood. The program had only been beta tested at that point and we hadn’t secured funding, so both organizations committed volunteers to the project, certain that if the program had the impact we predicted, funding would follow.
A few more serendipitous meetings later, we secured funding through the gracious support of the Marjorie S. Fisher Endowment Fund of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
By March of this year, we had completed a comprehensive neighborhood economic strategy; participated in multiple community meetings; hosted more than 30 tune-up sessions for current and prospective entrepreneurs; assessed 15 businesses; added four jobs; retained 53 jobs; launched one new company and moved another six into the pipeline.
All because two people, away from their overscheduled professional lives, found magic in an unplanned moment on the island.
Next year, I hope to be able to celebrate new, extraordinary and unexpected outcomes, though the partnerships forged or reaffirmed this year on the glorious porch of the Grand Hotel, in the crammed restaurants along Main Street, and on the long and familiar walk up and down the hill to the conference.