Blog: Chris Ando, Jennifer Guracech, & Christian Bielski

Chris Ando
, 31, an intern at the Detroit Regional Chamber, is working with The Detroit Regional Economic Partnership, an economic development program run by the chamber. Over the course of his internship, he has also worked for Intern in, a statewide initiative to retain and attract talent in Michigan through internship opportunities. He hopes to work in the economic development field and take part in the revitalization of Detroit.  

Chris, a candidate for a master's of urban planning from Wayne State University, is completing his thesis on incubating and growing small manufacturing companies in the Detroit region. Prior to graduate studies, he was employed in the purchasing department at Visteon Corporation. Chris, a native of Toledo, Ohio, received a BBA from Ohio State University.

Jennifer Guracech
, an intern at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, is currently looking for a career in higher education or nonprofit development. She is a 2010 graduate of the University of Michigan, where she majored in English and psychology. At the university she served as the planning director of Dance Marathon, a student-run non-profit that provides funding for pediatric rehabilitation programs.

She previously interned with the University of Michigan's Office of University Development and had the opportunity to study abroad for a summer at Oxford University in England.

Christian Bielski
, an intern with Macomb County Commissioner David Flynn, is active in both domestic and international public policy issues. Christian recently served on the Albion Downtown Development Authority Board, a city board that tries to bring economic development to the downtown, and has worked as a canvasser for US Rep. Mark Schauer in the 7th district.  He also assisted in the coordination of the Nwangi Project, which helped build a school in Cameroon.

A lifelong Grosse Pointe resident, Christian is a recent graduate of Albion College with a major in Political Science and a concentration in Public Policy. While attending Albion, he completed a full-time internship for Senator Carl Levin during his sophomore year, in 2008. This led to another internship in Senator Levin's Detroit office the following summer.

Christian attended the recent Mackinac Policy Conference, a gathering of the state's political and business leadership. He believes that retaining more of Michigan's talent is the key to the rebirth of Detroit and the rest of the state.

Chris Ando, Jennifer Guracech, & Christian Bielski - Most Recent Posts:

Christian Bielski: The Mackinac Policy Conference - "Spring Break", Or Not?

Being an intern who has never attended the Mackinac Policy Conference before, I understand that my impressions about the conference may be naïve, but ultimately are a topic worth discussing. Before attending the conference, I thought it would be a good idea to read about it. Many of the articles I read described it as a fluffy conference that never truly accomplished anything, and often described it as the "spring break" for Michigan policymakers. I took note of these viewpoints to see if these were true, and to my surprise I found that not to be the case.

The event is like a college seminar conference mixed with fancy meals. All day there were speakers, group discussions, and meetings. This setup makes it easy for newspapers and TV news show to analyze and criticize the main events at the conference, but what often isn't mentioned is the networking and problem solving that occurs behind the scene. Yes, there are receptions, speakers, seminars, and more casual events that take place at the conference, but does that translate into the conference being simply just a party?

My answer is no, but a better question is, have you ever been in an organization where leadership and members conceal their true feelings, but are waiting for the right time to confront those concerns? Well, the Mackinac Policy Conference provides that neutral territory and time that is essential to addressing looming issues that the state faces together. The conference allows the policy leaders of Michigan to reconnect with lost connections, bring partisans towards bipartisanship, and enables people to form new connections where sometimes staying local limits that necessary type of regional communication to solve the state's solution. We often complain that Detroit and the suburbs are in a constant battle, but in Mackinac they are on equal footing and have the opportunity to change that image. The conference allows many different parts of the state to ban together as a region to solve Michigan's biggest problems.

Though no legislation is written in Mackinac or grand commitments made, it is a conference that allows mobilization to take place. Once you have mobilization you can attract media attention and from there you can make money which leads to implementations towards change or a new goal. That is the ultimate value of the conference, but again for that mobilization effort to bear fruit we must carry the momentum created from the conference.  

Now we need to make sure that momentum is carried and support the DRIC. From the young entrepreneurs in Fusion to the older policy makers of Detroit, we can do it. Just remember, the dialogue is continued when all return back to their local homes – or then the conference truly is a spring break.

Christian Bielski: The Mackinac Policy Conference and Tom Cruise - More Similar Than You Might Think

I admit that I am just a naive and impressionable intern that attended the Mackinac Policy Conference for the first time this past June, but I could not ignore mood or the experience I witnessed. While driving up to the conference all excited to meet the movers and shakers of Michigan, I realized at the conference that most of them felt like me, a Michigander that feels cornered by big business and government. Does this shared feeling of conflict sound familiar? A man feeling torn between serving a firm that corrupts his personal integrity or helping the government in exchange for a life he never wanted? Yes, you guessed it.  I am saying that most Michiganders feel like Tom Cruise in the movie The Firm and desperately want leaders that can create a way to bridge two sectors, business and government.

I entered the conference with an open mind hoping to meet and pick the brains of current policymakers and see if any of the main events could help alleviate the dilemmas of Detroit and Michigan. The conference did start off with a bang. Newt Gingrich, the keynote speaker, provided Detroit and Michigan with fresh perspectives and brutal honesty. He began his address by speaking about the Polish Solidarity movement and how it was able to bring down Communism using the equation 2+2=4.

His message was that no matter how complex a problem was, 2+2 always equaled 4. This symbol worked well as he talked about Detroit needing to face the challenges head on and not to create solutions that look like 2+2=4.5. He talked about how the low high school graduation rates can only be fixed when schools hold their students accountable. The student, if impoverished, shouldn't be taught to give up, but provided with incentives to succeed. This is where he suggested implementing for-profit schools and community colleges, meaning that a student could get paid for doing well in school, essentially funding a way for him to attend that school. He also suggested creating a tax free zone for Detroit, which would attract businesses and boost private sector growth. Clearly, Gingrich provided a feeling that the cornered Michigander could find solutions that made the state neither a slave to government or big business. We have to be our own Tom Cruise, by finding a unique way to solve the state's problems.

The next day was not the great debate, but what I refer to as the great debacle. It was exciting to see all seven candidates make their debut and see who might be the new leader of Michigan.  Unfortunately, the end of the debate left the same taste in your mouth as did entering it, no clear leader and no Tom Cruise. They covered an array of topics from jobs, unions, healthcare, and the DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing). Virg Bernero was a passionate candidate, but unfortunately wasn't able to hone in and show great substance on the issues. Attorney General Cox was his usual relentless prosecuting self, making Rick Snyder his main target. Unfortunately, those attacks made Snyder sling back, making him look like a sleazy politician rather than the business owner who offers something different for Michigan. Some say that I may be over-exaggerating, but look at the recent Republican debates. Snyder wasn't present.  Bouchard and Hoekstra seemed calm and could pinpoint the issues, but offered no real substantive solutions to the hypothetical scenarios created by moderator Tim Scubick, while Andy Dillon played the middle much like Obama did in his debates. Tom George continually hammered the deficit problem and that is all he addressed, with a few funny quips about Asian carp.  Though many of the questions were hypotheticals, it offered the candidate the opportunity to define themselves and it seemed no candidate truly made a solid case that they could bring business and government together to solve the problems of our state.

I wanted to hear them provide job creation ideas, I wanted them to talk about the education problems, and I wanted them to admit that both poor business practices (the failure of the auto industry) and poor government decisions have created issues for the state. But most of all, I wanted them to provide solutions. I wanted them to stick to their guns. I will be blunt; if the candidates blamed Scubik for relying too much on hypothetical scenarios, they aren't ready to be governor. Additionally, to the media and others that accepted the hypothetical scenario excuse, you are letting the candidates off for poor performance. If we want a governor who is a true executive and one who can turn the state around, then we need to hold him or her to high standards and not let the moderator take the blame. Michigan is done with the blame game. We need a governor who can roll with the punches and provide substantive solutions to hypothetical or real scenarios, one who can say we need to cut the deficit by cutting this department or this program. We need a governor who can be a creative innovator. We want a governor that wants to  save Detroit by consolidating land and creating an environment that supports the new entrepreneurs in Detroit.

The conference continued with more conversations about the DRIC and issues hurting our state. It was great to see that many people talk and support the DRIC, but more importantly it was great to see FUSION and the young business owners talk to one another and mobilize efforts to solve Michigan's problems.

Though the conference provided a neutral territory for discussions among all of the leaders in the state of Michigan, it is up to all of us, all the startups, to become the leaders that can solve our problems. We must come up with the solutions to keep big business and government in check and that is why I hope all the attendees follow up and complete the Mackinac Policy Conference "To Do" list. Support the DRIC. Even when Brooks Paterson admits that Manny Moroun has a monopoly, it is time to open the marketplace and build the bridge.  Let's hone in on Tom Cruise's skills and find the unique solutions to our problems.

In the end, we Michiganders aren't alone in finding the middle between big business and the government. Just look at the Gulf oil spill.

Chris Ando: Influence on the Island

Coming to work at the Detroit Regional Chamber was very exciting for me. I thought it would be a great opportunity where I would be able to experience much of what the Chamber has to offer.  However, I had no idea that I would have the opportunity to attend the Mackinac Policy Conference (MPC). Having known about the MPC for many years and followed it in the news, I saw its reach and influence. When asked if I would represent Intern in, along with three other interns at the MPC, I was very honored and eager to experience the conference.   

From the moment we boarded the ferry for Mackinac Island, we got to see what the conference is all about.  It was non-stop activity of people meeting each other for the first time, along with old acquaintances seeing each other again.  This to me is the greatest benefit of the MPC – the most influential people in the state, many whom would have never come together, all congregating in the same location.  It made the state seem much smaller than it is.  The inside of the Grand Hotel appeared to me as a neutral playing field, where people of different political persuasions can speak openly with one another and anyone can have a conversation with the most powerful people in the state.  Never did I think I would ever be surrounded by so many movers and shakers.  It provided me with many firsts, such as my first television interview – and my first blogging experience.

As I am pursuing a career in economic development, this year's conference was particularly enticing.  Besides the upcoming elections, all of the focus was on Michigan's economy and getting people back to work.  More than anything, I was glad that people from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development came to speak on the success of the Pittsburgh region.  If we are to take anything away from the people of Pittsburgh, I hope those coming back to the Detroit area come back with the same positive attitude about their region and what it has to offer as they do in Pittsburgh.  

Working at the Detroit Regional Chamber for a few months prior to the MPC allowed me to learn a great deal about what the chamber has to offer, which prepared me well for the conference. Over the past six months, I have been exposed to more than I ever thought I would see at this stage of my career.  The chamber made sure that these experiences were things I had an interest in and that would benefit my career.  The number of networking events I have attended has been uncanny.  I have been able to hone in on my networking skills, while establishing a network to move my career forward.  As I continue to work at the chamber on exciting projects aimed at helping the region and state move forward, I will make sure to carry on the enthusiasm and optimism I was able to capture while at the MPC.

Jennifer Guracech: Networking Live

I was very excited when I was asked to be one of the Intern in Michigan representatives at the Mackinac Policy Conference.  Honestly though, who in my position wouldn't be? I had just graduated and did not yet have a job lined up.  I had heard of the conference before but really did not know what all it entailed.  I did know enough to understand that it would be a great opportunity to "get my name out there," meet some amazing people, and to truly start networking.  At school, I had had a pretty good network of friends and student leaders but it was about time I really built my professional network and honed my networking skills.  Plus, it was a few days on Mackinac Island.

As the event grew closer, I began to obsess more on the one aspect I needed and feared most – networking.  A skill and an art form.  Having never been in the world of politics or spent time in corporate America, I was a bit panicked to be spending three days at a conference designed specifically for that purpose.  I had been taught how to network and I had made my few attempts during a previous internship, however never on this scale.  I would be with people who did this for a living.

What do I talk about?  Will they really want to know anything about me? Do I just go up to ANYONE?

After checking into the hotel, making the trek to the Grand Hotel, and giving myself a little "You can network" pep talk I was ready to go.  During the conference I was assigned to the check-in table –  perfect.  I was able to see all of the conference-goers as they were checking in and was able to put names with faces, see the different types of people there, and best of all have a short interaction with each of them as I handed them their conference bag (a hot commodity as they contained some magical Mackinac Island fudge and the ever-important umbrella).

While working registration, I was able to see the lighter side of the conference.  I was not in many of the actual sessions and did not get to see the gubernatorial debate; however, what I was able to witness was just as interesting.  I was able to see people from all across the political spectrum shaking hands and conversing.  

I had heard criticisms of the conference.  People thought that not enough got done, that policy was not being made right then and there. 

However, what I saw showed me why the conference was important.  Here, (sometimes right in front of the check-in table) people at many different levels and from many different perspectives were talking.  Some of the conversation started with casual greetings and people catching up and every once in a while I was able to hear people speak frankly with one another about issues or situations that had happened.  It was interesting to me to see people with such strong and polarizing political ideals getting along.  It was obvious that people did not agree on situations but they were not making show, they were asking and questioning.  No decisions were being made here but even after a semi-intense conversation, there would be a hand-shake or a hug and they would go on with their days.  I guess this is what networking is all about.  These people may not vote the same way on issues or there may have been competition between agendas but I was able to see them as people.  

When I was able to get out and network myself, I was still nervous but found that once I was able to talk to one person, the entire process seemed easier.  People genuinely wanted to know what I had done in college and what I was planning on doing in the future.  Each person was passionate about the state of Michigan and many seemed to be selling the state to me.  Before the conference, I had been nervous that it would be a bunch of individuals much older than me who would not have time or find what I had to say interesting.  

As a recent graduate, I was among the youngest, yet there was an entire group of young professionals.  Speaking to them was just as fascinating. Getting to hear advice about job searching and the professional world from people who had just gone through the experience I was embarking on was helpful.  We spoke about the fact that graduate school was in the future, or had just happened, for many of us.  We talked about the difficulties young professionals face especially in this economic climate. We chatted about college majors and the fact that not everyone was working in his or her direct field of study. 

A few things I found very interesting from these conversations:  One, there are many people who would like to work in Michigan and who are committed to staying here but have a difficult time finding jobs (making networking that much more important). Two, the younger the person, the more positive the attitude about not working directly within one's college major. Three, many of the people I was talking to had already had a multitude of jobs and/or were working for small companies, and most of them were under the age of 30.

I gained networking confidence by talking to people closer to my own age and stopped worrying as much about saying something stupid.  As the weekend went on, I felt more comfortable striking up a conversation with someone walking near me or on the taxi (read: horse-drawn carriage).  I discovered that the individuals in attendance were interested in the youth of the state and were passionate about keeping people in Michigan.  

All in all, the conference was quite the experience.  I was able to be a fly on the wall and observe while also challenging myself on the one skill I know will help me move forward – networking.

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