Five Qs: Sandy Baruah of the Detroit Regional Chamber


As the end of the year approaches, DBusiness Daily News spoke with Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, about upcoming initiatives for the 20,000-member organization, the transition of a new mayor, and where he sees job growth in 2014.

DDN: What are the top 2014 initiatives for the chamber?

SB: We have three primary policy priorities. The first is regional collaboration, or getting southeast Michigan businesses and governments to work more cooperatively together for the interests of both the city and the suburbs. The second is economic development, which is driving more private capital investment and jobs into southeast Michigan, and the third is education reform, primarily K-12 in the city of Detroit and adult STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education.

DDN: How are you planning to draw more automotive businesses to the state?

SB: We have a formal partnership with the state that we call MICHauto, which is focused on ensuring — from a state policy perspective,— that we are continuing to make Michigan the most attractive place for automotive investment — manufacturing, research and development, supply chain — in the world. We are doing what we need to do to ensure a pipeline of talent into the automotive industry. We define the automotive industry very broadly; it’s obviously the OEMs and the suppliers, but it’s also consumer electronics, transportation, distribution, and logistics. Any industry that touches the auto industry, we want to make sure that we’ve got the most robust cluster here in Michigan.

The program has been running for about a year and a half now and is going very well. The state is now in the process of putting together a long-term strategy — which is one of the things we’ve been advocating for. So we consider that a very significant win for us.

DDN: Where do you see opportunities for job growth?

SB: I think automotive associated industry is certainly a key area of growth for Michigan. But you’re also going to see growth in health care technology, medical devices, health care IT. The agriculture and food industries are going to continue to be a growth area in Michigan, which is still the second most diverse agriculture market, next to California. And finally, you’re going to see a growth in entrepreneurship of all types. From technology-based entrepreneurs to small mom and pop corner retail, corner restaurant entrepreneurs. We’re definitely going to see a continued spike in entrepreneurship activity in the state and in Detroit.

DDN: Mayor-elect Mike Duggan takes office on Jan. 1. How do you plan to approach the transition of a new leadership in the city?

SB: We are very close with Mike. We have someone on our team who is on the transition team, and I have met with Mike and some senior members already. We’ve already provided (Mike and the transition team) with (our ideas on helping) make City Hall more efficient and streamline for businesses. I anticipate that we will be very active with the new mayor’s administration. We’re very excited about Mike and we’re very excited about the agreement he has struck with (emergency manager) Kevyn Orr to take over most of the operations of the city. We think that’s exactly the right approach to take.

DDN: What can people expect from this 2014 Mackinac Policy Conference?

SB: We’re essentially at capacity for the Mackinac conference, so we’re not trying to grow. We can’t accept any more people on the island or the island might sink. So in terms of size of the conference, you’ll see the same size and format on the same days. This year’s themes are going to be centered on STEM education, entrepreneurship, and impact or making change. We’ll make our first speaker announcement early in the year, probably the second week of January.