State Policy Network
Mackinac Center partners with Michigan Chamber of Commerce to help restart Michigan’s economy

By Holly Wetzel, Communications Coordinator at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

In response to the coronavirus, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020. While the governor made some positive regulatory reforms, she also put a number of seemingly arbitrary restrictions in place. Michigan’s stay-at-home order was perhaps the nation’s most strict. Recognizing the need for leadership, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Michigan Chamber of Commerce built upon their decades-long relationship to create a set of nine principles to guide lawmakers through this difficult period.

Neither group is a public health expert, but both have a great deal of experience when it comes to free-market policy solutions that can help businesses. By combining the policy expertise from the think-tank side, with the first-hand knowledge of the needs of businesses and entrepreneurs, the groups were able to release principles to re-energize Michigan’s economy.

The primary focus was to maintain public safety while simultaneously igniting a full and speedy economic recovery. The guidelines emphasize that policymakers should take a hands-off approach when it comes to reopening the state. By giving businesses and entrepreneurs the freedom and flexibility to lead the recovery, the state will be much better off.

Mackinac and the Michigan Chamber delivered these principles to every lawmaker in Lansing and promoted them in the media. An op-ed co-authored by Joseph G. Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center, and Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber, appeared in the two largest newspapers in the state. Another op-ed appeared in the weekly publication of Crain’s Detroit Business. Local outlets and radio stations across the state have discussed the recommendations and the Mackinac Center plans to host a virtual event on the topic.

The Chamber, founded in 1959, is nearly two decades older than the Mackinac Center, founded in 1987, but early on the two groups realized their organizations could accomplish a great deal together. They worked to leverage those opportunities and partnered on several research projects. Leadership also played a key role in maintaining the relationship between the two organizations. For decades, the Michigan Chamber was led by James Barrett, who now serves on the Mackinac Center’s board of directors. Under his leadership, the Chamber focused on the free market as the go-to principle, not the fallback. To this day, this strong alignment of principles has led to an invaluable partnership between the two organizations.

How state think tanks can partner with their local or state chamber of commerce

The collaboration between the premier free-market voices in Michigan provided more opportunities to be heard in Lansing and across the state.

State-based think tanks should consider seeking opportunities to work with their local or state chamber of commerce. To start building the relationship, state think tanks should be aware of the issues that their chamber of commerce is working on. Chambers need outside research and expertise, which think tanks can provide. Both groups have similar audiences and supporters.

The key is to focus on mutual interests. While the groups may not align on every issue, it’s important to come together around common goals. Like most successful partnerships, the relationship should be mutually beneficial. Both groups have a unique role in the creation of policy, but they can produce stronger outcomes by leveraging their skills and working together.