February 28, 2019

The Morning Sun

Representatives from non-profits, government, education and private business got together Tuesday morning to discuss mid-Michigan’s most pressing issues. Although the two conversations were separated by a wall, it often sounded like the different groups were talking about the same thing.

The meat of the Community Leaders Mini-Conversations were the two panel-led conversations about healthcare, access and affordability, and how to create jobs that pay enough that someone working them full-time could support themselves.

One area both conversations touched on was the importance of attracting and retaining people.

Christine Hammond, president of Mid-Michigan College, hung charts on the wall to help her illustrate points she made during the jobs conversation. She pointed to one showing relative incomes and levels of educational attainment in Massachusetts, and also in Michigan. She said it established a correllation between education and access to talent.

“Talking about not needing a college education undermines this,” she said.

In the healthcare conversation, CEO of Isabella Citizens for Health, Inc., Jennifer White said that attracting and retaining primary care physicians was critical towards addressing access to health care. Towards the end of the the healthcare conversation, she told the people in the room, many of whom nodded in agreement, that everyone agreed that the two biggest issues were access to primary care and mental health services.

Some of the people drew from concepts involving the conversation in the other room, unaware that they had made this conversation.

Marita Hattem-Schiffman, president of MidMichigan Medical Center-Gratiot and MidMichigan Medical Center-Mt. Pleasant, said that a challenge that is looming larger for healthcare right now is the disappearance of hospitals in rural areas.
More than half of rural hospitals lack maternity care, and said that things could get worse.

Across the wall, Jim McBryde right around the same time took exception to a characterization that mid-Michigan is primarily a service economy. He pointed to two strong, separate healthcare networks as one of the area’s diversified economic portfolio. That includes manufacturing, which includes Morbark and Bandit in woodchippers and Delfield and Unified Brands in industrial kitchen components, and Mitsuba in CMU’s SmartZone.

“Who knew Honda parts are made on the campus of CMU,” he asked. He also identified co-panelist Erin Strang, president and CEO of the CMU Research Corp., as being part of that diversity in incubating startup companies.
McBryde also identified education and tourists brought to town by the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort.

Back across the wall in the healthcare conversation, all four panelists nodded as Bret Hyble, of the Mt. Pleasant Chamber of Commerce, asked about high-deductible health insurance.

Part of that is that employers used to pay a lot more for the healthcare insurance of their employees, he was told.

There was also considerable discussion that veered off into areas specific to the topic.

Someone in the healthcare room asked about mental health services for kids in school. Jennifer McNally said that they were in the process of launching a program to provide mental health services in local schools.

Across the wall, McBryde told people in the jobs conversation that the signs of a recession are lurking on the horizon. It could start this year or next, no one is certain, he said.

“There’s going to be some retrenchment,” he said.

One thing that is likely to make the next recession a bit different is that jobs lost are likely to be offset by accelerating retirements by Baby Boomers.

Jobs and healthcare were identified as the top two issues in mid-Michigan in a community survey commissioned by the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation and conducted by the Center of Applied Research and Rural Studies at
Central Michigan University. The MPACF and the United Way of Gratiot and Isabella Counties collaborated on the mini-conference, which was part of the United Way’s community leaders series.

Mary Senter, who runs CARRS, opened the mini-conference by going through a basic run-down of methodology used in collecting the data and what they found.

Annie Sanders, president of the United Way, said the survey didn’t produce a lot of new information, but helped verify what they already thought was true.
There is no concrete step for what to do next, Sanders said after the conference had concluded. Attendees were given a piece of paper by United Way employees at the end, and asked by Amanda Schafer of the MPACF to commit to doing something.

Members of the final panel had a different piece of advice.

“If you’re going to be part of the rising tide, there cannot be any turf,” said Travis Alden, president of the Barry County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance.

A delegation of Barry County’s civic leaders addressed the conference, and offered their insights after having done something somewhat similar in the last 10 years.

The overarching message was that collaboration was the key to addressing important issues in the community.