05/29/2012 12:54 pm ET Updated May 30, 2012

Mackinac Conference 2012: Detroit Regional Chamber Hosts Policy Conference Early, Loses Lawmakers

While other Michiganders are returning home from Memorial Day weekends on the beach, movers and shakers from across the state are heading to a quaint island to attend the Mackinac Policy Conference, and perhaps indulge in some fudge and carriage rides.

The annual conference hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber on Michigan's business environment, innovation, collaboration and other buzzword topics, will include panels ranging from the private sector's role in health care to the importance of exports for the state's economy.

Gov. Rick Synder will kick off the discussions with a welcome address Tuesday afternoon, and the conference hosts other notable speakers, including New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, author Fareed Zakaria, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit), and candidates for this year's Senate race, incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican challengers Pete Hoekstra and Clark Durant, who will address the conference at a joint panel Wednesday afternoon.

While the conference has moved away from its once Detroit-centric focus, the city will play a large role in conversations. The "Detroit: Tale of Two Cities" panelists will discuss the impact of a "thriving busines community" on the city's "long-standing challenges."

Former Washington DC Mayor Anthony Williams will speak, joined by panelists Sandy Baruah, the Detroit Regional Chamber's president and CEO, and Red Elk Banks, an executive with Whole Foods Market, the gourmet grocery store opening in Midtown next year that's often glowingly cited as a good omen for the city's "resurgence."

The positivity is set to continue at a panel with the "Fab Five," the little-known nickname recalling a Motown group for representatives from the city of Detroit, as well as Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing will join four others, including Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and L. Brooks Patterson of Oakland County, to talk about collaboration in the region.

It's not all panels and speeches, however. The conference expects about 1,600 attendees, who will get daily cooking demonstrations as well as exercise tips from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. And thanks to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the island will be full of (reproductions of) masterpieces from the museum's collection. According to Crain's Detroit Business, nine pieces, including works from Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, will be on display through Sept. 3 at the Grand Hotel and Marquette Park through the Inside/Out program.

This year's conference runs Tuesday, May 29 to Thursday, May 31 rather than the usual Wednesday to Friday, a change made to accommodate the Grand Prix happening on Belle Isle this coming Friday to Sunday.

While the one-day shift might not seem like much, the Detroit News notes it's in large part responsible for the lack of attendance by state legislators, who are in session this week. It's a break in tradition for the conference, which may suffer from the dearth of political leaders, as well as fewer parties put on by lobbyists, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Instead of being plied with free food and booze, legislators will be cooped up in Lansing hurrying to finish the state budget by June 1. The earlier-than-usual budget deadline was instated by Snyder, who gave his plan for the budget earlier this year and wrapped up with some additional spending recommendations last week in light of unexpected revenue.

Luckily, lawmaking and conference-attending won't interfere with a weekend at the races.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this story, Mackinac Island was referred to as part of the Lower Peninsula. The island, which is located between Michigan's two peninsulas in Lake Huron, is part of Mackinac County in the Upper Peninsula.