05/30/2013 09:20 am ET Updated Jul 30, 2013

Detroit's Davos -

ONCE a year, business and political leaders from metropolitan Detroit travel to an island resort that bans all motorized vehicles and talk about the regional economy.

For me, memories of childhood vacations at that resort, Mackinac Island -- the ferry ride, the fudge shops, the horse-drawn carriages -- are primarily olfactory. In the unlikely event I'm ever again hit with the dueling scents of confectioner's exhaust and horse manure, it would probably trigger some kind of Proustian flashback.

For years, Michigan's business community seemed bent on flashbacks of its own, to the days when the Big Three automakers towered arrogantly from the safe confines of an insular culture. But now its buzzwords are "innovation," "entrepreneurship" and a "21st-century global market." This week's Mackinac Policy Conference has positioned itself as a sort of Midwestern Davos, with a roster of marquee speakers, including Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush and the hosts of "Morning Joe."

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