Since 2004, students from more than 100 high schools across Michigan have been meeting in Grand Rapids to hone their leadership, citizenship and technology skills through the Michigan Association of Business Professionals of America.

“We focus on preparing students for business careers,” said Maurice Henderson, state director of the Michigan Association. “We have high school students here in Grand Rapids this weekend where they're participating in events ranging from accounting to web design.”

Megan Tack, state president of the Michigan Association, said the annual State Leadership Conference gives students the opportunity to learn professional skills, such as interview or presentation strategies, in a safe environment alongside other like-minded students. And Grand Rapids provides an ideal setting.

“I love having it in Grand Rapids,” she said. “There are so many entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids. You go into a store just for lunch, and you're talking to the owner and they just began it, so it's really cool.”

The conference and the organization serve as an investment in Michigan’s economic capital, too, said CharMaine Hines, a member of the organization’s advisory board of trustees.

“We have the cream of the crop in a talent pool of students who are on their way to colleges in the state of Michigan,” she said. “And once they graduate, there's a need for them to stay and invest in our city and in the industries that drive Michigan.” “It's the perfect environment for our organization.”

The annual conference is booked in Grand Rapids through at least 2018.