Salisbury Rising Q&A: This community is truly alive,’ says Mike Dunn

Mike Dunn.

Seven questions with Mike Dunn, CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee. A nonprofit group with a mission to serve as a catalyst for community improvement, GSC is made up of more than 100 individuals representing businesses, nonprofit organizations, educational and civic institutions.

Q. What have been the most significant community changes that you have seen in the past five years?

A. When I look at our community over the last five years, there is one thing that stands out to me. We are ALIVE.

This community is, truly, ALIVE. It is a high energy, high opportunity place to be.

There is such a convergence going on. We have the right people in the right places at the right time. And when the stars align like that? Good things happen.

Just look around. Jake Day is our Mayor. He has led a resurgence, not only in the city of Salisbury, but in our region.

And, so many other people — from Bill Chambers at the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce; Erica Joseph and her team at the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore; Pam Gregory, the new President/CEO at the United Way; Ray Hoy, the forward-thinking President of Wor-Wic Community College; Jayme Hayes, President of Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore; Dawn Veatch, the new manager of the SBY Airport; Steve Miller at Wicomico Rec and Parks; Sandy Angello, owner of Pohanka Automotive; Dave Ryan of SWED; Eli Modlin, SU; Mandel Copeland, 50K Souls … .

The list of quality people doing great work is deep. And, I’m proud to say, the Greater Salisbury Committee is playing a key role in so many community successes, thanks to the dedication and talents of our members.

Q. How do you feel Salisbury will be positioned five years from now?

A. Mayor Day likes to call Salisbury the Capital of the Eastern Shore. And I think it is. So five years from now, I believe the fruits of all of the labor of so many forward thinking community members, businesses, institutions, and philanthropists will pave the way for this area to be even better  than it is now. Clearly, predicting the future is impossible. There will, of course, be things that will cause challenges to this community. But I think that we are setting the new tone that, collectively, we are a community that can handle virtually anything that is thrown its way.

I truly believe that the growth of a community and a region is not just based on the economic realities of any given time. I believe the growth of a community is based, also, on its inherent spirit. Do we live in a community that cares? Do we live in a community that tries to tackle problems, and seize opportunities? Do we live in a community that believes it must keep moving forward? I think we do. The Greater Salisbury Committee is committed to being part of THAT community!

Q. What do you hear from community leaders about the progress the city seems to be making?

A. We have approximately 100 members of the GSC. They are the business leaders, community leaders, philanthropic leaders, institutional leaders of our local area. Collectively, they see this community pointed in a very positive direction. Could we be doing better in some areas? Of course. Collectively, I think the leaders of GSC, and many others in the business community, would like to see better communication at the governmental level.

Putting that aside, however, the community leaders I am in touch with on a daily basis are invigorated. They are proud. They see a city on the rise. They see change happening virtually every single day. And in that environment, whether you’re the owner of a small business or a large one, the president of a University or of a community college, you see this is a time of tremendous opportunity. At the same time, the growing pains to take this city to the next level — such as the tremendous renovation of our Downtown Main Street (and the construction that comes with it), and the construction of the upcoming Mill Street traffic circle — cause a little anxiety. Understandably. But, collectively, the business leaders in this community know that there is light at the end of this proverbial tunnel, and that the city will be a better place when all of these projects are completed.

Q. How can we keep the positive momentum going?

A. Nothing builds momentum like momentum. I think the way we keep this going is, simply put, to keep it going. I think teams in the middle of winning streaks have to do the best they can to keep the winning streak going. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a loss along the way. We all know we can’t win everything. But I think to keep the momentum going we need to cultivate a next generation of leaders.

I am proud to say that GSC is doing just that, with the completion of our second Transformational Community Leadership (TCL) series cohort. We have about 30 next generation leaders and for the second time in the last two years, we have taken them to some of the entities that make our community tick: places like the airport, the wastewater treatment plant, our schools, our farms, and even our Detention Center. And we have followed those doors up with panel discussions that have included people like Randy Day, Matt Holloway, Charles and Michelle Wright, Wayne Strausburg, Jake Day, Jim Berkman, Donna Hanlin and many others. We are doing the best we can to show this next generation of leaders the examples of those who have come before them, and those who are in positions of power and success now.

This city of ours has always had a bend toward doing things, collectively, that benefit the community as a whole. Things like Ben’s Red Swings. By sharing examples of how Salisbury and Wicomico were built by the collective goodwill of people named Perdue and Henson and Morris – we hope to keep that spirit alive moving forward.

Q. What is the perception of Salisbury and Wicomico County across the state? What kind of feedback do you hear?

A. I would say the reputation around the state of Salisbury and Wicomico County is, overall, very strong. As mentioned, Salisbury as the Capital of the Eastern Shore is catching on. Our community, and its assets, are viewed quite favorably. Are we perfect? Of course not. Ironically, the things we get called out on from our statewide peers — some of our perceived and actual political dysfunction – are the kinds of things that seem to be everywhere these days.

Should we have less political dysfunction, perceived or actual? Probably. But so should Annapolis. So should Washington. I think all of us in our community are — by and large — proud of what’s going on in and around the Lower Shore. As we should be.

Q. What challenges does the community face?

A. I think our greatest challenge is, perhaps, figuring out a way for all of us – collectively – to feel as optimistic about our community as most of us do. It’s no secret that we have a bit of a “the glass is half full” mentality around here. There’s a vein that runs through part of this community which (seems to) prefer conspiracies and negativity over truth and positivity. We seem to have trouble reveling in, or believing that we deserve, the good stuff.

We have the largest high school largest holiday basketball tournament east of the Mississippi every December; we have The National Folk Festival, which we competed against 34 other communities to host; we have wine festivals and beer festivals; we have national softball tournaments each summer, which bring thousands of people here; we have a free community zoo; a commercial airport; three colleges within 11 miles of each other; a retail shopping district; a world class health care facility; arts and cultural events; active youth recreational leagues; unbelievable superintendents of schools; beaches and outdoors areas galore; bike trails.

And … NO TRAFFIC. That alone should convince folks that this is a great place to call home. I think if we believe more in this area as a quality place to live, and if we believe we deserve good things, we’d all be much better off.

Q. Why have you chosen to keep your deep ties to this community and make a life here?

A. This is easy an easy question. I live here because I choose to live here. That may sound simple, but it’s true. Life is all about choices. What do you do? Who are you with? Where do you live? We choose the answers to each of these questions. All of us. And, since I’ve decided to live here, I’ve decided that giving back to the community — in any way I can — is important. From an early age, my brother and sisters and I watched firsthand the example that my parents and their peers set.

Giving back to the community came very naturally to them. So I had good role models. And now, thanks to GSC, I’m able and privileged to be part of an organization that has spent 52 years trying to make this community a better place to live and work. Just last week, my sister-in-law, who was in town (from Colorado) to enjoy the National Folk Festival, was attending the opening reception for the NFF. In the midst of listening to Mayor Day and others talk about ALL that goes into that amazing event, she turned to me, with misty eyes, and said: “You and Karen are so lucky to live in and be part of this community. I’ve never experienced what this feels like, anywhere I’ve lived.” And then, she gave me a hug and told me she was going to … get more involved in her community.

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