Report shows Salisbury has the ingredients for success

3rd Friday 1 (2)

There is a recipe to success, and Salisbury already has most of the ingredients.

Now, it’s up to an array of cooks to use their talents and commitments to make the entire banquet work.

In the March edition of the Atlantic magazine, Salisbury’s promise is revealed. The renowned periodical’s cover story, “Can America Put Itself Back Together?”, includes a sidebar summation by the noted reporter-writer/husband-wife team of James and Deb Fallows. In seeking answers to many of the nation’s problems, the couple took a 54,000-mile journey around the nation in a single-engine plane.

While Salisbury wasn’t on their list of stops, a lot of cities similar to Salisbury were. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of insight to gain from their reporting on America.

Wrote the Fallows: “By the time we had been to half a dozen cities, we had developed an informal checklist of the traits that distinguished a place where things seemed to work. These items are obviously different in nature, most of them are subjective, and some of them overlap.

“But if you tell us how a town measures up based on these standards,” the Fallows wrote, “we can guess a lot of other things about it. In our experiences, these things were true of the cities, large or small, that were working best.”

The 11 traits of success:

  1. Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.

Politics of all kinds has long been a local sport on the Eastern Shore. In the local diners, coffee houses, rural stores and even the Giant in Salisbury, one can readily find political conversations going on.

In many ways, these days the national politics on the Shore seems to be more a spectator sport and less a participatory one.

When the Fallows began their tour, it was 2014 and the national issues of contention were about the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage and Obamacare. When they finished, the 2016 presidential campaign was heating up. But, the Fallows reported, the presidential race just didn’t come up.

“Overwhelmingly, the focus in successful towns was not on national divisions but on practical problems that a community could address,” they wrote. “The more often national politics came into local discussions, the worse shape the town was in.”

This anecdotal evidence would seem to favor Salisbury.

  1. You can pick out the local patriots.

According to the Fallows, a standard question they’d ask soon after arrival was: “Who makes this town go?”

The answers, they wrote, varied widely. “Sometimes it was a mayor or a city council member. Sometimes it was a local business titan or real estate developer. Sometimes a university president or professor, a civic activist, an artist, a saloon-keeper, a historian, or a radio personality.

“What mattered,” they wrote, “was that the question had an answer. And the more quickly it was provided, the better shape the town was in.”

Salisbury, it could be said, has a healthy roster of “local patriots.” Building that list is remarkably easy, as we all know who the difference-makers are. And, more importantly, unknown people who make a difference — and do so without the expected fanfare — are being discovered all the time.

(In fact, Salisbury Independent has made it a mission to find these people, tell their stories and highlight their contributions.)

Here’s a short list to consider (and it by no means includes everyone): Jake Day, Barbara Duncan, Matt Maciarello, Mike Lewis, Martin Hutchison, Mark Thompson, Don Taylor, Kathleen Momme, Erica Joseph, Peggy Naleppa, Janet Dudley Eshbach, Bob Culver, John Cannon, Ed Henry, Ray Hoy, Palmer Gillis, Bradley Gillis, Kim Gillis, Joey Gilkerson.

More? How about Chris Eccleston, Tony Weeg, Stephen DiCarlo, Mike Dunn, Mitzi Perdue, Molly Hilligoss, Jamie Heater, Sarah Rayne, Don Hackett, Bill Turner, Tony Severn, Memo Diriker, Susan Purnell, Sandy Fitzgerald Angello, Connie Strott, Lee Whaley, Ron Morgan, Kim Hudson, the Knorr Brothers, Andrea Berstler, Matt Drew, Jim Perdue, Morgan Hazel …. get the idea yet?

  1. “Public-private partnerships” are real.

When Salisbury University partnered 17 years ago with developers to fill student housing needs, some people decried the “public-private partnership,” because — in retrospect — it was just too innovative to be believed.

Today, the university has taken the public-private formula to new heights, as witnessed in Sea Gull Square and, most lately, in the university’s growing role in Downtown redevelopment.

The city, is seeking to correctly sell its developable land Downton is showing a similar vein of public-private thinking. The reconstruction that allowed the new State’s Attorney’s Office was done in a public-private cooperative effort.

As Jim Fallows writes in the article: “Through the years I had assumed this term was just another slogan, or a euphemism for sweetheart deals between Big Government and Big Business.”

That’s a common reaction to the “public-private partnerships” idea, and it might be a reason why Salisbury maybe hasn’t done as much as it might be able to in this area, and could have some have some big opportunities to explore.

According to the Fallows, “in successful towns, people can point to something specific and say, ‘This is what a partnership means.’”

In Greenville, S.C., they report, the public-school system includes an elementary school for engineering in a poor neighborhood. The city runs the school; local companies like GE send in engineers to teach and supervise science fairs, at their own expense.

In Holland, Mich., a family-owned scrap-recycling company works with a local ministry to hire ex-prisoners who would otherwise have trouble re-entering the workforce.

In Fresno, Calif., a collaboration among the city, county, and state governments; local universities; and several tech start-ups trains high-school dropouts and other unemployed people in computer skills.

Wrote the Fallows: “The more specifically a community can explain what their public-private partnerships mean, the better off the city is.”

  1. People know the civic story.

When we were kids growing up in Salisbury, the civic story dispensed in our schools was that Salisbury had burned to the ground — twice — and been rebuilt from the ashes. It was a powerful image then, but maybe doesn’t hold up as well now.

For many people, the long-held civic story that has defined Salisbury is its uniqueness in a predominantly rural area. For a long time, Salisbury was Emerald City in the middle of the wild Land of Oz.

It was the progressive city, the retail center, the place you had to go just to see a movie, buy a car or — if you were a farmer — take your corn to market. All that has changed, of course, and Salisbury’s recent identity crisis has been much discussed.

A recent branding campaign has tried to answer some of the identity questions, but the civic story aspects are much bigger.

Crime, in recent years, has been too large an identifier in Salisbury’s civic story.  

“Successful cities have their stories,” wrote the Fallows. “For Sioux Falls, S.D., that it’s just the right size: big enough so that people who have come from the smaller-town prairie can find challenge, stimulation, opportunity; small enough to be livable and comfortable.”

For Columbus, Ohio, it’s that it’s big enough to make anything possible; small enough to actually get things done.

For Bend, Ore.,or Duluth, Minn.; or Winters, California, that they are in uniquely attractive locations.

Maybe the civic story of Salisbury merely lies in its promise?

Report the Fallows: “For Pittsburgh, that it has set an example of successful turnaround. For Eastport, Maine, or Allentown or Fresno or Detroit, that they are in the process of turning around.

“As with guiding national myths, the question is not whether these assessments seem precisely accurate to outsiders,” the Fallows write. “Their value is in giving citizens a sense of how today’s efforts are connected to what happened yesterday and what they hope for tomorrow.”

  1. They have a downtown.

Mayor Day gets a lot of guff from the non-city-core business folks who don’t appreciate all of the attention being paid to Downtown Salisbury. But the Fallows’ reporting makes it pretty obvious that the mayor is on the right track.

“This seems obvious, but it is probably the quickest single marker of the condition of a town,” the Fallow write.

“Most of the cities we visited were pouring attention, resources, and creativity into their downtown. … Of the downtowns we saw, Greenville’s (S.C.) and Burlington’s (Vt.) were the most advanced, studied by planners around the world. But downtown ambitions of any sort are a positive sign, and second- and third-floor apartments and condos over restaurants and stores with lights on at night suggest that the downtown has crossed a decisive threshold and will survive.”

Salisbury appears to both be on that path and appreciate its importance in the long term.

  1. They are near a research university.

Research universities have become economic drivers, or as the Fallows describe: “Te modern counterparts to a natural harbor or a river confluence; in the short term, they lift the economy by bringing in a student population (and) over the longer term, they transform a town through the researchers and professors they attract.”

Research universities have also become powerful start-up incubators.

With the nearby research going on at the the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, at Wallops Island and at Salisbury University, again our city and community are already well positioned.

Throw in the entrepreneurial start-up culture that’s more than apparent at the Perdue School of Business and through the local Chamber of Commerce and Maryland Capital Enterprises, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to label Salisbury a “Start-up Capital.”

  1. They have, and care about, a community college.

This is an especially interesting item, especially given Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver’s push for a free-tuition plan for graduating county high school seniors.

Wor-Wic Community College, as almost everyone acknowledges, is a diamond institution in our community.

As the Fallows point out, “not every city can have a research university (but) any ambitious one can have a community college.”

Wicomico and Salisbury have a good one.

“Just about every world-historical trend is pushing the United States (and other countries) toward a less equal, more polarized existence: labor-replacing technology, globalized trade, self-segregated residential-housing patterns, the American practice of unequal district-based funding for public schools,” the Fallows write.

“Community colleges are the main exception, potentially offering a connection to high-wage technical jobs for people who might otherwise be left with no job or one at minimum wage.”

In successful communities, there are examples of community colleges helping take people who were jobless or on welfare and prepared them for work in jobs that pay even more than the area’s local median household income.

The reporter-authors do throw out a warning: “Badly run community colleges can make things worse by loading students with debt without improving their circumstances. Nationwide, only about 40 percent of those who start at a public community college finish within six years.
But, the Fallows added, “we saw a number of schools that were clearly forces in the right direction — the more often and more specifically we heard people talk about their community college, the better we ended up feeling about the direction of that town.”

  1. They have unusual schools.

When The Salisbury School first opened, it was a ground-breaking educational environment for this area. Even as various formats for teaching have become better known, it is still one that gets talked about.

The region’s religious schools have also grown in enrollment and stature

Said the Fallows: “Early in our stay, we would ask what was the most distinctive school to visit at the K–12 level. If four or five answers came quickly to mind, that was a good sign.”

The examples people suggested to the Fallows ranged widely: Some were “normal” public schools, some were charters, some emphasized career and technical training.

“The common theme was intensity of experimentation,” they reported.

  1. They make themselves open.

Based on what the Fallows observed, the anti-immigrant passions that we read and see each day in the national media aren’t shared in cities that are on the rise.

“On the contrary,” wrote the Fallows, “politicians, educators, businesspeople, students and retirees frequently stressed the ways their communities were trying to attract and include new people.”

Salisbury has quietly made itself open. Its Hispanic presence is growing — a Latino festival held last fall in Downtown Salisbury attracted more than 5,000 people in a single afternoon, and almost no one even the knew the festival was either planned or occurring until the crowds arrived.

We see it in stores and among the faces of those we commune with daily. There doesn’t seem to be a local fight about job stealing or the usual threats, as we all have an understanding of the local workforce and the roles all the various groups currently play.

The Fallows also address our much-discussed-locally “brain drain” dilemmas in this section:

“Every small town in America has thought about how to offset the natural brain drain that has historically sent its brightest young people elsewhere,” they wrote. “The same emphasis on inclusion that makes a town attractive to talented outsiders increases its draw to its own natives.”

  1. They have big plans.

If any of us knows anything about Salisbury Mayor Jake Day, it’s that the man has plans. Just spend an hour with him and you come away exhausted from the constant emission of ideas. The ideas aren’t contained to Day, leaders at the Greater Salisbury Committee and Chamber of Commerce, as well as the developer corps and academics such as Memo Diriker have ideas.

The key is using leadership to convert ideas into plans.

Wrote Jim Fallows: “If I see a national politician with a blueprint for how things will be better 20 years from now, I think: ‘Good luck!’ … When a mayor or city-council member shows me a map of how new downtown residences will look when completed, or where the new greenway will go, I think: ‘I’d like to come back.’”

Said Fallows: “Cities still make plans, because they can do things.”

  1. They have craft breweries.

This one seems unusual, but it might explain our local surge in local craft breweries. The Knorr Brothers, inspired no doubt by the regional success of Dogfish Heads, launched Evolution Beer in the mid-2000s at a tiny facility in Delmar (because of Maryland’s laws) and it has since expanded to the huge brewery in Salisbury’s old ice plant.

Craft breweries are also part of the community fabric in Delmar (still), Berlin, Ocean City, Cambridge and Sussex County.

Reported the Fallows: “A city on the way back will have one or more craft breweries, and probably some small distilleries too. .. A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur, and a critical mass of mainly young customers.”

It’s almost as if they’re describing EVO exactly.

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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