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SVSU's Dr. Gilbertson Fires Up 200 Community Leaders at Breakfast Summit

September 18, 2012       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Dr. Eric Gilbertson addresses Community Leader Summit crowd of 200 at DoubleTree on Tuesday morning.

"Let's build on the advantage of the brain power already here," said Dr. Eric Gilbertson to an enthusiastic Tuesday morning Community Leader Summit at the DoubleTree Hotel - Bay City Riverfront.

The keynote address by the president of Saginaw Valley State University jump-started a four hour strategic planning process sponsored by the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce (BACC) and the Bay Area Community Foundation (BACF).

Mike Seward,BACC president, urged "don't be content to be leaders of a mediocre community; don't watch, make things happen."

Dr. Gilbertson gave a sociological overview of the three Great Lakes Bay communities, describing Saginaw as "a little Cleveland" (where he grew up), Midland as "a classic company (Dow) town," and Bay City as "opaque, inscrutable, not easily revealing itself."

In the past two decades, the SVSU chief observed, Bay City has seen "a lot of changes for the better; hard times have forced us to work together."

What once were "pipe dreams" of riverfront development have come about. "Look around you," he said, motioning to condominium and retail projects and also referencing a massive school facility improvement project approved in the past decade.

The sober facts of declining and graying population, along with a 21 percent drop in school enrollment and an increase in the median age from 34 to 42 mirror the problems of the state of Michigan, he said.

Citing the need to surmount the problems of loss of people, jobs and youth, the SVSU leader coached:

"We come together on this crisp autumn morning to consider our future. The alternative plan is aimless drift. The future is in our hands; we're on our own."

Among advantages of the Bay area, he said, are "a highly favorable cost of living, an unassuming and plain-speaking Midwestern ethic and people who have chosen to come here or who chose to stay."

Gilbertson's advice was to "improve our balance of trade in talent, including immigrants from distant lands who are an asset and a strength that should be built upon."

The challenge is "how do we build on what we have rather than apologize for what we don't have," said Gilbertson, stressing that no "munificent government, state or federal, or wealthy individual is going to bestow our future upon us."

Eileen Curtis, president of the co-sponsoring BACF, citing her roots in the eastern part of the country, said: "where you live is what you make of it."

Ms. Curtis added: "I'm tired of being the 'secret' up the highway. We don't want to be just a stop off I-75, we want to be a destination where people want to live."

Prof. George Puia and other officials of SVSU described the planning process in detail that will discover the target programs most likely to help Bay County develop its potential.

"Really strong communities take care of people who have needs," he counseled."

Action steps to build a shared sense of vision will be part of the planning database that will be released publicly and posted on a website. ###

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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