BERLIN- After helping Berlin win Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Town in America this year, Economic and Community Development Director Michael Day will be going out on a high note as he announced his retirement sometime this calendar year.
Day has been with Berlin for nearly a decade, spending the first four years of his nine-year run splitting his time between Berlin and Pocomoke. The last five years he has been exclusively with Berlin and has served as the town’s first ever Economic and Community Development director.
In that time Berlin’s Main Street and downtown has blossomed with nearly every available store space filled. Economic progress is in large part attributable to the Town Council’s trust, according to Day.
“The ability to do this hinged a lot on the will of the Mayor and Council to give me to tools to work with,” he said. “They gave me a budget and they gave me almost anything I needed to make it happen. It was a long, slow process but I do believe in the Main Street program.”
Berlin became an officially recognized Main Street community in 2008 after previously being recognized as an official Art and Entertainment District in 2005. Looking back at the last decade, Day said that some of his highlights were growing the façade program and buying the visitor center. He hopes that both will continue to thrive after he leaves and especially wants to see the visitor center evolve into a strong resource for the town.
But one of Day’s proudest accomplishments was simply getting all parts of the economic machine in Berlin to work together over the last few years.
“It’s working together,” he said. “That was kind of my job that I was able to do was get everybody to work together where other towns say it just doesn’t happen.”
In the past, there has been a noticeable disconnect between the town government, Chamber of Commerce and the merchants that operate in Berlin. Getting them to cooperate took some doing, Day admitted, especially since he had to work to earn everyone’s trust when he first started with the town.
“We’re real cohesive, clicking on all gears or all wheels,” he said. “It was hard that first two years. It took me two years to gain their trust. I’m from Salisbury but I’m not from Berlin.”
Now that everyone is in-sync, though, Day only expects the department to grow after he hands off the reins. There is already strong support available from the town’s Main Street program, which is something of an off-shoot from Economic and Community Development. Main Street Coordinator Megan Houston, who has only been with the town for a few months, has already been welcomed by the merchants.
“They’ve embraced her and they like working with her. She’s a real self-starter. I don’t have to be sitting over her shoulder all of the time,” said Day. “I’ve let her go and she continually produces.”
Day expects both Main Street and the “Coolest Town” designation to keep the momentum going in economic development once he’s retired. The goal now is to expand the town’s volunteer base, which has been tough in the past but has been bolstered this year by tapping a younger crowd of volunteers. Day credited Houston and Chamber Director Joya Canfield with taking the lead with that initiative.
“They’re bringing in a younger volunteer pool. They have touched into something that we’ve had trouble getting into, that younger crowd,” Day said.
After retiring, Day plans on staying active and clearing up his house.
“I don’t want to say that I’m going to be getting into the antique business, but I’m going to be selling stuff that’s in my house,” he said.
Though currently living in Salisbury, Day would also like to move to Berlin in the near future as he has formed a lot of close ties during his time directing the Economic and Community Development Department. Even after retiring he would be open to working with the town on a consultation basis or even volunteering at events, many of which he played a major role in getting off the ground.
“I absolutely, absolutely would do that. I love Berlin, I love this job I love seeing how it’s grown and how it’s progressed and prospered and the vitality and the vibrancy of it,” he said. “I want to see that continue because I want to come over here for the events. I can see volunteering. I’ll stand there and pull beer or sell T-shirts.”
Day has not yet set a date for his retirement, instead saying only that he’ll likely leave before the end of the calendar year. This was done to give the town enough time to work on a plan for after his departure and to decide whether they’ll perform a search for a new director or even alter his department in some way. The open time table should serve the council well as Berlin has seen a lot of movement at the top level over the last few years, including changes to town administrator and the director of Planning and Development. There was also the departure of Mike Gibbons, Public Works director, just this winter whose department has now been merged with water resources.