BY SAWYER CORNELIUS
Salisbury will soon be equipped with an all-new Center for Entrepreneurship with the Rommels’ donation.
Dave and Patsy Rommel are Salisbury locals with deep ties to the University and its goal for student preparedness, especially within the business fields.
Dave Rommel began his professional career working for Rommel Electric Company, which was founded by his father in the late 1970s.
He grew the family business into the current Rommel Construction Group that specializes in electrical, mechanical, traffic and transit work.
The company also operates several Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealerships and Ace Hardware locations throughout the mid-Atlantic.
Dave Rommel’s mother is an SU alumna herself and is committed along with his wife, Patsy, in helping a new generation of entrepreneurs find success.
On Thursday, President Janet Dudley-Eshbach announced an overwhelming $5.5 million gift from the Rommels.
This benefits the establishment of the new Center for Entrepreneurship at the Plaza Gallery Building in downtown Salisbury, in addition to funding future campus and Perdue School activities.
The esteemed announcement was the culmination of SU’s eighth annual Phillip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation Shore Hatchery program, which provides some $200,000 in annual funding for young entrepreneurs throughout the region with Shark Tank-style competitions and pitches.
The news came as a prelude to Friday’s Entrepreneurship Competitions, also sponsored by SU, that offers close to $100,000 in annual cash awards.
The $20,000 Bernstein Achievement Award for Excellence initiated by local entrepreneur Richard Bernstein in 1986 is a cornerstone of the local support and yearning for entrepreneurial accomplishment.
“Patsy and I are thrilled,” Dave Rommel said. “It is an honor to be able to support our hometown University, and very easy to support something as progressive as this.”
The new Center is expected to be operational for student and public use by 2020.
It will feature shared co-op spaces, six offices, construction garages for winners of mentioned competitions, manufacturing space dedicated to robotics and a small assembly with usage of 3-D prototype printing services.
For clothing creations, textile workshops will grant sufficient space for manufactured apparel to be sold through an on-site “spirit store” at the downtown location.
Perdue School Dean Christy Weer underscored the day’s takeaways for those considering SU enrollment and business study interests.
“I think this gives students a greater vision of opportunity that not just any school can provide,” Weer said. “We hope to serve students in greater ways than ever before as a result of these coming improvements.”
The new center is only a portion of a much larger vision that the university and the City of Salisbury view on the horizon.
Their joint efforts aim at designating 30 acres in downtown as a Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise (RISE) Zone by the Maryland Department of Commerce. SU was recently announced as a qualified institution.
If said distinction is attained, the spurring of economic development and job creation with the assistance of property and income tax credits is promised to follow.
President Dudley-Eshbach described the recent years of city-university partnership.
“When I began in 2000, I felt the University was very inward-looking,” Dudley-Eshbach said. “It is extremely important that we have a connection to not only locals, but also residents of the Eastern Shore, entire State and ultimately the nation for assisting students through their entrepreneurial ideas.”
The Rommels’ gift is SU’s third largest financial donation to date and ushers in a new age of student opportunity and community cooperation.