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Part 2

The Optimist

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Dunn is quick to say his board led the efforts to create the partnership. But he always says that. "He has a way of always putting a community leader out in front," says Carol Akin, executive director of Workforce One, a Chamber-sponsored work-force development program. "He is very good at board management. Though he may be making the decisions, he always has the board with him. It's not manipulative - it's a perfect kind of communication. They support him, and he lets them take the lead." Indeed, it turns out that Dunn not only helped convince the area's governments to give up much of their regional economic-development authority, he oversaw the partnership's design, organized the fund-raising that paid for it, and hired the headhunting firm that found its director, Greg Wingfield. Ever since, the partnership has been the region's main source of corporate recruitment. It has convinced companies huge and small to move into the area, and helped keep companies from moving out. Whenever there's an announcement about a new corporation or factory in the area, the partnership is the one to make it. Naturally, Jim Dunn typically attends the press conference to congratulate the people who landed the deal. Dunn is famous for his work ethic. "He's probably the hardest-working man in Richmond, bar none," says Wingfield. "I think I work hard — 60, 70 hours a week. But he far exceeds me." "I have never seen a more focused individual," echoes Scott Golden, a spokesman for Cavalier Telephone who spent two-and-a-half years in the Chamber's marketing department. "Jim Dunn was in every picture in the newspaper, at every damn event - there were like five of him." On the few occasions Dunn didn't have a lunch appointment, Golden says, he would sit in the office lunchroom with a pack of Nabs and a Diet Coke and talk about the Atlanta Braves for 10 minutes or so. "As soon as he finished that," Golden adds, "he'd go back up to his office and boom! He was right on the job again." (Dunn somewhat sheepishly acknowledges his abbreviated lunch routine, but maintains that he's given up Diet Coke for water.) Dunn attributes his philosophy to his upbringing. He grew up on a farm in Washington Court House, Ohio, growing corn and wheat and cattle. He was the oldest of three boys. "I learned on the farm that we don't get too exuberant when things seem to be going well, and don't get too down when things seem to be going down," Dunn says. "A hailstorm can hit right before a harvest." As a boy on the farm, Dunn once got an assignment to paint some wire gates and their frame. "I was doing it and I was spraying paint all over the place," Dunn recalls. "I was making a real mess, and I couldn't do it right. I actually quit." He repeats that, sounding stunned: "I actually quit. My father came and said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I can't do this.' And he said, 'Can't never did anything.' I had been spraying all over to get the wire, like this." He waves his hand in the air. "He showed me the right way to do it — there's generally a right way to get things done. You just paint along the wire, like this. You have to go with the wire, in the same direction." After high school, Dunn attended Ohio State University, where he studied business administration. He then spent four years in the Air Force, mostly in Wiesbaden, Germany. He met his future wife, Sally, whose father was a civilian employee of the Air Force. They married in 1968. In the late 1960s, Dunn was assigned to Grand Forks, N.D. In those Vietnam War days, tensions were running high between the military and civilians, and Dunn received a job with a civilian-affairs committee working to defuse some of that tension. As part of his duties, Dunn met with the Chamber of Commerce in Grand Forks, and became interested in the group. So when he heard about an opening for a chamber director in Devil's Lake, N.D. (population7,800), he applied. He got the job. Dunn had one employee, a secretary. He also had a career. He worked his way up the chamber of commerce ladder in Ohio, Hampton Roads and Atlanta. Along the way, he and his wife had three children. Scott, now 29, is an architectural draftsman in Charlottesville; Juli, 27, is a teacher in Hanover; and Jason, 18, is a senior at Midlothian High School. In 1990, Dunn came to Richmond. And, say his admirers, the town hasn't been the same since. with the Richmond Chamber hasn't gone as planned. Working out a mass-transit agreement between Richmond and the counties — particularly Chesterfield — has proven excruciatingly difficult; suburban politicians know some of their constituents fear inner-city dwellers. But Dunn chalks up a victory for a recent concession allowing a passenger-van route into the counties. In addition, the highly publicized Workforce One project, which in 1998 was funded by a five-year, $5 million grant from the General Assembly, has been criticized for not doing enough to get workers trained. Its directors maintain that Workforce One isn't a job-training program, but rather a clearinghouse of information about training requirements and resources. Nonetheless, Carol Akin, its founding executive director, is stepping down Feb. 1, though she will continue to work with the organization. But for every plan that stalls, Dunn has half a dozen in the works. [image-1](Chad Hunt / Style Weekly) The project dearest to his heart these days is Youth Matters, a program that aims to end youth illiteracy by 2010. Youth Matters began six years ago, when then-City Manager Robert Bobb came to Dunn and proposed that the Chamber get involved in literacy. "I about fell out of my chair," Dunn recalls. "I said, 'Why do you think the Chamber should get involved in this?' Bobb said, 'You should do it if you believe in your own mission statement. These young people represent your future workforce.'" Bobb, a convincing manager himself, pointed out that 39 percent of Richmond third-graders don't read at grade level. How could they grow up to compete in the global marketplace? Once Dunn was sold on the idea, the rest was inevitable. Let Robert Grey Jr., a longtime Chamber member and an officer with the law firm LeClair Ryan, tell it: "The Chamber is a business organization! What in the world would it be doing working with the health and safety of youth? Well, Jim said it was in line with the goals of the Chamber, which spoke to quality of life and the productivity of the workforce. It was creative. "So I said something like, 'I would like to do that, but I need X, Y and Z. We said we needed more information, and he got it. We said we needed to get additional funding, and asked Jim to get it. The challenge was there — the idea was: If he didn't get it, we wouldn't do it. So he went out and got $200,000, and then matched it. At that point, you had to lead it. You had the commitment." Dunn had sent a grant application to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonprofit that supports health programs around the country. The foundation was "flabbergasted" that a business organization was responding, Dunn says gleefully. But the Richmond Chamber's proposal wound up as one of 12 nationwide finalists for the grant, then received a two-year planning grant, followed by a grant of $1 million a year for eight years. The program, which the Chamber says will affect 17,000 children around the region, encourages parents to read to their children; it also began a pilot tutoring program last year with 500 students. The results of that were encouraging enough to plan an expansion this year. One Chamber-associated project received nationwide recognition. Project Exile was a plan cooked up by the Richmond Police and the U.S. Justice Department to send all felons caught with a gun to federal court, where they would receive a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. But the idea was to keep criminals from carrying guns in the first place. Project Exile wouldn't work unless the bad guys knew about it. That's when the cops approached Jim Dunn. Dunn helped arrange publicity for the program, including ads on television and billboards. In addition, Police Chief Jerry Oliver says, "It was a real statement that the Chamber of Commerce would stand behind us on this thing. It gave us a real air of legitimacy. Nationally, it represented a new model for how to do this sort of program with the involvement of the business and the civic community." A few years ago, almost a decade after Dunn came to a weary Richmond that was reeling under a spate of murders, he sat in a room with the Chamber board and heard a briefing from the police chief about crime rates. They were falling. "I could see on his face pride, of course, and I think a strain of joy," says Oliver. "It was like he was thinking, 'I knew we could do this!'" How Dunn Gets It Done
2001's Richmonder of the Year is well known for his ability to make sure projects get done right and on time. Here are some of his rules of thumb.
1) Focus. Do today only what you need to. Put other things off or delegate them.
2) Follow Through. Hold yourself and others accountable for completing promised tasks.
3) Make a List. Every day, make a list of jobs that must be completed. Check them off.
4) Look Before Leaping. Every time you do something, size it up first, then develop a game plan.
5) Be Flexible. Things change. Be ready to change with them. Looking Ahead
In September, the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce gathered more than 500 people to visualize Richmond's coming decade. The Vision 20/10 exercise set goals for the Richmond region to meet by 2010. The top projects:
1) Develop a regional transportation system that includes roads, air, rail and mass transit.
2) Expand the Canal Walk.
3) Construct a new performing-arts center.
4) Implement high-speed rail service between Richmond and Washington, D.C.
5) Develop "world-class" public schools.
6) Expand Richmond International Airport and make fares more competitive.
7) Ensure youth literacy by third grade.
8) Expand use of regional public policy.
9) Develop a regional growth strategy.
10) Develop a regional symbol to identify and market the area. Jump to Part 1, 2

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