Marathon runner, pilot, and local leader—Bill Dusch’s unique outlook guides Concord’s evolution.
For Mayor Bill Dusch, there is Concord and there is everywhere else, and he’s seen almost all of both.
There are a few different perspectives. There’s his work, based at home but spanning many states and countries, eventually leading him into civic leadership. There’s the long-distance running—106 marathons, tens of thousands of miles, in every state of the country, nearly every continent, and, most notably, every patch of pavement in Concord. Each morning, four to seven miles, for more than 40 years. There’s no nook or side street he hasn’t seen personally, at the break of the day, running to clear the thoughts that gather in the mind of a mayor overseeing a town in the midst of precipitous growth.
There’s the flying. Dusch is a licensed pilot, and has been for decades. He’s logged thousands of hours. He’s traversed the country. It is how he and his wife, Debbie, get around east of the Mississippi, and it’s how they met too—at flight training.
And then of course, there’s the role as mayor. Elected leaders tout their experience as an asset and source of perspective, and Dusch lays claim to that too, with his career spent working both internationally and at home. Few, though, have actually seen it all from 30,000 feet. From that point of view and, seen over time, it’s clear that Concord is positioned well. Located close to Charlotte and standing as the next biggest city in the region, Concord has seen more than a slight increase in population.
Mayor Dusch knows that it is his role to manage that growth. It is not his role alone. And through that approach, the key priorities are not only ones of leadership, but also ones of connecting. It comes easy to him, as does the positive outlook. It’s his hometown, and he’s overseeing it develop into a better place.
Concord has always been the home of Mayor Dusch, apart from his collegiate tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill and brief stint in Cary. He studied chemistry and zoology, then launched a career working for a multinational chemical company focused in the coatings industry. That job took him many places, but he lived in Concord throughout those decades. He remembers entertaining the idea of moving away from home early in his career, but let that idea fade. “Everything just kept working out,” Dusch said.
He also remembers having a civic interest early on. It was a political family. His father, Frank A. Dusch Jr., was a city
councilman as Bill was growing up, and his grandfather, Frank A. Dusch, served 16 years as the mayor of Virginia Beach in the 1950s and 1960s. As he settled into his career, the ambition of running for office laid dormant, though never fully subsided. It was revived gradually through his proximity to municipal operations. After more than 20 years with the chemical company, Dusch started his own IT business, which quickly, if not reluctantly, acquired several city clients.
“My business partner and I, the first thing we said was that we would not be working any government agencies,” Dusch said. “And within the first month, we were working with cities … The cities needed help.”
This was in the late 1990s, and the IT infrastructure of municipalities was relatively undeveloped. Dusch helped all the many municipal offices grow into the technology. “We had to work with every department. Utility billing, electric, water, sewer, police, fire, parks and rec—we were exposed to every aspect of it.” During those years, Dusch also attended every city council meeting, sitting in the audience, fully acclimating to the nuances of municipal operations.
In 2017, longtime Concord Mayor Scott Padgett retired. Five people ran to fill his seat, including Dusch, who by this point had been long embedded in City Hall. Not only had his IT company been working with Concord for approximately two decades, but Dusch himself had become involved in the citizen-led city boards. Planning and Zoning, Adjustment, Historic Preservation—Dusch served on them all. “I was involved with the city for so many years, saw how fast we were growing. I really enjoyed being a part of that,” Dusch said. He ultimately ran away with the mayoral race, carrying 40 percent of the vote.
He took over at a critical time for Concord. Historically, like many towns around North Carolina, a select few industries long provided the economic base in Concord. “We were a textile community,” Dusch said. Pillowtex in nearby Kannapolis stood as the most prominent of those businesses, and in town, there was Phillip Morris, the cigarette manufacturer. As the century turned, so did economic forces, and both business faltered. Pillowtex filed for bankruptcy in 2003, putting 4,800 North Carolinians out of work, and the departure of Philip Morris in 2009 took more than 1,000 additional jobs. “We had to start over again,” Dusch said.
Then came the rebound. Over the past decade, it can be seen in the population numbers. Since 2010, Concord has grown more than 20 percent, and per estimates of the 2020 Census, will eclipse 100,000 residents once the count is official.
It’s in this environment that Dusch operates, always with a sense of unbreakable optimism. It’s an attitude that comes through in his stories and his actions, and he admits it’s been a source of teasing for him too, mostly from his longtime business partner. “He used to ride me all the time, because I’d beat my head against the wall until the wall broke,” Dusch said. When talking about flying, he says his favorite part is the challenge of it. When discussing his 5 am wake up calls to go run, every day for 40 consecutive years, he speaks only of the joy it brings him.
It makes him a natural leader for Concord. The swift growth and the issues that arrive alongside it—these are neither a deterrent nor a drain on the mayor. They are issues because they are opportunities. And through his travels, he’s seen towns all over the world and has observed all of them from a perspective of possibility. What are they doing here that can be implemented back home?
“You constantly compare,” Dusch says. He recalls seeing a 20-mile multimodal path in Sioux Falls, South Dakota—how it served as such a great connector for the town—and has worked hard to bring a similar asset to Concord. On a different trip, he observed different types of parks, and brought the idea back home. Mostly, however, his experience in other places matches his experience in Concord. “That’s the nice part. I can see a lot of things going on in many communities around the country, that we’re doing the same thing.”
With the current challenges, he employs a team approach. The key issue is managing growth, and the solution often takes the form of infrastructure. “We really have to work hard with NCDOT and other organizations to keep the transportation able to support this,” Dusch said. “That’s one of the hardest things.” Towards that end, Concord and Dusch work diligently to develop and sustain relationships with the Cabarrus County Commissioners. “For everything, we have to coordinate what we do and how we go forward.”
He’s been successful in that partnership. He’s also been successful with his own city council. Some of Dusch’s top priorities, which go hand-in-hand with the larger issue of growth management, are improving connectivity around town, sustaining affordable housing, and recruiting and maintaining a strong city staff. On these goals, Dusch reports near-lockstep agreement among leadership. For affordable housing, Concord passed a bond that allocated nearly $1.4 million each year to the cause, and for talent recruitment, the city has implemented a $15 minimum wage.
“The membership of our council is very broad in background,” Dusch said. “Some are from different parts of the country, some are from the area, and we all work with the common goal of, ‘What is best for Concord?’”
Dusch is in this work for the long haul. Because, of course, he’s no stranger to the feats of endurance, where success comes more from simple execution and perseverance than creativity.
“It’s to get to the end point,” Dusch said. “I keep at it, when I know the end result is good. When I know it’s what we need.”