Full Time Job: Saliba's focus on jobs, education

Mark Saliba’s roots run deep in Dothan, back to the city’s early days when the first generation of Salibas came to Dothan and established themselves, mostly as businessmen.

The Saliba name is very familiar in Dothan. Alfred Saliba, Mark’s father, served two terms as Dothan’s mayor, beginning in 1989. And Mark Saliba is involved in the family business, Alfred Saliba Corporation, serving as president of the company known for new construction and remodeling around the Wiregrass.

Saliba was 29 years old when his father was first elected. Up until that point, Alfred Saliba had no political experience. Mark Saliba continues that family tradition as well. Though he had been approached before about running for the District 5 commission seat, it just wasn’t meant to be.

“It just was not the right time for me, my business, or my family,” he said.

Instead, Saliba has dedicated his time to working in his industry and with various non-profits, such as the Hawk-Houston Boys and Girls Club, Wiregrass United Way, and Grow Dothan.

“For me, I enjoy being a part of the community and helping others working on the issues and the topics of the day,” he said.

As a big supporter of outgoing Mayor Mike Schmitz, Saliba had no interest in running against him, but Schmitz’s decision to not seek a third term made the mayor’s office a possibility for Saliba.

“I had prayerfully considered it,” Saliba said. “As doors opened, I went through them.”

If elected, Saliba will take over a part-time job that has, in effect, been turned into a full-time position by Schmitz. For Saliba, this would mean continuing to follow the standard Schmitz set. He said his brother would still work at Alfred Saliba Corporation and handle company business. They are also working on succession planning and training the next level of management, so scaling back his daily responsibilities is already in the works.

“I expect to spend 90 percent of my time at the city,” Saliba said. “I think it is a full-time job.”

Saliba wants to focus on the policies that guide city business and long-range strategic planning, along with being out in the community to see what issues are facing each district. He said many issues, such as affordable housing and homelessness, have an impact on all residents, though some issues are more important in individual districts.

Issues important to Saliba include workforce development and education, which he said impact the overall quality of life in Dothan.

“Workforce development is a huge issue going forward … it’s about making sure our citizens are able to get the jobs that are out there that are available,” Saliba said. “If we don’t have a highly employable population, the economic developments are affected.”

With a healthy aviation industry and the potential for an automotive factory at a megasite just south of the Alabama-Florida state line, Saliba sees potential for much more job growth. He said if an automotive plant locates at the megasite, southeast Alabama would be in line to land Tier 1 and 2 suppliers that would manufacture parts used in automotive construction.

“That’s one of those things we’ve just got to keep working on,” Saliba said. “That, I think, is big.”

And while new jobs would be something to get excited about, Saliba acknowledges that keeping the city’s water, sewer, electric, and technology up to date is also an important responsibility for city leaders.

“Infrastructure is never a sexy topic, but it is something we have to do,” Saliba said. “I think I’m uniquely qualified about infrastructure because of the business I’ve been in. I understand the construction and infrastructure and development needs of the city.”

For years going forward, Dothan’s leaders will be responsible for seeing the city pay off the millions of dollars of debt incurred to upgrade and repair the sewer system. Saliba said the city still has a strong bond rating and money in reserves, but reducing what is owed is important.

“Just like a family, a municipality needs to have their eye on the debt,” Saliba said. “I’m for keeping debt in control and paying debt off. I just think that is vital to the community’s financial health.”

What happens to Dothan in the future has an impact on Saliba and his family’s legacy. He has three children, two grandchildren and a third grandchild on the way.

“Family and church are very, very important to me,” he said. “I love the community as well. I feel like this is the best way for me to contribute and give back to the community.”

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