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SOD Center to continue economic development work

SALEM – The Sustainable Opportunity Development Center will continue driving economic development activities for the city of Salem for a flat fee of $40,000, paid in quarterly installments.

The scope of work agreement was approved Thursday night by the Economic Development Committee of city council, composed of Councilmen Dave Nestic, Jeff Cushman and Brian Whitehill. Nestic chairs the group which heard an update from SOD Center Executive Director Michael Mancuso on what’s happening and what needs to happen to increase economic development in the city.

Besides attracting new business projects, working on expansion/retention efforts, promotion, strategic planning, downtown redevelopment and building partnerships, Mancuso said he’s looking to add workforce development, expansion of city incentives and shovel ready site development to the focus for 2016.

According to Mancuso, the city is lacking in shovel ready sites where an industry can locate immediately, noting that a developer recently looking for a 100-acre site deemed the selected area in Salem not feasible due to a high water table, lack of infrastructure and not being shovel ready.

In the area of workforce development, he said “we’ve had a number of our industries having difficulty filling jobs,” noting in one case that some job applicants couldn’t read a tape measure.

He’s been working with Salem schools and the Columbiana County Career and Technical Center on Project INSPIRE which includes additive manufacturing (3-D printing), along with pairing CCCTC with specific employers to help develop skilled workers for future needs. There’s also a partnership with Kent State Trumbull on a workforce development program.

Another tool he’s looking to expand upon is the incentives available to promote development and get businesses to locate here or invest in improvements. Nestic said he would like to see some of the tax abatements covering the entire city, not just certain areas.

Mancuso reported he’s already opened five new projects since Jan. 1. A review of projects for 2015 revealed that out of 40 numbered projects, covering either start-up, retention/expansion or attraction, six were completed successfully, 18 were closed as unsuccessful or unfeasible and 16 remain open and ongoing. He said projects in 2015

resulted in 28 new jobs and 26 retained jobs in the city.

The successes included the expansion of Salem Welding, the purchase of R.H. Homeworks to keep it here, the opening of Lib’s in the former Friends Roastery location, the purchase of a building by a printing company, the opening of Kustamoto Inc. and the opening of the Holiday Inn Express. Some of the projects still in the works in various stages include a small engine repair and motorcycle shop, a motorcycle repair shop, a brewing company, expansion of a local food producer, some industrial expansions, a bakery and a retail start-up.

One of the projects Mancuso talked about was a housing project on the east end off of East Pershing Street and Butcher Road. NRP, a developer in Cleveland, tried twice unsuccessfully to secure housing tax credits to build apartments on the site. The city thought the project was dead and that NRP had abandoned the project, but in December, the company took out another purchase option on the 67-acre property and the city learned the plan was for low to medium income housing.

Mancuso reported the company was told the project wasn’t wanted in the city. At this point, he said they’re waiting to see what NRP is doing. The SOD Center has been working with a new non-profit developer on a project with a focus on senior living for that location. He did say that NRP indicated a desire to still do a buffer zone on the property through a conservation easement, which has also been discussed with the other developer.

Other areas of discussion included the Brownfield grants for testing for hazardous materials and petroleum, grants for the Benton Road and Snyder Road sewer extension projects, work on getting the International Property Maintenance Code implemented, downtown redevelopment efforts, talk about a vacant building ordinance and projects to promote Salem. The downtown includes 28 vacant, unavailable buildings and only five of those are on the market.

Another problem discussed was the smell from the sewage treatment plant and the fact that it killed one company’s desire to locate in the Industrial park. The issue has been discussed with Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart and one idea was capturing the methane to power the plant.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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