City, SOD Center could join for economic plan

SALEM — The city could be partnering with the Sustainable Opportunity Development (SOD) Center Inc. for a plan aimed at economic growth and development.

Julie Needs, director of the SOD Center, told city council’s economic development committee this past week that she is seeking council’s support to develop an economic development plan that focuses on economic growth and development with a lot of community input, helping determine how and where to grow business.

“Every community has its strengths and weaknesses, challenges and opportunities, but every community needs a unique plan or solution to work through their challenges” she said. “This is a plan to help leadership, stakeholders and individuals see where they want to go and how to get there.”

The plan could be also eventually serve a vital role in the development of a future comprehensive plan, one of which the Salem Area Sustainable Comprehensive Plan published by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce in 2009, Needs said.

According to Needs, the SOD Center would complete the economic development plan as part of its current services to the city at no added cost, with the exception of time and cooperation from city employees.

The center’s work would include gathering economic and demographic data, noting trends; seek out community input from a variety of sources including business and industry, community organizations, city officials and others as appropriate; summarize data and community input to develop a list of preliminary findings; review findings with city officials; and prepare a report summarizing findings and identifying prioritized goals with time frames for completion.

Tentatively the major topics to be incorporated into the final report will include manufacturing and industry; commercial and retail; healthcare and wellness; workforce and education; community resources; housing; quality of life; and other topics defined through the planning process. For each topic the current state will be defined, opportunities for growth and development will be listed, barriers will be identified and a prioritized list of recommendations will be developed.

Needs said she is seeking input and consensus from the mayor and council to ensure the plan is successful

“It doesn’t make sense if the SOD Center is working in one direction and it’s not what the city wants,” she said.

Specifically, Needs is asking for the sanction of council to proceed, an agreement that community input will be solicited in the name of the city and the SOD Center, a procedure for the review of preliminary results and a procedure for approval of the final product, including endorsement of the final recommendations. She suggested working jointly with the mayor and the Economic Development Committee.

Mayor John Berlin expressed support for the plan

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

The committee said they are interested in creating the plan as a shared vision and asked Needs to develop a committee of stakeholders and residents that can meet with city officials to further discuss the matter.

Needs said she is hoping to complete the plan by the first or second quarter of 2020.

Also at the meeting, Needs reported the Ohio Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) is inviting the city to participate in the free program, which several surrounding communities are also doing.

She said RCAP will put together a community team picked by city leaders and stakeholders, do data collection and interviews to find gaps and strengthen resources and map out the entrepreneurial ecosystem with a focus on the downtown, all of which would help in collecting data for the economic development plan.

The city has to sign an agreement with RCAP, so the committee agreed to forward it to the city law director to review.