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Salem council OKs economic plan

SALEM — City council recently agreed to adopt a five-year extensive economic development plan that has a goal of increasing the tax base.

Do that and everybody wins.

At least that’s the way Sustainable Opportunity Development Center Executive Director Julie Needs explained it — it’s about creating wealth through production, through job creation and retention, which can increase property values and lead to a better community and better quality of life.

“We must innovate and adapt to stay competitive in the marketplace. We must look at this plan as our road map,” she said.

Copies of the more than 100-page plan were sent to city council members for their review. During a recent meeting, Needs asked them to vote in support of the plan, which they did.

She said the SOD Center has already been working on some of the recommendations.

The five-year plan goes from 2021 through 2025 and she said other organizations will have to engage in the process, including groups such as the Downtown Salem Partnership, which has taken a leadership role in trying to promote the downtown.

“We have a very shared vision of how we want the city of Salem to look and we have steps to get there,” Needs said.

This plan to increase the city’s tax base which can, in turn, result in improvements in other areas of city life, won’t happen overnight. There are 71 initiatives and there are sections built in to help monitor progress on reaching the various goals. The plan helps narrow the scope of work for the SOD Center’s focus.

The goals are intertwined, as are the different aspects of a community.

“You can’t attract a new business if you don’t have a community,” she said.

If the tax base of the city increases, the whole community benefits from it. She referred to it as the multiplier effect, because as wealth increases, as new jobs are created, the people in those jobs spend money at businesses in the city, helping those retail establishments succeed also. With more money, residents may invest in their homes, increasing their values, too.

In her intro in the plan, Needs wrote, “This plan looks at Salem’s assets as well as what Salem is missing, prioritizes the need and takes steps toward obtaining those things that make a community thrive. The plan identifies goals to attract jobs, improve housing and enhance the quality of life.”

Areas of need she said the plan identifies include business development and support, jobs, housing, education, downtown revitalization and improving the quality of life.

“The plan is intended to be flexible, allow for opportunity and account for some unexpected development. The goals in this plan come as a result of information gathered from the community survey, focus groups, city leaders and officials, city consultants, business owners and general feedback collected throughout the year,” she wrote.

One of the initiatives in the plan calls for the creation of a building department in the city, another calls for creating educational opportunities for the workforce and young people and yet another to increase promotions of downtown events.

The hope is to reach at least 75 percent of the goals after five years. As time goes on, the plan will be reviewed and goals reviewed and she’ll be reporting progress to city council and city council’s Economic Development Committee. She explained that the plan includes measurable goals, such as increasing Salem’s median household income. There’s a gap between the median household income in Salem and the state overall.

Council members congratulated Needs on a job well done, with Councilman Andrew Null calling the plan a well-researched document.

Needs said she hopes they find the plan informative and that they get as excited as she does when looking at it. Besides the goals themselves, the plan takes a microscope to the city, including identifying what’s lacking and where there’s room for improvement.

The plan also looks at the city’s demographics.

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