Dodd

An in-depth analysis of where Salem is and where it needs to go has resulted in a detailed plan for priorities announced recently to the Salem Board of Aldermen. That board accepted the list, named the Salem Economic Development Strategic Plan, and now it’s time for not only the board to go to work, but the rest of us.

Here is my take on the top five priorities – 10 were announced, and you can read more about those in The Salem News Sept. 17 edition and at thesalemnewsonline.com – which were arrived at after a series of community meetings open to anyone who wants to see the community take a few steps forward. At the last of those meetings everyone in attendance was asked to rank priorities. You will read more about all of these in future editions of The Salem News as well as at thesalemnewsonline.com.

• Not surprisingly, topping the list was strengthening city codes to improve property conditions. That’s simple enough to understand but not so easy to implement. I haven’t talked to anyone who doesn’t think our community looks much worse today than it did 10 or 15 years ago. The literal mess hurts property values, real estate sales, economic development, the general attitude of residents and a multitude of other things.

I could go on and on about this subject, but we have already done that as a newspaper and a community for the past half-decade or so. The fact that aldermen are on board to put some teeth in codes to improve property conditions is a must to cure this problem.

We should all realize that Salem isn’t the suburbs of St. Louis, Columbia or Kansas City, and extremely stringent codes won’t work well for us. But we need standards that prevent some of the abuses we have around here, so let’s all admit that and come up with a plan that works for our community.

• Running neck and neck with solving the nuisance property issue is looking for ways to improve internet and cellular access in Dent County. This would include “soliciting funding and policy changes to facilitate those improvements,” according to the plan.

Amen to that. I live just four miles from town, and Friday night I had to drive back to town to upload my Salem Tiger football slideshow because my internet speed was so slow.

High-speed internet is a must if you want to not only develop a good business climate, but make real estate in the county more attractive. Not many people want to move to a property that has poor internet service. Good service in the Salem city limits is available, but remember that about two of every three Dent County residents live outside the city limits.

• Third on the list? Developing and implementing a marketing/educational campaign to highlight resources and programs specifically focused on aiding small businesses in Dent County.

Great idea. Small business – including agriculture (yes that includes timber) – is the backbone of our local economy, as well as its future. It would be great if a large company would want to relocate here or expand here, but the truth is most of our growth will come from small business.

Equipping small business with the tools – everything from where to get cash to marketing and added value – will go a long way in allowing that small business to succeed. There is a plethora of information out there, but most small businesses don’t have the time or the expertise to navigate it.

• Fourth is “utilizing apprentices and labor from active workforce training programs to appropriately save dollars for the city and provide experience opportunities for trainees.”

Again, the availability is there, much of it from government or quasi-government sources. A real downfall of these programs is shortsightedness when it comes to marketing their programs, some of them nearly secretive. This will a tough one, requiring a lot of research and legwork, which is why the normal business person knows nothing about them.

• Finally, No. 5 is the specific task of completing the City Hall Auditorium remodel into the planned Salem Civic Theater. This project has caught the imagination of the community, in part due to the recent demolition of the old middle school. As a community, there are a lot of people who don’t want to see another historical building demolished due to inaction and kicking the can down the road.

I am pleased to see something so specific on the list, and so high on the list. It is something that, if the community gets behind it, will show tangible results in a short amount of time.

One of the weaknesses of our community brought out in the series of public meetings is the fact that we have way too many organizations splintering off and doing their own thing. Some things get done, but when we prioritize and work together, more things get done. We need to organize the organizations, at least when it comes to setting priorities and pooling resources.

Remodeling and equipping the City Hall Auditorium is a great place to start that process. I am hoping every organization in town will do at least something to help that effort, because working together, we can accomplish much.

The same thing can be said of all of the priorities.