Before you know where to go, you need to know where you are.

After you have had time to dissect that pearl of wisdom, let me say that the final workshop for the Economic Development Strategic Plan will be 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Bank of Salem Courtesy Room on Fourth Street. You are invited.

There have been numerous meetings and brainstorming sessions prior to this final workshop. That is the “where-you -are” portion of the process. Now, we will complete discussion of the “where to go.”

The plan, guided along by relatively new Salem economic development director Sally Burbridge, has been a thorough and enlightening process. While where we need to go from this point on has been touched on, that type of planning and work is just beginning.

Burbridge’s task when she came to Salem was to first learn her way around town and then do a thorough analysis of what we have, our strengths and weaknesses and our potential. That part of her job is winding down – though we always need to monitor and reassess those things – and now comes the fruit of that labor, which is putting things in place to improve the quality of life and business environment in our community.

Easier said than done, and I don’t mean that as a negative. Let’s be realistic. We have on numerous occasions over the past 20 years and probably longer assessed our community to death, only to see the assessment fizzle when it comes to boots on the ground or money to get it done.

I see this as a different opportunity. Salem and Dent County were lucky to get someone with Burbridge’s background and experience in economic development. We have had good people in that position before, but none with her experience. She provides in-depth monthly economic development reports to the city and county, as well as spearheading the Economic Development Strategic Plan. She knows what she’s doing.

Where does she go from here? It depends on where we go from here.

A lot will be determined Thursday night when all these stats and ideas are formed into a strategic, detailed plan for the future. Our economic development future. A lot of ground has been covered January through July. The facts and figures have made me dizzy, but like I said, before you know where to go, you need to know where you are.

Demographics. Industry profiles. Downtown. Asset mapping. Education. Agriculture. Tourism. Signage. Housing. Strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. . .Facts were gathered on all those topics and more. June and July meetings were spent summarizing, looking at current economic development and discussing an action and implementation plan.

I have served as president of the Dent County Industrial Development Authority for quite a few years now, and those kind of things fascinate me. I see so many positives in our community that it’s easy to get excited. But I also see the realities of nuisance properties, lack of a skilled workforce and the many empty storefronts.

What we do with all this data and the decisions we make at Thursday’s meeting are absolutely vital to the future of our community. What’s most important is if and how we carry those plans out. The plan needs buy-in from the community, or, like so many plans before it, it will fade into obscurity, the reams of information placed on a shelf until it becomes outdated and is tossed into the dumpster or run through a shredder.

This plan needs a chance. Our community needs this chance. A wise community leader mentioned the other day that if we don’t “get this thing turned around soon we might not be able to turn it around.” He was summarizing the plight of Salem and Dent County.

I agree.

Salem and Dent County have as engaged a community as anyone. We have good schools and the cost of doing business here is relatively low compared to other places. We have excellent medical facilities and live in one of the most beautiful areas of America.

I already knew all that, but it was reinforced as I sat through several of the strategic planning sessions. Now it’s time to put that plan into action. It will take Burbridge’s leadership, the community’s acceptance and a lot of hard work by a lot of people.

I figure our community is worth the effort.