a historical city with a big heart and a modern lifestyle
A self-proclaimed “little big city”, Salem, Ohio boasts outdoor appeal and projects anticipated dynamic growth
The city of Salem, Ohio has a bold history that celebrates freedom for everyone. Founded in 1806 as a free settlement by the Quaker Society, the community became a hub for the American Underground Railroad and was the publishing and distribution site of the abolitionist newspaper known as the Anti-Slavery Bugle.
The city also supported the women’s suffrage movement, hosting the first national convention for women’s right to vote in 1850. The Ohio Women’s Convention at Salem brought many important people to the city, including the iconic Susan B. Anthony.
Today, Salem is a city of 12,000 people with all the advantages of a much larger community. Mayor Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey boasts, “We are ‘A Little Big City’.”
As the largest community in Columbiana County, Salem has a strong manufacturing and healthcare sector, which brings an additional 5,000 people into the city each day to work, while also supporting the local businesses. Shopping and dining options are diverse in Salem, where the eastern part of the community offers the convenience of big box stores and fast-food options, and the city’s historic downtown is brimming with unique one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants.
Downtown Salem also hosts many events, including Second Saturdays, Freed Fest, honoring hometown musician, Alan Freed, who coined the term ‘Rock and Roll’ and Charles Burchfield Steps, in honor of the famous watercolorist who featured many Salem Landmarks in his work. Salem Super Cruise is another yearly event, attracting 50,000 visitors to enjoy antique, muscle and vintage cars, live music, food, and fun. The Downtown Salem Partnership made up of downtown businesses, and the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce are both strong supporters of the continued growth and vibrancy in the city.
With 5 parks and a 220-acre lake, Salem has ample outdoor recreation opportunities for the over 200,000 visitors each year. Indoor sports and fitness options are available at the popular 50,000 square foot Salem Community Center and CenterPlex.
Julie Needs, Executive Director of Sustainable Opportunities Development Center (SOD), talks about the value of these amenities, sharing, “We know that in attracting a workforce and in attracting additional employers to the community we have to be doing community development as well. We have to have the assets that people want in the community in which they’re going to live and work.”
Much of this community development has been focused on revitalizing the downtown, completing significant renovations to many of the 102 first-floor commercial units in the heart of Salem.
Seven years ago, Salem had 30 units vacant, and today six vacant units are available. Seventeen new businesses have opened downtown in the last 18 months.
This has involved a strategic approach, with a focus on supporting long-standing downtown businesses, while also creating the vibrancy that will entice a younger demographic to the area.
“As the mayor alluded, we have our branding campaign as “Little Big City”. We are looking at amenities we need to have in the downtown to attract and retain individuals. We’re working with several investors on second and third-floor living units, so we have more of that city feel to attract a younger population,” says Needs.
Attracting other housing investments is also on the agenda, with senior housing options at the top of the list. A lot of our residents are living in big historic family homes.
“We are looking for opportunities to expand that senior housing. We have some, but we would like to have more. Those bigger homes are perfect for new families joining our community.” A Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) tax credit is part of the plan to encourage new housing and renovations within the city, providing a 15-year tax credit, which Dickey asserts is “a big incentive to fix up homes or build new.”
Manufacturing makes up 39% of Salem’s overall industry. Eight expansions are currently underway, Needs acknowledges, “We look at ways to attract new businesses to the community that are compatible with existing businesses. We do a good job in small manufacturing, that’s our niche market. So that is who we look to attract from an industrial perspective.”
Key manufacturers and partners in the city include Fresh Mark, Ventra , Hickey Manufacturing, Mac Trailer, American Standard, Barclay Machine, Tru-Cut, CTM Labeling, Hunt Valve, CQL Mfg., Quality Trailer, Butech-Bliss Inc. and the Salem Regional Medical Center.
Although the majority of the city sits in Columbiana County, there is a portion that is located in Mahoning County. This is a workforce development advantage Needs explains.
“We have the benefit of two technical training centers, the Mahoning County and the Columbiana County Career and Technical Centers, as well as Salem’s regional campus of Kent State University. We work with all three institutions on workforce development, technology, and ways to encourage students to take a look at what we have here, versus going away.”
Working to overcome the negative perception of manufacturing as a career, Congressman Bill Johnson brings students from across Columbiana County into Salem, for a ‘Manufacturing your Future’ event, involving tours of facilities and a view of the remarkable opportunities in those industries.
Salem’s highly-rated National High School Alumni Association is also very supportive of local students, awarding $550,000 in scholarships in 2022. The Salem Community Foundation is another valuable resource, partnering with Kent State and offering a variety of scholarships.
“Here at the SOD Center, our training really fills a gap,” adds Needs. “We work more with the incumbent workforce to upskill individuals and help them on a career pathway. So, we do short-term training in the hopes of getting them into longer-term training in our career and technical centers, or in our local university.”
Unique for a city of its size, Salem has a 26-officer police force and 2 canine units, as well as a full-service fire department, with 16 EMT-certified firefighters. “On our safety and service side, our police and fire are top notch in the area not only in Columbiana County but in the tri-county area,” she says.
As for why Salem has such a strong safety system, Mayor Dickey states, “We believe if you don’t have a safe city, you don’t have a good city.” Safety & Service Director, Joe Cappuzzello elaborates, “We are a resource. We have mutual aid with the cities and the townships in the area. Also, with the number of people that come into town every day, our manufacturers expect Salem to provide them with top-notch safety forces, both police, and fire.”
Infrastructure upgrades are underway throughout Salem, including the first phase of a $700,000 downtown sidewalk replacement and repair project which was recently completed. Cappuzzello says the bid will soon be out for phase two which will be into the heart of the downtown, repairing and replacing brick sidewalks.
“We are looking at another $600,000 investment. This is also with a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation that worked with us on this, to continue this three-phase process,” he relays. 8 years ago, the city introduced a quarter percent income tax which is dedicated to street and sidewalk improvements, which Cappuzzello admits has been instrumental in maintaining this infrastructure while relieving the pressure on the general fund. Upgrades to the city’s water, wastewater, and sewage treatment facilities are another ongoing project.
Dickey recounts, “We have a Utilities Department, and it is the envy of everyone around us. We are in phase three of a $16 million project on the water treatment plant, upgrading how we process local limits for phosphorus and making sure all of our lines are connected, so we don’t have dead ends that harbor bacteria, and constant testing of our water supply.”
Acknowledging the value of partnerships with entities such as the Columbiana County Port Authority, the Columbiana County Land Bank, Jobs Ohio, OMEGA, and regional partner Team NEO, Dickey asserts, “We have a lot of cooperation by our local legislators, helping to get us grants. Our County Commissioners lend a hand on projects, as they benefit the entire county. If Salem rises, we all rise.”
These relationships will continue to be valuable as the city moves forward, growing even stronger in the areas of healthcare, commercial, and manufacturing, while also creating a city that is inviting and welcoming, to those who visit, and to those who call it home.
As a final thought, Mayor Dickey says, “I keep saying that when people are looking for something to do on an evening or a weekend, I want their first thought to be Salem, because there’s always something going on, and they want to be part of it.”
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AT A GLANCE
What: A vibrant community of 12,000 and a regional hub of work and shopping.
Where: Columbiana County, Ohio
Kent State University – www.kent.edu
Combined, the Kent State Salem and Kent State East Liverpool campuses make up Kent State University of Columbiana County. The two campuses offer 28 degrees, 14 of which are bachelor’s degrees. Kent State is the county’s only university, providing higher education opportunities from faculty and staff who are dedicated to helping students succeed.