Salem Plans for Future

Salem Plans for Future

The winds of change blew at an estimated 100 miles per hour in the community of Salem this year.


The first time, in May, a derecho struck and damaged the community’s nursing home badly enough that residents aren’t able to return and caused extensive damage throughout town.

Then, in July, the wind blew from the other direction, and the second derecho heavily damaged Salem’s armory, which is used as a community center.

Now, recovering from the storms is forcing the county seat of McCook County to make some decisions – and potentially accelerating economic development that already was in process.

“Do I want to see anything like that ever again? Absolutely not. It was horrible and affected every one of our bank’s customers in one way or another,” said Jeremy Grady, who has lived in the community for 24 years and serves as market president of the Salem branch of First Dakota National Bank.

“At the same time, we’re forced to make some decisions, and a forced hand is not all bad, especially if they’re decisions toward progress.”

Salem has pointed itself toward progress in a big way over the past year – months before the winds blew through. Early this year, the community of nearly 1,500 began working with Sioux Metro Growth Alliance to restart its economic development corporation.

Economic development specialist Sheldon Jensen has helped guide the organization, which hadn’t been active in 20 years.

“We’re working on multiple opportunities, from housing options to filling out the existing industrial park and assessing community needs,” Jensen said. “The storm ravaged Salem. It was terrible, but there might be silver linings ahead.”

For instance, there might be a chance to purchase the nursing home property, which would allow the community to assess what type of use is best going forward.

The nursing home is “a potential opportunity,” said Grady, who also serves as the volunteer chair of the Salem Economic Development Corporation. Its prior chair, Glenda Blindert, now serves as mayor.

“There could be multiple options for reuse that would benefit the community.”

The armory, which serves as a community center, will receive insurance money that Salem can use to determine the best future use there.

“There are a lot of events that take place there from a city and county perspective, so it’s something the community is evaluating,” Jensen said.

From Grady’s perspective, working with Sioux Metro Growth Alliance was key in helping the community move forward.

“It was an obvious choice for us. Because of growth on the west side of Sioux Falls and the growth we’re seeing, we’re getting closer together every day,” he said. “We can maintain our rural identity, but we have to capitalize on the growth Sioux Falls is seeing, and our No. 1 need is housing. We don’t have any lots in town, and we get calls weekly from people asking about building here.”

The community recently got another big boost for supporting its priorities – a $50,000 donation to help fund the Salem Economic Development Corporation from First Dakota National Bank in commemoration of the bank’s 150th anniversary. The bank also has pledged to donate another $50,000 to the SEDC as a dollar-for-dollar match, thus bringing the bank’s total donation to $100,000 and helping to raise at least $150,000 total.

“This is a huge investment in Salem by First Dakota National Bank, and I’m confident that we will have individuals and businesses help us reach the $50,000 needed for the match and probably go beyond that amount,” Blindert said.

“If we can help develop more housing, that should attract more employees to fill existing jobs in town and for any new business we bring to town.”

The funding could allow Salem to leverage other nonprofit housing financing opportunities, Jensen said.

“It’s seed money that is really going to set this organization up for the future,” he said.

“Even though Salem is 40 miles from Sioux Falls, it’s less than 30 minutes from the new Amazon fulfillment center and other employers on the city’s northwest side. So there are a number of people who drive to Sioux Falls, but right now there is one house being built right outside the city limits, and that’s it. There’s no development happening because there are no lots available. And we know there are people in town who would build a new house, and then other existing homes would go on the market.”

Housing is key to the community’s continued vitality and economic development, said McCook Central School District Superintendent Matt Alley, who also serves on the economic development board.

“We can accommodate additional students, but we also have a lot of staff who commute because there’s not a lot of housing available in Salem,” said Alley, who has led the district for the past two school years.

“When they’re hired, they’re often young and have a spouse, and we have some apartments, so that works. But we see teacher turnover when they can’t find housing for growing their family and they live in Madison or Mitchell or Sioux Falls and want to be closer to where their kids are. So I’m hoping with additional housing we can retain some staff members that come start their career here, and we can help them grow.”

The school district serves about 400 students from kindergarten through high school and recently expanded and updated facilities, including a performing arts center, gym and locker rooms, and band and choir rooms. Upgrades to the athletic field and surrounding area included a new press box, bleachers and lights, which suffered some damage in the storm but are being repaired.

“We’re one of few small schools that ensures we have the course offerings and extra groups to serve all kids,” Alley said.

“If there’s something kids want to do, we want to make sure we have it. It’s very evident we have a very supportive community. They are behind the school. We get the volunteers. We get the support. When the kids put on school colors, the families tend to stay in the community.”

On the commercial side, there will be opportunities in Salem to fill in remaining industrial land as the community works with engineers to determine how it could be configured into sellable lots.

“We’re excited to get some 3-, 5-, 10-acre parcels available for people looking to warehouse or do contractor shops, lots of different things,” Jensen said. “And it’s possible we can look at swapping land with some who own property downtown but could use more industrial space, which would allow us to look at some downtown redevelopment.”

In the meantime, though, the industrial property will serve as an example this fall of how Salem retains a small-town spirit.

“The elevator is going to borrow some of that land to house grain during the harvest because there is not a farmer in McCook County who didn’t lose a grain bin or multiple during the storms, and they’re not going to have the resources to rebuild grain storage before harvest, so it’s a creative solution to help both the elevators and the farmers in the area.”

While recovery from natural disaster is never smooth, the horizon in Salem is beginning to become more clear.

“The storm brought a lot of changes, and I shudder to think where we’d be at today if we didn’t have our economic development corporation and we didn’t have Sioux Metro Growth Alliance helping and guiding us. Sheldon has been wonderful. He’s been responsive to our needs and always keeps us going in the right direction and holds us accountable,” Grady said.

“The change I’ve seen in this community in the last two years has been extremely forward-thinking leadership and understanding where we’re at and what we need. I think everyone is pulling on the rope in the same direction.”

See article in it's entirety at Sponsored by Sioux Metro Growth Alliance.