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First Dakotafire Café participants dive into commuting topic
Paula Jensen discusses the topic of transportation with other participants in the Dakotafire Café in Britton on March 28. Photo by Joe Bartmann

First Dakotafire Café participants dive into commuting topic

Britton hosted the first-ever Dakotafire Café event on Friday, and it served to fuel some thinking on how the community might do a better job of attracting workers.

IMG_4407The event was the first in a series of group meetings planned by Dakotafire magazine to get people talking about the ideas presented in its latest publication.  The Britton event was also part of the community’s monthly roundtable event.

“Most of our small towns have a place where locals gather to solve the world’s problems over a cup of coffee,” said Dakotafire Editor Heidi Marttila-Losure.  “These events are intended to bring that spirit of problem-solving conversations to the issues that affect our communities – which are the topics we try to address in the magazine.”

Mike McCurry, South Dakota’s state demographer, presented information on commuting patterns in Marshall County and what those patterns might mean for efforts to sustain and improve the community.

He said that Marshall County’s population pyramid (balance of old vs. young) looked good in comparison to many of the state’s counties.

“As a demographer I look at births, deaths, and migration, and some of those other counties are like canaries in a coal mine,” noted McCurry.  “We need to watch and see how they deal with it.”

McCurry also noted that a total of 438 workers commute out of Britton and 438 commute into the community.  A total of 78 people (not including business owners) live and work in Britton.

Those numbers could point to one of the reasons that things like staffing for the ambulance service and fire department have become more difficult.

“Long commutes are a problem when it comes to staying involved in the community,” said McCurry. “There may be a skills mismatch in Britton with jobs matching the skill sets of those 438 workers leaving town to work not available here.”

For the whole ZIP code of 57430, 626 people commute into the ZIP code area, 247 both live and work in the ZIP code, and 618 people commute out.

Following McCurry’s presentation, Joe Bartmann, a rural advocate from Montrose, worked as a facilitator for small group conversations among attendees.

“The goal was to have some good conversations about the content in our transportation issue of Dakotafire, and we had them,” said Marttila-Losure.  “I was pleased with the ideas that came from the discussions, and it was a good learning experience for us.”

Ideas from the discussion groups covered a variety of topics, but the numbers of workers commuting to and from Britton drew some extra attention.

“Participants wanted to know more about those people going in and coming out,” said Marttila-Losure.  ”What skill sets do the people have coming in, and what skill sets do the people going out have?  That would be useful information for decision-makers, as they could build on Britton’s strengths and fill in some gaps if there are areas where people with a common skill set are leaving.”

Dakotafire put together a graphic of some of that information following the Dakotafire Café event:

This graphic provides information on the people commuting into and out of the 57430 ZIP code. Graphic by Dakotafire Media

This graphic provides information on the people commuting into and out of the 57430 ZIP code. Graphic by Dakotafire Media

See a PDF of that graphic here.

The next Dakotafire Café event will be in Webster on May 29, following the May/June issue of Dakotafire, which will have water as its theme.  The Dakotafire project brings together community newspapers in the James River Valley of the Dakotas to address topics important to the region.  Stories can be found in participating newspapers, including The Britton Journal and The Langford Bugle, at, and in the bimonthly magazine.


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