Friday , 7 August 2020
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Tending the flame: Leveraging resources to bring back South Dakotans

“A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
Thomas Jefferson

How does a governing body—whether it be a board of directors, a municipal, a county seat, a state legislature or the fed—help spark rural revival? What followed were several drafts of this commentary, never intended to be autobiographical, which describes the mini-plot of one South Dakotan’s journey out of rural America and back again.

It starts with a healthy and safe community for children. I grew up in Sioux Falls primarily but in many other parts of the state incidentally. Regardless of where I was, the streets were safe and the schools were good. The cynic may argue that SD’s population scarcity is what leads to lower crime, but I’ve always felt it had to do with the family ideal being centric versus the community ideal being proscribed.

Strong and diverse post-secondary education is also vital, both to retain and attract the future leaders of SD. I attended USD and was offered everything a collage kid could want, including some very light-sensitive mornings and a study abroad in Germany. I met my wife, Amber, and eventually commissioned into the US Army through USD’s ROTC program (coincidentally named the Prairiefire Battalion) and then set off on an eight-year odyssey.

Army life took us many places around the country and beyond. Time away from SD helped my wife and I experience cultural diversity and to appreciate the virtues of our rural home. I spent some time in Iraq, the same area where all the fighting is currently, and gained some experience with how tribal rural cultures operate along the Tigris River. I learned a great deal about governing bodies that don’t work.

Three kids later, I was the director of an ROTC program not far from Tulsa. In Oklahoma I saw what a civic body dependant on the government for everything does to prosperity. My wife and I were discussing whether to leave service and return home to SD and the conversation turned to zombies – as it so often does in my house. I said to her, “When the Zed apocalypse comes I want to be somewhere I don’t have to shoot my neighbors.” She gave me ‘the look’ and then laughed.

I used Dakota Roots to begin my search for employment and it eventually led to Arlington. My current economic development job as Executive Director of the Arlington Community Development Corporation (ACDC) is made possible through the cooperative efforts of the Governors’ Office of Economic Development (GOED), the City of Arlington and ACDC. The GOED Economic Development Partnership Program is an excellent example of medium government helping the best way they can (money) and local government playing to their strength (git’en ‘er done).

My wife and I recently brought our fourth child into the world, and like the first, her birth certificate is stamped with the great seal of South Dakota. I don’t think my story is that different from others, but it is one success story about diminishing the rural brain drain and bringing SD kids back home to build the future bright.

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