Northeast South Dakota communities team up to enhance economic development efforts

SDSU Extension
Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — Teamwork is a critical component for successful sports teams – so why not take a team approach to economic development as well? That’s the thought among city and county officials and residents in northeastern South Dakota including Day, Grant, Marshall and Roberts counties.

As part of a nationwide program called Stronger Economies Together (SET), which is facilitated by SDSU Extension’s Community Vitality Team, community members from the four-county region have been collaborating for the past two years to identify opportunities to showcase and promote their region to tourists and potential new residents.

“We are trying to make people aware of the opportunities here,” says Melissa Waldner of the multi-county effort. Waldner, who is executive director for Webster Area Development Corporation, explains that taking a regional approach provides a broader picture of all the available amenities.

She says, “Potential businesses or new residents like to see what the region offers versus a single town. One community on its own may not have all things, but together as a region, you can offer amenities like a regional airport and hunting, fishing and lake recreation.”

Glacial Lakes Region brochure developed

Via community meetings facilitated through the SET program, participants identified agri-business and tourism as two economic strengths for their Glacial Lakes Region. In spring 2019, for their initial project with $2,000 in seed money from Grow South Dakota and NeighborWorks America Community Leadership Institute, a printed brochure was developed with a map identifying 48 top attractions across the four counties. Attractions include lakes, parks, golf courses, museums and annual festivals and events.

Of the brochure, which is available at public locations throughout the region, Waldner says, “This gives people a taste of where things are within our region.” The group’s future goals include possibly developing an app to easily showcase the region’s attractions, as well as designing a logo and tagline to help promote the area.

Bringing Resources Together

From working on the SET process, Waldner, a native of the Twin Cities who graduated from SDSU and moved to Webster in 2012, says bringing people together to collaborate was rewarding. She explains that many of the economic development staff from the four counties involved knew each other – or knew of each other, but working together on this project also brought in a variety of community members and built new networks and enthusiasm.

“When you get people in the same room who have common interests, it’s exciting to see what’s possible. I’m a big fan of collaboration,” she says.

Lori Moen also participated with the Glacial Lakes SET program and has a similar perspective. She notes, “The SET program helped bridge our northeastern communities and find similarities as well as areas to be compatible in…so we can connect those assets.”

She indicated that assets may be anything from linking people together to connecting financial resources or workforce needs. Moen is chief operating officer of GROW South Dakota, an organization focused on sustainable housing, community and economic development throughout the state.

Moen adds, “Years ago rural communities were often competitive with one another, but today being compatible is key. To grow and be sustainable, communities need to work together.”

Ultimately, Moen says “The SET program has helped build relationships between the communities involved. We can become stronger together by joining voices.” She notes that collaboration is important to entice visitors and new businesses to look at the opportunities that exist in rural areas.

Waldner, whose role has been on workforce development, also underscores the importance of building communication and relationships with local high school students. She has been involved in surveying graduating seniors over the past four years and says, “Survey responses indicate they want to come back to the community, but didn’t know what opportunities exist. So it’s important to expose students to career opportunities early.” She also suggests communities support Career and Technical Education program development at their local high schools.

Waldner’s advice to other communities as they look to economic development or other issues is to “be involved, share successes and challenges, and realize there are many resources available.” She notes that SDSU Extension Community Vitality staff serve as a great starting point that can connect individuals to additional resources.

She says, “I can always call someone at SDSU and ask for insights and programs. They offer many training opportunities and programs with good content.”

Connect with SDSU Extension’s Community Vitality team at

County leaders and residents of four northeastern South Dakota counties have been gathering and collaborating to develop efforts to better market their communities for business and tourism.
With community input, brainstorming a list of strengths was integral to inventorying what the Glacial Lakes Region has to offer.