Revitalizing Rural South Dakota Communities through Entrepreneurism

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rural communities across the nation face significant challenges. They typically have higher rates of poverty and fewer job opportunities than their urban counterparts.

But challenges can be framed as opportunities. Did you know that rural towns also have higher rates of entrepreneurism? In addition, rural startups have better 5-year business success rates than businesses opening in metro areas.

A conference happening in De Smet May 8-9 will explore the ways in which entrepreneurism and community engagement can strengthen and revitalize rural regions.

De Smet

The Energize! Exploring Innovative Rural Communities conference won’t follow a traditional conference format. Rather than sitting in a city conference center while learning about a distant rural community, participants will be immersed in the small town of De Smet. Local businesses will host breakout sessions and business owners will share their insights with attendees.

Peggy Schlechter, a South Dakota State University Extension community vitality field specialist, is helping organize the event. She says the unique format is conducive to learning.

“Rural communities have so much to offer,” explains Schlechter. “With this format you can learn so much more about the communities themselves. “Networking also comes easier when you’re not in a traditional structured, conference setting.”

South Dakota business owners will share their exciting entrepreneurial success stories with attendees. There will be networking and opportunities to learn about valuable tools and resources as well.

Rita Anderson, director of the De Smet Development Corporation, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the conference. “We are so excited to have this innovative conference coming to De Smet and actually into our businesses. It is a wonderful opportunity to network, share ideas and to work together to keep our communities strong and progressive,” says Anderson.

The conference will explore four primary topic areas: Funding for Community Projects; Entrepreneurial Experiences; Agritourism and Value-Added Agriculture; and Engaging Community Members.

Sarah CalhounSarah Calhoun is giving the keynote address: "Modern Day Pioneering." She has been dubbed a “revolutionary figure in rural business today” and a “powerhouse of inspiration for women in business.”

The internationally known speaker and entrepreneur founded Red Ants Pants, a company based in Sulphur Springs, Montana, which produces workwear for women. The company now distributes its products throughout the U.S. and in Canada. Calhoun’s nonprofit Red Ants Pants Foundation supports women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches as well as rural communities.

“What I’m really hoping will happen is that attendees will leave inspired to lead their communities forward,” says Schlechter. “We have so many small, wonderful communities in South Dakota. At the conference, attendees can connect with ideas and energy to help make their communities better.”

Schlechter says the event is open to everyone, not just leaders and business owners. “Anyone who wants to grow a business, help businesses grow or make communities more vibrant is welcome to attend.”

Click here to register (tickets are limited) and learn more about the conference.

De Smet Development Corporation is a member of the South Dakota Prairie Gateway, a portal for economic development information in Eastern Rural Communities of South Dakota.

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