Campbell County Economic Development: Growth Challenges in Northeast SD

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A solid infrastructure with capacity for growth is a prerequisite for economic development. In order to attract businesses and residents, towns need roads and utility services as well as commercial and residential properties — or land to build on.

Campbell County, South Dakota has some fine attributes for businesses, including an independent telecommunications company. It was one of the first counties in the country to attain access to broadband internet. But the county has some basic infrastructure needs that are hindering its growth.

This concerns Campbell County Economic Development Coordinator Andrew Van Kuren. “What we’re focused on right now is two driving problems for economic development in the northeast part of state,” he says, explaining that the region has insufficient supplies of both water and residential housing.

In 2016, the local water utility, WEB Water, placed a moratorium on commercial and residential development. To meet the needs of existing accounts it had to put a stop to new building construction. The system is taxed and there are no current plans for expansion.

“One of the most pressing issues facing this part of South Dakota is water supply. Being without water is almost like not having electricity,” says Van Kuren, noting that efforts to attract companies to the area are at a standstill until this issue can be resolved.

Economic developers in the region have been meeting quarterly in Aberdeen to talk about this issue and raise awareness about its consequences for Campbell County. They’re attempting to work with government officials and the water utility to find solutions.

Adequate residential housing is also a challenge for the county, which is made up of four small communities: Artas, Herreid, Pollock and Mound City.

There are little to no homes available for new residents. Van Kuren notes that the county missed out on an opportunity when workers came to town in recent years to build the Campbell County Wind Farm and Dakota Access Pipeline. “Families wanted to be able stay. They loved the school and the community. But we had no places to sell them,” he says.

From an economic development point of view, the situation was dire. There’s one school for the county of 1500 people and new enrollment is essential to keep it running. “If we lose our school, our communities will die. We needed to do something,” says Van Kuren.

Campbell County Economic Development got the public involved in generating solutions to help bridge this housing crisis. After a couple of public meetings, a group of area residents committed to investing seed money to build spec houses in Herried, which had a preexisting water supply account.

Each investor pledged $5000 or more each and a total of $170,000 in private funds was raised. Additional loans and grants of $400,000 were secured to enable the production of spec houses, all of which sold before they were even completed. Funds have also gone towards governor’s houses, the purchase of 10 residential lots and an apartment complex, which was renovated.

This community investment in housing is a success story and Van Kuren hopes to be able to build upon and continue this success. The water issue is even more complex but is essential to prioritize, according to Van Kuren. “In terms of economic development, we really can’t compete right now. If we can get a good water program and good housing program we can all benefit from that.”

Campbell County Economic Development 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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