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Grow Spink: Empowering Citizens, Building for Tomorrow  Photo

Grow Spink: Empowering Citizens, Building for Tomorrow

Declining populations and limited employment opportunities are common themes in rural America. Traditional methods of economic development rely on attracting businesses in order to bring in jobs.

But if they want to grow, towns need the infrastructure to support a larger workforce. The availability of quality housing helps attract and retain workers. And a strong workforce increases a town’s competitiveness.

Grow Spink in Northeastern South Dakota is tasked with helping promote business development and expansion throughout Spink County. Housing is one of its biggest priorities.

“The core group’s purpose statement is ‘Engaging Today, Building for Tomorrow,’” says Zens. “We have a list of 92 volunteers working on teams, meeting monthly and working towards getting things done.”

“If you spec out real estate options, there’s not much on the market. If we want to keep people here and bring new people in, housing is a critical need,” says Grow Spink executive director Lisa Zens.

Grow Spink is responding to this need by building. In the last few years, it built two spec houses in Northville. Grow Spink also works closely with the Redfield Area Development Corporation. Together they have constructed six spec homes in Redfield ranging in value from $160,000–$320,000 since 2015.

In 2018, Grow Spink is looking at the possibility of developing houses in nine additional Spink County communities. “The houses are selling even before they’re built,” says Zens. “The need is always there.”

Unfortunately, Zen says new home construction and labor costs have gone up about 25 percent in the last year, which makes the prospect of building more difficult. But the county is evaluating all the options and working toward creative solutions. There may be potential to develop Governor’s Houses and multifamily units at a lower cost. Improving and rehabilitating old homes is also a possibility.

Grow Spink was accepted into Empower! Dakota last year. This initiative, led by Dakota Resources, seeks to strengthen and empower people and organizations to improve the future vitality and viability of their community.

Empower! Dakota has been coaching Grow Spink and facilitating public meetings in the Redfield area to encourage community engagement and crowd-sourced solutions. One citizen-led committee is focused on housing issues. It’s currently evaluating the town’s available housing stock, with an emphasis on the town’s dilapidated houses and apartment buildings.

The long-term goal is to identify housing that can be improved upon as well as programs to help pay for refurbishing. The idea is not just to look at new construction as a solution but to take stock of what currently exists and make it better.

The growing level of citizen participation with Empower! South Dakota has pleasantly surprised Zens. “A lot of people have been willing to take the initiative, to step forward,” she says. “It’s been a little bit surprising. People are excited. They want to be involved.”

By offering citizens meaningful opportunities for participation, Grow Spink is encouraging people to take an active role in bettering their community. Zens says she hopes to get more participation from millennials and youth, since they’re truly the future of the community.

“The core group’s purpose statement is ‘Engaging Today, Building for Tomorrow,’” says Zens. “We have a list of 92 volunteers working on teams, meeting monthly and working towards getting things done.”

Grow Spink is a member of the South Dakota Prairie Gateway, a portal for economic development information in Eastern Rural Communities of South


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