Rushmore Region Economic Development Alliance hosted a free professional development session in Hot Springs last Wednesday.
The event offered insight for moving economic development forward in Hot Springs, Fall River County, and the Black Hills region in general.
Black Hills Energy and the Governor's office of Economic Development were the primary sponsors.
Local government officials, business owners and community leaders were all present for the session at the Mueller Center.
Mutch Usera of Program manager of Community Affairs and Economic Development for Black Hills Energy was the emcee for the morning. He touched on the importance of developing as a region, "companies are looking at regions when deciding where to locate. They are considering housing, educational opportunities, available workforce and more."
Hot Springs native and Director of Community Development for the Governor's Office of Economic Development, Joe Fiala was also a speaker. Speaking to the incremental nature of economic development, he said, "economic development is not a sprint, it's a marathon."
The session's keynote speaker was Janet Ady, President and CEO of Ady Advantage. Her company is an economic development consulting business that specializes in site selection for expanding or relocating companies and in advising communities on how to promote economic development.
Ady defined economic development for the audience, "economic development means your kids or grandkids have the opportunity to live and work where you are."
She addressed the shift in economic development in communities, "in the past communities would seek out business and people would follow, now communities must show they have the people a business wants to pursue."
She suggested trying to change the view of the Black Hills from more than just beautiful landscapes, but to a region with small vibrant communities.
In her presentation, Ady stressed the need for communities to create economic development plans specific to their unique attributes. Stating that an effective strategy for communities could involve first identifying what resources and abilities the community already has and then seeking companies looking for those specific criteria.
Promoting the retention and expansion of existing business was also a key point. It was pointed out that they are the primary driver in a regions economic development.
Ady noted several advantages rural communities have with economic development, including: tight bonds that promote teamwork, a lack of big city politics, a hunger for good projects and people with a good work ethic.
She also said rural communities must be smarter than non-rural communities when seeking to develop economically, "Communities have to know what is a good fit for them, understand their return on investment and have specific economic development targets." She also advised smaller communities be proactive when addressing challenges.
Small labor pools and lack of infrastructure were identified as potential hurdles, but not insurmountable. Though Hot Springs only has a population of around 3,500 people, the commutable labor force is around 15,000 people. Infrastructure can be addressed by proactively creating spaces like business or industrial parks so that communities are able to accommodate the expansion of existing businesses or be ready when new ones want to come to town.
"The interest and engagement of the people here is important," Ady said of Hot Springs, referencing the dozens of community leaders attending the workshop. She listed the positive engagement of communities as a large advantage for economic development.
Other important advantages she noted were: the proximity to high volume attractions like Mount Rushmore, natural resources, access to utilities and proximity to Black Hills State University and School Of Mines.
In order for successful economic development to take place, Ady advised that the community of Hot Springs should identify what makes Hot Springs unique and capitalize on its specific advantages.