The recent announcement that Rapid City is about to get serious with its economic development efforts is timely and necessary.
Last week, the city learned Herberger’s is closing. Before that, it was Toy “R” Us; before that, Sears. It seems inevitable other retailers will follow as e-commerce continues to grow and change shopping habits.
Every time another retail chain closes its stores, communities lose jobs, sales tax revenue and visitors, which can be a particular problem for a community that is a regional shopping hub like Rapid City. Fewer shoppers means fewer customers for restaurants, bars, bakeries, coffee shops, pubs, convenience stores and other local businesses that also provide jobs and collect sales tax.
It can become a death spiral for the community that chooses to do nothing other than shrug its shoulders and hope for the best.
While it’s true the area’s robust tourism industry and the presence of Ellsworth Air Force Base somewhat insulates Rapid City from losses inflicted by the digital economy, they do little to create the types of jobs needed for a thriving community in the future.
It takes a real effort, a strategy and — most importantly — money to attract and nourish the kinds of companies a community needs to prosper in the 21st Century.
Fortunately, four local economic development and business groups — the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, Rapid City Economic Development Partnership, Ellsworth Development Authority and the Economic Development Foundation — have joined forces to reach a lofty goal that could transform the community and region if successful.
The new public-private partnership calls itself Elevate Rapid City. The organization aspires to create nearly 5,000 high-paying jobs and $300 million in new business investment over the next five years. So far, it has raised $3 million to fund the effort with a goal of raising $4.25 million.
Certainly, there will be people who will dismiss this effort before it gets off the ground. They don't see or want to believe in the potential this area has to offer or understand that a community needs to invest in itself if it wants to grow and offer meaningful opportunities to future generations.
If nothing is done, however, more of our children and grandchildren will likely leave the area, the median income will decline and the city will offer fewer of the services we now take for granted. It could indeed be a grim future if the city chooses to do nothing.
Instead, the city has chosen a different path — one that could help it shape its destiny. It won't be easy, however, in what has become a global and extremely competitive economy. Elevate Rapid City deserves credit for putting together this campaign, but the hard work is ahead.
In order to improve the outlook for the future, this group needs the support and assistance of every element of this community. It's going to take teamwork to thrive in the future.