Written collaboratively by Paul Thares and Andrew Van Kuren.
Campbell County Economic Development Corp.
Like many small rural areas, Campbell County Economic Development Corp. faces challenges and they have succeeded in overcoming these challenges to attain several wins with economic development within their rural communities. I had an opportunity to speak with Andrew Van Kuren, executive director for Campbell County Economic Development Corp. and below you will read his responses to the questions I asked.
Campbell County is made up of four small communities, Artas, Herreid, Pollock and Mound City. It is located in North Central South Dakota, the western edge of the county blends into the Missouri River, Lake Oahe, and the Northern border of the county is the state line of North Dakota.
The total population of the county is 1,397 U.S. Census 2016, and the total population of the four communities is 759. U.S. Highway 83 runs down the middle of the county (north / south), with SD State Route 10 connecting the east and west portions of the county.
Q & A: Andrew Van Kuren
Herreid recently made a commitment to raise $250,000 for housing projects, how did that come about and what was your role?
Van Kuren: Grow SD - First Impressions tours really jettisoned the discussions on how to make our community better. SDSU Extension Representatives helped guide the brainstorming and action plan formulation. I helped organize the tours / discussions and encouraged key leaders to participate in the process.
How did Herreid area residents react to such a big win, getting the money raised and starting several housing projects, were they surprised?
Van Kuren: Reaction was very supportive, especially with those who invested their time and money. I think some people were pleasantly surprised we (Dean Schwartz – CCED Board President and I) organized public meetings and took the issue to the people. We didn’t know what to expect, if anything, we were the people who were most surprised!
It pays to be able to network. It sounds like you do not have a shortage of people to step up and help.
Van Kuren: I can’t say enough good things about the people who are involved. Some people offered to write checks at our very first meeting! Not only were people willing to invest money, they invested their time and physical efforts to get the housing group going, it’s a testament to the people in our communities.
The housing project came on the heels of having several big achievements for Campbell County, where you played a pivotal role. Could you please explain these successes and your role? (Wind Towers, Performance Ag plant, others):
Van Kuren: Ralph Hanson started our success with the Campbell County Wind Park, he won GOED’s Economic Developer of the Year - 2016 (post humus). Our Campbell County Economic Development board is really great to work with, I feel fortunate to have their support. Our county commissioners are very approachable and will listen to our concerns. Cooperative local land owners are key to being able to negotiate pricing, secure plots and be flexible in their expectations. Without all of those people it would be very difficult to be successful.
Were some people skeptical that these projects would be successful?
Van Kuren: You will always have skeptics and critics, which in a certain way is good. I don’t dismiss people’s concerns as long as they are logical and have merit. I am the outsider, so I have learned a lot by listening to all sides of an issue.
Has opportunity been scarce for Campbell County?
Van Kuren: I want to say yes and no. Yes, I understand we are a remote rural county. So, in that sense we don’t have the opportunity that some other larger communities do. We have had and will continue to have good opportunities in the agricultural markets, energy industries, hunting and fishing segments, too. I see future opportunities in the information technology and other white collar careers. We have excellent telecommunications capabilities (Valley Tel. Corp.) and authentic life styles to offer. Which are perfect for individuals who telecommute part-time or work out of their own homes.
It seems you have a lot of dedicated people in the county, has this contributed to the success?
Van Kuren: We have been successful up to this point because of the people who are dedicated. It’s been said success is a journey, not a destination. As long as our county has the leaders we do now and in the future, there will be continued success.
- Pivotal Moments and Breakthroughs: When Dean Schwartz, President CCED, said, “We have to do this ourselves, no grant money is ever going to do this for us.” Referring to our housing development group.
- Relationships that proved to be important: All relationships have helped our efforts. From simply knowing local people in general to working with key leaders, land owners and government officials.
- Barriers Overcome: Being the outsider or new guy in town.
- Innovation: I don’t know if I would call it total new innovation or revelations but be willing to try something again. Take time to look at it from a different angle or listen to other key leaders.
- Leadership Lessons: For me, slow down and listen. Build support within a group or community before you go public with an idea.
- Advice for another community: Don’t be afraid to ask for support of a project or program. Also, don’t be afraid to try an old idea again. People do change their attitudes and beliefs, which means the community as a whole may have a different attitude toward a project or program.
- Key Take-Aways: A community needs an economic developer to drive new ideas, champion worth-while community causes and to keep community leaders informed.
Photos courtesy of Campbell County Economic Development Corp