Written collaboratively by Paul Thares and Dave Johnson (Executive Director, Lemmon Area Charitable and Economic Development).
Lemmon Area Charitable & Economic Development
Like many small rural areas, Lemmon Area Charitable and Economic Development (LACED) faces challenges and they have succeeded in overcoming these challenges to attain several wins with economic development within Lemmon. I had an opportunity to speak with Dave Johnson, executive director for Lemmon Area Charitable and Economic Development (LACED). Below you will read his responses to the questions I asked.
The purpose of LACED is: To establish, fund and direct a program designed to increase the educational, social, and financial capabilities of the residents of the City of Lemmon and Perkins County, South Dakota, via community development efforts, and assisting both new and existing businesses.
The City of Lemmon is located in the northwest part of South Dakota and lies within Perkins County. The cities northern border is the Stateline between North Dakota and South Dakota. The population of Lemmon is 1,309 U.S. Census 2011-2016 five year Survey Estimates, U.S. Highway 12 runs through Lemmon (east/west) with State Highway 73 (north / south) starting on the west side of Lemmon. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad runs through the north side of town.
Q&A: Dave Johnson
LACED recently finished building their second home, how did that project come about and what was your role?
Johnson: LACED received capitol from an endowment fund left by a local business owner. The fund is managed by a five-member board, and is earmarked for economic development. The funding became available shortly after a housing study was completed in the area. The study identified approximately 60 homes deemed to be uninhabitable. When LACED met with the endowment board, it was agreed that this would be a good first project to tackle. LACED purchased 4 properties from the list, and began demolition of the structures immediately. Construction was completed on the first home in late 2015, and sold in early 2016. Construction of the 2nd home was completed early this year and is now on the market.
How did Lemmon area residents react to such a big win, getting the money raised and starting several housing projects, were they surprised?
Johnson: I think the biggest surprise came with the demolition. The results from demolition are obvious within a day or two and tend to create a lot of excitement. The building phase is a little more time consuming and allows for the excitement to fade. When the first home sold after a relatively short time on the market, I think there was some surprise at the success.
It pays to be able to network. It sounds like you do not have a shortage of people to step up and help.
Johnson: We are very fortunate to have a lot of assets to utilize in our small community. Lemmon Housing, City Council, and LACED combined to help with the housing study. Local contractors and construction companies have been helpful to keep the costs as low as possible. And the endowment fund demonstrates how active our local business owners are in the community.
The housing projects came at the same time you have had several big achievements for Lemmon, where you played a pivotal role. Could you please explain these successes and your role? (Houses, auto dealership, carwash, new grocery store, others):
Johnson: Some of the seemingly small successes play a big role in future growth. LACED’s role in preserving the movie theater, or helping a local business owner re-start a car wash have helped to encourage optimism in the community’s future. More recently LACED has worked with Family Dollar to secure a store in our community, and a former native has opened a car dealership. Success builds success, and our latest is a new multi-million-dollar investment from our local grocery store owner. Construction is nearly completed on the new facility that will certainly be a great draw to our community.
Were some people skeptical that these projects would be successful?
Johnson: There will always be skeptics. I believe, given a choice, even the most skeptical would rather spend their energy and assets on growth rather than defeat. I believe it is important to avoid being dismissive of skeptics and critics. If someone has a different opinion, your first response should be curiosity not anger or dismissiveness. Any input, even negative, can be helpful in developing the best strategy to reach your goal.
Has opportunity been scarce for Lemmon?
Johnson: I don’t believe so. As a small community we do have limits that larger communities don’t have, however opportunity is always there if you plan for growth. We are fortunate to have many “investors” that believe in long term growth of the community. This attitude, combined with past success, are what drive a community forward.
It seems you have a lot of dedicated people in the city of Lemmon and area, has this contributed to the success?
Johnson: Like most rural communities, Lemmon has a history of a “barn raising” spirit. Nearly everyone is willing to pitch in for a cause that will benefit a neighbor or the community. This attitude may seem foreign to someone who has never lived in a rural ag based community, but I think you will find it the norm all across the nation. It is the key to success and growth of the small town.
- Leadership Lessons: Patience and an open mind are key. Solutions to problems rarely come quickly. And the solutions often differ from your original thoughts.
- Advice for another community: Always focus on growth. Even in times of economic or population decrease you need to plan for the future. This does not mean a build it and they will come attitude. It is more of a plan that the will come, and prepare for it.
For more information, contact LACED: