Stronger Economies Together Making a Difference in Western South Dakota Back »

Dawn Hilgenkamp facilitates the panel discussion during the “Small Business is Everybody’s Business” conference. Participating in the panel were Marcella Hurley, Small Business Development Center; Kent Jordan, loan office and owner of a local grocery store; Hetti Cekalla, USDA Rural Development; and Marty Huether, Wall Mayor and Manager at Golden West Technologies.

SET Region Selection

Recently South Dakota USDA Rural Development and SDSU Extension announced that a northwest South Dakota Region was selected as a Stronger Economies Together (SET) region. The northwest South Dakota Region consisting of Perkins, Corson, and northern Meade counties will now participate in a focused initiative to develop and implement an economic development plan for the region that builds on the economic strengths of the region. Twenty-two regions representing 13 states will participate in SET during 2015. This is the third year that regions in South Dakota are participating in SET.

In 2012, the Badlands/Bad River Region was formed for the purpose of participating in the third round of SET and in November 2012, their first session was held in Philip, SD. Since then, sessions and meetings have been held in Philip, Kadoka, Interior, Midland and Wall to accommodate the residents of this region that covers over 5000 square miles. More than 40 local leaders and residents participated in the educational sessions. Participants have invested countless hours in discussions and strategic plan development.

Early in the SET process, the group was able to select a Regional Vision “The Badlands/Bad River region is an area of potential growth in agriculturally based businesses, natural resources, and small businesses utilizing modern technology. Our hard working people and opportunities for continuing education maintain our small town atmosphere and Constitutional freedoms.”

Goal 1: Developing Community Brand Recognition

The plan focuses on two main goals with many strategies listed to reach those goals. The first goal will develop brand recognition by those living within and outside the region. “By Spring 2015, The Badlands/Bad River Region brand will be recognized by entities and individuals throughout the region, as shown by increased use and support.” While this did not happen by the deadline of spring 2015, the group is working to make it happen yet this year and into early 2016.

Goal 2: Supporting & Developing Local Businesses

The residents also wanted to develop a strong economic base and grow the business opportunities in the region which lead to the development of the second goal. “Establish a business development support network and complete resource base for entrepreneurs to create 10 new businesses and retain or expand 95% of existing businesses by January 2024.” A long range strategy is to develop a regional business incubator to provide a place for new businesses to start and for new and existing businesses find and share resources.

High-Quality Plan Designation

When the Badlands/Bad River Region was notified in February 2015 that their plan had been designated as a High Quality Plan by USDA Rural Development, participants became re-energized and motivated to focus on the goals. Efforts continue to be made to get more people involved. Presentations showcasing the plan have been made to more members of local chambers and economic development groups. Participants are inviting others to get involved and bringing them along to meetings.

One of the first strategies of the second goal was met when the community of Wall hosted the conference, “Small Business is Everybody’s Business”. Participants listed to and interacted with speakers Dell Gines, Senior Community Vitality Advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank and Craig Schroeder, Senior Fellow for Youth Engagement with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. Participants also interacted with members of a local panel that included a loan officer/small business owner, a mayor/telecommunications representative, a representative of USDA Rural Development and a representative of the Small Business Development Center. The panel discussion focused on promoting and supporting small business in your community.

Del Bartels, Dave Hahn, Peggy Schlechter, Eric Leonard, Mary Burnett, Jody Bielmaier, Kari O’Neill and Christine Sorenson proudly display the plaque received for the High Quality Plan designation.

With the High Quality Plan designation, the region gained access to $5000 in seed money to start carrying out the plan. The $5000 was used to leverage funds when an application was submitted to the South Dakota Community Foundation for a $10,000 Community Innovation Grant to support the region in moving forward with both goals. On April 20, 2015, the group was notified that the grant was approved and the region would receive a check for $10,000. With $15,000 now available to continue working on the goals, participants became serious about strategies to carry out the plan. Originally it was decided to take a break throughout the summer months because the Badlands/Bad River Region is in a high tourism area; however the new funding motivated participants to keep moving forward and a small group met in June, July and again in August.

Mary Burnett (left) and Dawn Hilgenkamp (right) accept the $10,000 check from Ginger Niemann, South Dakota Community Foundation.

Continued Progress

Progress continues! Grant funds are being used to create a website (, banners, a Facebook page, and other media to promote the three-county economic partnership. People have been hired to prepare content and videography, including recorded testimonials and videos of sites in the region to promote the area.

A photo contest is currently underway to collect a large quantity of pictures to be used to advertise the region. Anyone, of any age, who lives in the area may enter up to three photos, one in each of three categories. Photos may be of places, people, activities or events that are within the region. The top winner in each category will receive $100, the two second place winners in each category will get $50, and the three third place winners in each category will earn $25 each. All photos submitted will become property of the Badlands/Bad River Region to be used on the website and additional promotional materials.

Each community will receive a vinyl banner with the region logo and a website address on it. Other promotions may include window clings, media ads at the Gem Theatre and on Facebook and a possible coupon book and/or calendar from which people can also win prizes from the use of the coupons. A fall kick-off event is in the planning stages. Additional funding sources are also being investigated.

The Benefits of Working Together

Through participation with the Badlands/Bad River region, residents are sharing the benefits of working together as a region.

“It’s great to see the communities engage in planning for our future. The small steps we take will lead to future successes,” said Mary Burnett, Philip. “Bringing more people to the table to promote our region via face to face or through technology will create new opportunities.”

Rick Hustead, Wall, added, “Badlands/Bad River Economic Development Partnership is a tremendous force for economic development in our region.”

“I love the idea of uniting communities in our region,” said Terry Holman, Philip. “There are so many amazing people with skills, ideas and resources in each of them and I think the more people that are willing to get involved, the sky is the limit for exciting, positive experiences to be had for all of our community members!”

Jody Bielmaier, Wall, said, “The Badlands/Bad River Region is the best kept secret around.” She said that she, others in the region, and the people at the United States Department of Agriculture all think so. “They are helping us prosper, grow and recruit people to make a living and home in our region.”

Dawn Hilgenkamp, Wall, began listing benefits of the expanded economic efforts, “Meet new people from the other communities. Get lots of good ideas from multiple people. It makes me get excited to think that I can help make a difference in the community, and better yet to see progress being made.”

Looking Ahead

Future entrepreneur training may include several avenues. One is a regional job fair to be set in the near future, probably in the spring. The job fair planning is a result of a request of employers in the region. There are many resources for entrepreneurs, so this goal will assist with making those resources known to existing and potential business owners in the region. Ideas being explored include the Dakota Resources Dakota Rising Program, the SDSU Extension Small Business Beginnings program and the use of the resources available through the Small Business Development Center.

Challenges remain for the region. Additional people will need to get involved. A more formal structure to accept funds and continue with progress needs to be created. However participants are positive that they can overcome the challenges.

Dave Hahn, Wall, stated, “This is a win-win program for all communities involved. We need to make sure we keep this going and growing.

Some of the Badlands/Bad River Region participants who attended the July 2015 meeting in Wall include Dawn Hilgenkamp, Mary Burnett, Terry Holman, Jody Bielmaier, Marty Huether and Rick Hustead. The August 2015 meeting will be in Philip.

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