The Lincoln County Economic Development Association and the Minnehaha County Economic Development Association combined in March to form Sioux Metro Growth Alliance, an economic development association that will serve the region.
Executive director Jesse Fonkert said, "Our name change and combined organization will help us better serve our communities but also better communicate what we're all about. Many people thought we worked for the counties, when we are independent, and we support regional economic development."
Fonkert has served as executive director of LCEDA/MCEDA — now SMGA — since April of 2020. He said the timing for both consolidation and expansion is right.
"We're one of the fastest growing metros in the country and we need to talk about that more, because all our communities play a role in that growth and they're positioned to help drive it even more."
The foundation for the Sioux Metro Growth Alliance began in 1991, when mayors of Minnehaha County communities got together with support from business leaders in Sioux Falls and formed the Minnehaha County Economic Development Association.
"It just really was building off the success of Sioux Falls and understanding that a regional partnership would give everyone more visibility and more success than trying to go it alone," said Jeff Eckhoff, who became the association's executive director a few years later. The Lincoln County Economic Development Association was formed in 1996.
Early successes included facilitating a public-private partnership to develop the Corson Industrial Park. The associations also helped support new and expanding employers in the respective communities from Sioux Steel to Terex and Adams Thermal. It even helped bring a grocery store and bank to Humboldt.
"In the early days it was all about land, buildings, availability, location, and those things still matter," Eckhoff said. "But the thing that was really changing as I left is the importance of workforce. It used to be that on the first visit (a company) rarely even talked about workforce or it was way down on the list. Now it's one of the first things you talk about."
The "people" aspect of the Sioux Falls region has become a point of pride, said Nick Fosheim, who led LCEDA/MCEDA for seven years beginning in 2012.
"If you look around the region, there are more people whose job is focused on economic development in their community, and that didn't exist 10 years ago, even five years ago," he said. "So I think that's a sign that we see opportunity and that we know we have to approach it as a team...and we're putting the strategy behind what we're doing as an organization."
The Sioux Metro Growth Alliance is a key piece of that, he added. "You get these communities talking to each other about their successes, their challenges, some of the questions they have, and they can learn from each other and they can celebrate with each other."
The new Sioux Metro Growth Alliance is positioned to reach out to communities in the true metropolitan statistical area, or MSA, which include McCook and Turner counties. Fonkert said he will look for ways to include those municipalities and county governments in the future. "We're just looking for ways to serve, and that's our job. Economic development is about service."
A nine-person executive board will help guide the combined organization.
"You're going to see more of our organization, telling the story of our communities. They're great places to live, work and invest your time and resources and dreams, and we're going to do our best to support them and build a strong alliance."