BEDC looking to keep graduates in brookings

Kara Gutormson

Kara Gutormson

In the last couple of years, a higher number of graduates are taking first-time jobs in South Dakota. In fact, the South Dakota Labor Market found that in 2005, 68 percent of the 1,385 SDSU graduates seeking employment accepted positions here in the state. Also, one-third (22 percent) of those graduates were employed locally.

This is good news for the local business industry, but whether or not the trend will continue is the real question. The Brookings Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) has started looking at ways to research this issue. The BEDC board of directors consists of members that are employed by the city, county and local businesses, as well as the university. Al Heuton, the executive director of the BEDC, says its mission “is to build an economy that supports the community’s vision of a quality place to live, work and play.”

Getting businesses to come to Brookings can prove to be challenging, especially considering the proximity of the town to Sioux Falls. “Since Sioux Falls has many of the larger retailers, right now the BEDC is focused on getting some of the smaller niche-type retail stores to come to Brookings,” Heuton said. “Adding more fine dining options would be beneficial to the community, as well.”

Al Heuton also mentioned the business opportunities generated by the development of the up-and-coming Innovation Campus research park. “The advantage provided by the innovation campus will be a chance for businesses to collaborate with SDSU through research and development,” he said.

Another great resource for entrepreneurs is the Enterprise institute. “The Enterprise institute is basically a business incubator,” Heuton said. “Entrepreneurs are given their own space and they are allowed to turn it into their own company.”

If more graduates are going to try to find employment in the community, they will need a permanent place to live. “Brookings needs to have more rental options for the increasing student population,” Heuton said. “Townhouses may be another route for the younger buyers looking for a nicer place but who are unable to afford the high cost of a house.”

Heuton noted that to compensate for the lack of housing, Brookings has been adding 120 new housing units into the community every year since 1992. Still, the problem of a zero percent vacancy exists.

Kari Westlund of Best Choice Realty discussed the housing market in Brookings. “On the national market, the average time it takes to sell a house is six months,” she said. “Houses in Brookings and the surrounding areas may only be posted for several days to a week before being sold.”

Westlund also said she has seen a couple of SDSU grads that are buying homes for $130,000. “Even if they only live here for three or four years after buying, the market is such that they are most likely going to be able to sell without losing what was put into it at the time of purchase,” Westlund said.

According to George Langelett, an economics professor at SDSU, the reason for the excellent housing market in Brookings is because the demand for it is greater than the supply. Supply is not keeping up; thus we see the cost of housing escalating. If we can provide more housing, he said, it may be easier for an SDSU graduate to afford.

SDSU students are told, “You can go anywhere from here.” The slogan rings true for the most part, but “anywhere” depends on a variety of factors. Graduates want an ideal locality, one that offers competitive salaries, affordable housing, a sense of economic security and a welcoming atmosphere. The BEDC is working to make Brookings a community that can offer what college graduates are looking for.

Interestingly enough, 41 percent of the 62,777 living alumni are currently living in South Dakota. Apparently ending up in the state is not such an issue. Starting a career here is. If Brookings can continue its economic growth, maybe graduates will not have to look “anywhere;” they could look in the state.

#1.882998:703925523.jpg:economicdevelopmentdudeMG.jpg:Al Heuton, excecutive director of Brookings Economic Development.:Mike Goetz