Brookings sees business, population growth


Alakananada Mookerjee

Brookings is growing, both in terms of businesses as well as the size of the population, say community leaders. And the signs of that growth are visible just about everywhere: on the South Dakota State University campus, downtown and even on the streets.

Char Hovland, industry relations specialist for Midwest Dairy Association, who has lived in Brookings for over 20 years, feels that the town has more hustle-bustle today than it did earlier.

The Wal-Mart Super Center, due to open its doors in October, only recently held a major hiring fest at the Brookings Inn. The new outlet will employ about 400 workers, which is 200 more than in the current store, said Richard Olson, Secretary, Brookings Chamber Of Commerce.

“I am not going to comment on who is planning to purchase the spaces where the old K-Mart used to be and the present Wal-Mart are, but I do know that there is a lot of activity going on for occupancy,” Olson said.

Since January 2003, Downtown Brookings Inc. – the association of over 200 Brookings retail, dining and service businesses – has witnessed an increase in both new businesses and expansion of existing businesses, said Doris Roden, DBI’s program manager.

The 20-odd fresh businesses include: Hennen Publishing, Infinite Arts, Dollar Loan Center and Prairie Breeze Massage, among others. Some of the businesses that have expanded include Brookings Hypnosis, New Dimensions Hair Salon and Kendall’s Medical Supplies.

In keeping with the demands of a growing academic community, the Brookings Book Company shifted from Fourth Street to a more upscale downtown location towards the end of July.

Richard Johnston, the store owner, said that in recent months, he was receiving more orders from both students and faculty, so much so that the inventory outgrew the small old building.

Thus, the need to move to a bigger space and a more posh address.

Lewis Drug, the Sioux Falls- based pharmaceutical company, opened shop at the University Mall in November 2003.

Explaining their decision to open a branch in Brookings, Darcy Swanson, the store pharmacist, said they believed they would do good business in Brookings since other businesses in town were growing.

Local residents attribute the community’s growth to more than one reason.

While some believe that the progress is due to South Dakota State University’s change of status to Division I, others think that the manufacturing sector is the prime engine of economic growth.

During the 80s, the primary employer in the area was South Dakota State University.

But now, twenty years down the line, businesses have diversified and there has been a marked increase in the manufacturing sector, Olson said.

“It is companies like 3M, Larson, Twin City Fans and Daktronics that have been the principal catalysts of business development,” Olson said.

“Today, there are more manufacturing sector employees than there are government employees.”

3M has about 300 employees; Daktronics about 1,300; Larson about 1,300; and Twin City Fans about 200, he said.

The burgeoning manufacturing sector has, in turn, generated several subsidiary businesses such as restaurants, shopping malls, supermarkets and drug stores.

Whether it is the work force alone that is contributing to the expansion is not clear, but the town’s overall population is on the rise, said Dan Hanson, planning, zoning and housing administrator for Brookings.

He said, “According to the 2000 census, the population of Brookings stood at 18,504.

“But every year on July 1, the Census Bureau releases an estimate of the increase in the population. So, as per the 2002 data – which is the latest that we have – our population was 18,703. The 2004 projection is in the neighborhood of 18,900, which is still a conservative estimate because we do not know for certain if the Census Bureau takes into account the spike in the enrollment at SDSU.”

Whatever the reason for its commercial growth, be it SDSU-driven or local industry-driven, Brookings is surely getting bigger and better, say local residents.