Vermillion NOW! Economic Campaign Quickly Surpasses $1M In Donations By Randy Dockendorf
Yankton Media, Inc. VERMILLION — For area leaders, the current national recession is the best — not the worst — time to seek donations for economic development. And Tuesday night, they showed a million reasons for their optimism. During a program held at Buffalo Run Winery, area leaders announced that the Vermillion NOW! campaign has surpassed $1 million in less than four months. The campaign has hit 70 percent of its $1.5 million goal, with organizers believing the objective will be reached by July 1. Vermillion NOW! is a five-year special economic development funding initiative aimed at providing year-round, full-time, permanent jobs in Clay County. This is the first total community economic drive ever conducted in Vermillion. "We need to take a positive stance in a tough economy," said Steve Howe, executive director of the Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company (VCDC). Besides creating employment, the campaign will seek to reduce Clay County's poverty level, Howe said. "We aren't just looking at jobs, we're looking at good-paying jobs," he said. The campaign received a boost when the City of Vermillion pledged matching funds of up to $450,000, Howe said. The city's payments will be spread across five years, he said. The $1.5 million will be used for new business recruitment and expansion, marketing, workforce development and entrepreneurial development. The campaign would not have gotten off to such a fast start without the Chamber board's total backing, said VCDC president Michelle Maloney. "The board is solidly behind the project," she said. "They are offering their moral — as well as financial — support." Rich Van Den Hul and Jerad Higman, the campaign general co-chairs, spoke of their optimism for the campaign. Van Den Hul, a University of South Dakota vice president, said the campaign will merge the strengths of USD and the region. That will become even more important as USD continues its transition to NCAA Division I and has set an enrollment goal of 12,000 students, up from the current 9,200, he said. "I think what strengthens USD strengthens Vermillion, and what strengthens Vermillion strengthens USD," he said. Higman said he relocated his Masaba Mining Equipment business from Iowa to Vermillion three years ago because of South Dakota's favorable business climate. He has expanded his plant and workforce since then, and he believes in Vermillion's future. "Whenever I bring people to the plant, they are impressed by the facility, but they are even more impressed by the people and their work ethic," he said. "That speaks volumes about the people themselves. I constantly brag about the benefits of doing business in South Dakota." Tuesday's program featured a look at the area's history and achievements by Roger Kozak, former Vermillion mayor and retired USD administrator. Kozak serves as the Vermillion NOW! campaign cabinet co-chair. Vermillion has responded to challenges throughout its history, and the current recession provides one of those challenges, Kozak said. "Vermillion has had defining moments in its history, and this (campaign) is an opportunity to create a defining moment," he said. In separate comments, Vermillion mayor Dan Christopherson said area leaders took a leap of faith in pursuing the project. "I serve on the chamber board, and we had been looking at this for quite some time. Then came the economic meltdown, and we asked, 'Should we go with this or not?'" he said. "We went ahead with it, and I believe we made the right decision." The Vermillion NOW! effort has caught the attention of state officials. "It's going to distinguish Vermillion from many other communities," said David Anderson with the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED). The timing is right for this type of campaign, Anderson said. Businesses around the country are looking for new opportunities, and they are attracted to South Dakota with its favorable business climate, he said. "I have always said, South Dakota does well when the rest of the country faces difficult times," he said. "This (Vermillion NOW!) campaign will create opportunities and open doors. Things happen so quickly. There is no question you have to be ready to act at a moment's notice."