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Keeping the American Dream Alive for Rural South Dakota

March 20, 2007

The American Dream is still alive in rural South Dakota, but it'll take work and new ideas. That's the message of the sixth annual Midstates Conference in South Sioux City today. The event brings together community and business leaders, professional developers and policymakers from the tri-state area of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Organizer Michael Holton with the Center for Rural Affairs says rural regions can survive and even thrive, and the conference is a chance to figure out how to do that.

"A lot of these small communities feel like they live in a bubble and they're not able to do anything. And this conference brings everybody together to, not only network, but also to show how other communities have made it work and made a go of it. It's not very easy to do it in this day and age, and it's getting more difficult as we see things start to go towards the urban centers."

Holton believes farming is still the anchor of the rural economy.

"I've heard so many people say that, you know, it's no longer about farming. It's always about farming. We can gloss it, hide it and do whatever you want but 98 to 99 percent of our economy in the region is still agriculturally based. And you may see it in the form of small business, but they still are making their money through an agriculturally rich region."

Holton notes that the out-migration of young people is still a big problem for most rural communities in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, but many areas are making positive gains.

"Some communities have been able to at least stem the tide and stabilize. That is the true story of what's going on and how can we pass that along so that people will stay, can stay? And how do we take a look at the communities that we live in and make them better with the people that have chosen to live there?"

Holton is hopeful participants will come away with new ideas to make their communities better. This year's conference will also feature workshops targeting farm innovations like organic and value-added agriculture.

The conference location is the Marina Inn South Sioux City. Conference information is at

David Law/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - SD