The Vermillion Now! 3 economic development campaign was in very good shape mid-way through the July 17 luncheon meeting of the Vermillion Rotary Club when Vermillion Chamber and Economic Development CEO Nate Welch began his presentation about the campaign to club members.
“We’re at $1.43 million of our $1.725 million goal. That’s 83 percent,” Welch said.
By the end of the meeting, Vermillion Now! 3’s standing approved substantially.
University of South Dakota President Sheila Gestring announced that the University of South Dakota and the USD Foundation were pledging a total of $200,000 to the Vermillion Now! 3 campaign, which is more than the two institutions had given to the previous Vermillion Now! 2 drive.
That upped the total of the Vermillion Now! 3 campaign to $1.63 million which is 94 percent of the campaign’s fundraising goal.
“I’ve always been very engaged with the community -- I’m a big believer and was on the Chamber board for a number of years,” Gestring said. “I truly, truly feel that a rising tide raises all ships.”
The university is successful, she said, as the community experiences success.
“Last year’s incoming class was the largest on record,” she said. “I’m told right now we’re 15 students away from having the highest freshmen to sophomore retention rate of any South Dakota public university. I think that’s indicative of the community in which those students live. They want to be here.
“Of course, they’re getting a fabulous education, but that education involves more than the classroom, Gestring said. “It involves the community; it involves their experiences here at the university and here in the community.”
Welch noted in his presentation earlier in the meeting that the Vermillion Now! 3 campaign that’s currently going on will fund a good amount of the Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company’s overall mission and purpose.
“The Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company ultimately is three organizations in one,” he said. “It’s your Chamber of Commerce, which is there to promote retail, promote shopping local, promote local businesses and continuing to improve the quality of life.
“The economic development arm is to be able to help those businesses here in town to grow and expand in a multitude of ways including workforce, growth, investments, expansion and to help recruit and grow new businesses in the community in order to grow the tax base and total employment numbers,” Welch said.
He added that the visitor and tourism arm of the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company -- the Convention and Visitors Bureau -- works to bring tourism dollars into the community in order to increase the tax base. It also is the marketing arm for the community.
A cohesive brand, he said, helps to better utilize dollars in messaging that brand.
“Having these three entities together allows us not to forget one aspect of it, but allows to recognize all three as we move forward,” Welch said. “Ultimately, the overall mission of the VCDC is to improve the quality of life in Vermillion by enhancing the economic and community environment through those strategic initiatives and engaging in that collaboration.”
A study of Chambers of Commerce and economic development agencies that are similar to the VCDC points out the efficient operation of the Vermillion organization.
The VCDC, he said, is proud to be able to efficiently use its dollars to cover expenses in the areas of personnel, overhead and programs and services.
“Where the VCDC puts those dollars compared to other organizations in the region is extremely impressive. We’re proud to be very cognizant of those dollars that we ultimately want to spend and also being able to leverage those in order to get desired results,” Welch said.
The VCDC invests 26 percent of its annual budget in personnel. The average in South Dakota is 43 percent.
“That is not discrediting the value of professionals. We are an entity that wants to grow jobs … we do not apologize for having good professionals and investing in professionals. We also don’t promote not investing in workforce and professionals,” he said. “What we like to showcase is when it comes to the overall operations of this organization, we are extremely strategic in being able to stretch that investment to be able to get the results that we want.”
In the area of overhead, Welch said, “there’s not much that we don’t do that doesn’t align with our mission. Ultimately it comes to 68 percent of the dollars that we’re able to spend go directly into programs and services compared to the average around the industry which is about 37 percent.
“We’ve been able to create and manage multiple events. When we talk about engagement in a community, we know that we are in a digital age of people being so connected and yet being the most disconnected of any culture that there is. We have a great challenge with that. The great opportunity that we have as a community is that we have a lot of opportunities to be able to create that engagement, that collaboration in building the relationships that we all owe and value,” he said. “That is one reason why we as an organization invest in those events. Ultimately, we put on over 100 events a year, including Thursdays on the Platz, the VCDC’s annual banquet, its annual golf social and the weekly UpNext Coffee Hours.”
The VCDC’s recent rapid growth shows that people are investing into it,” Welch said.
“They’re buying into what we’re trying to do and we’re all trying to work together and it’s showing great results when it comes to economic development,” he said. “Building permits are up, investments are up. People want to be where there is energy and where there is an attraction. We’ve been able to see that in not only the commercial investments but also the residential investments.”
Vermillion Now! 1
Ten years ago, the first Vermillion Now! Initiative was launched.
“These initiatives are five years in time. We try to raise some money, set those dollars aside and then to try to act on them and try to invest them with time, energy and strategic investments,” Welch said. “The Vermillion Now! 1 campaign in 2008 was a $1.6 million campaign with a focus on creating new jobs, increasing the payrolls throughout the community, expansions and building up of available properties to help recruit new businesses.”
He noted that the Vermillion Now! 1 investment helped spearhead great growth in Vermillion in recent years.
“Some of those results you’re seeing now include two tenants in the Vermillion Technology Center with a total payroll of about $4 million,” Welch said.
There is also land available for businesses that are looking to expand or move to Vermillion, he said. “It takes having those resources available and setting them up in order to be ready.”
With the success of Vermillion Now! 1 came new challenges for Vermillion Now! 2, Welch said.
“Job growth outpaced the workforce; we had a dependency on a commuter workforce for future expansion and a lack of housing,” he said.
Vermillion Now! 2
The Vermillion Now! 2 campaign raised $1.65 million.
“We were able to invest in Bliss Pointe,” Welch said. “Through those dollars from Vermillion Now!, we leveraged those dollars along with assets of the organization as well as partners in the community -- three banks and two foundations -- the USD Foundation and the Dakota Hospital Foundation along with First Dakota National Bank, First Bank and Trust and CorTrust Bank all put in dollars to help fund a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) for us to be able to do the development out at Bliss Pointe.”
The Bliss Pointe housing development, he said, is located on 60 acres of land that initially had a valuation of $50,000.
Currently, housing has been constructed on 35 of those acres.
“It has a valuation of over $8.8 million in property value,” Welch said. “That kind of investment doesn’t come by one person building a house at a time and another house at a time. The challenge in economics that we have is that the construction business doesn’t allow for that kind of investment to happen in the marketplace by itself. Giving it a nudge and then stepping out of the marketplace when it’s appropriate is what we try to do as an organization and to be able to do that, you have to balance a lot of different things.
“From there, we were able to refine those targeted industries, we were able to recruit more businesses and help current businesses grow. We wanted to continue community enhancement programs, especially arts and culture -- we all know the value of that in creating an attractive community in which we all want to live -- and of course that marketing of Vermillion as a destination for new business development and a destination for quality of life. That’s what Vermillion Now! 2 focused on,” Welch said.
Besides Bliss Pointe and the Vermillion Technology Center, some of the other things accomplished thanks to Vermillion Now! 2 include new marketing campaigns for Vermillion and the creation of McVicker Plaza in downtown that houses VCDC offices, an entrepreneurial center and Charlie’s, a retail store that sells University of South Dakota apparel, gifts, souvenirs, and other items.
A summary of Vermillion Now! 2’s results include:
a $12,150 investment in Bliss Pointe that helped produce a housing development with a current property value of $8.8 million that generates $178,000 in property taxes
a $150,000 investment in economic development strategy that has helped bridge the gap between USD and the community; created an entrepreneurial ecosystem and helped create McVicker Plaza
a $406,262 investment in business recruitment and expansion that went towards a young professionals network, workforce development and retention of properties to recruit or expand businesses
a $83,974 investment in community enhancements including the retention of the downtown movie theater, promotion and support of arts and culture in the community and the Sculpture Walk
a $249,849 investment in marketing Vermillion through a collaborative grassroots marketing campaign and enhanced perspective of Vermillion, including the reinforcement of the law school viability in the community
a $183,938 investment in economic development leadership which includes a 260 percent growth of VCDC capacity, enhanced engagements and investment opportunities to produce more resources, and
$126,616 devoted to Vermillion Now! 2 campaign planning and Vermillion Now! 3 campaign planning.
Vermillion Now! 3
The Vermillion Now! 3 campaign’s goal is to raise $1.725 million to invest in accomplishing three main goals to benefit the Vermillion community.
The first goal is to shift the commuter to resident ratio in the community from 41 percent to 35 percent.
“Especially during the school year … we literally have 41 percent of those working in our community driving into town and then leaving town,” Welch said. “If we can shift that just a little bit, we’ll be able to grow the community to a point of about 300 or 400 people or about 4 percent.”
That 4 percent population growth in the community is Vermillion Now! 3’s second goal.
The campaign’s third goal is to increase the number of young professionals residing in the Vermillion area.
“There is no other community in South Dakota that produces more of that great workforce than Vermillion,” Welch said, referring to young people who attend and graduate from USD. “We have them literally right in our town. We can snag them up before they leave and go somewhere else.”
Attracting young professionals is an area in which Vermillion needs to improve, he added.
“In the last 20 years, we’ve had a zero to negative net increase of 25- to 54-year-olds in our community,” Welch said. “We have the ability to grow in the area of young professionals, but we need to invest in that area.”
Vermillion Now! 3 dollars will be allocated across three focus areas.
$310,000 will be devoted to amenities and infrastructure
$680,000 will be allocated to job creation
$735,000 will be focused toward strategic, collaborative leadership
Improving amenities and infrastructure, Welch said, “is improving the quality of life. It’s improving it so that when people are moving here, we have what they are moving from and we have more of what they’re doing.”
The investment in job creation, he added, goes hand-in-hand with that first focus area, as people will need opportunities for employment to be able to move to Vermillion. “We also need jobs for those spouses who follow along with their spouses who have found a job here. We’re not just recruiting individuals now; you’re also recruiting their spouses because the majority of households are dual income,” he said.
The strategic, collaborative leadership involves a group effort that takes time, Welch said.
“It takes practice, it takes consistency, it takes coordination to be able to actually create that collaboration with one another,” he said.
This area includes engaging partners in quality housing solutions, continuing to provide creative economic opportunities, developing leadership and promoting Vermillion on behalf of its businesses and residents.