The integration of the Vermillion community and the University of South Dakota was a theme emphasized last Tuesday night at the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company (VCDC) annual banquet, held April 2 in the Sanford Coyote Sports Center on the USD campus.
“Over the past decade, the VCDC has expanded its capacity and ability to serve as well as to promote productive partnerships across the region,” said USD President Sheila Gestring, who this year is the outgoing chair of the VCDC Board of Directors, “and this includes fostering a profound shift in the collaboration between the community and USD.
“It has resulted in many new projects, like the downtown retail location for Charlie’s and greater integration of students in our community organizations and in public life,” she said. “It’s this support that helps target industries that complement the workforce created by USD and its great programs in such areas as medicine, business, education, law, fine arts and all of the liberal arts.”
Charlies’ the retail store that features apparel, gifts, souvenirs and other items emblazoned with the USD logos, is located in McVicker Plaza, the new home of the VCDC in downtown Vermillion.
Gestring said she is proud of the progressive accomplishments in the community that are a product of an integration of the university and the city of Vermillion.
“We’re throwing our collective support behind important projects that will benefit all of us, like the upcoming National Music Museum expansion and the DakotaDome improvements,” she said. “We’re excited about the coming changes; the DakotaDome renovations are underway and the expected completion is May of 2021.”
The VCDC, she noted, is reaching out beyond the Vermillion community using such tools as videos and social media.
“In that way, it’s elevating Vermillion beyond its physical borders,” Gestring said.
The theme of the banquet was “Leave Your Footprint” and Jami Baedke, the chair of the VCDC board of directors, talked about the footprints left by many past community members to make the VCDC possible. The Vermillion Chamber of Commerce, in various forms, dates back to 1929 and the Vermillion Development Corporation got its start in 1967 “and eventually joined forces with the Chamber,” she said, “to set this organization on track to be able to make great things happen in the community.
“We’re at 90 years of cooperation and collaboration and community advocacy,” Baedke said, “Your VCDC is in the day-to-day business of growing and transforming our community decade by decade. I’m so proud of the strides Vermillion makes every day to be a brighter community to live in.”
She noted that Vermillion has seen needed, positive growth in the past decade.
“In the past four years, we have seen the number of building permits grow from 118 to 194,” she said. “The corresponding construction value has increased from $5.4 million to more than triple that at $16.9 million in that same four-year period. Our tax base has grown as well with a 22 percent growth in property values.”
Vermillion has also experienced a 12 percent growth in sales tax revenue and a 7 percent growth in BBB (Bed, Board and Booze) taxes over the past 10 years,” Baedke said.
The community can boast improvements in several key areas, she said. Housing is growing through the Bliss Pointe development and the construction of several new apartment complexes. Amenities such as the Jefferson Street Lift Station and the expansion to the Vermillion Public Library have also been completed, she said, to keep up with the city’s progress.
Per capita household income has grown in Vermillion, Baedke said, but continued growth is needed to keep pace with other larger communities in the state.
“Continued work is needed in these areas and the VCDC staff is aware of the need to prioritize the sustainable growth for our community,” she said, “addressing our workforce needs, attracting targeted industries and raising Vermillion’s status in the region. We’re confident that our investment in these priorities will continue to draw others to Vermillion and will further enrich the fabric of the community.”
“This is an opportunity each and every year for us to bring one another together and celebrate the incredible things that we’ve done,” Nate Welch, president and CEO of the VCDC told the banquet audience, “and to get motivated to take on what’s coming up in the next year.”
He said Vermillion is unique and lucky in that its main export isn’t cars or rocket ships or widgets, but rather is knowledge, referring to the University of South Dakota.
“We produce people for this state and for the world that know things that they didn’t know when they got here,” Welch said. “We have their minds that seek out questions and come up with answers that didn’t exist before. Theories, formulas, inventions – created right here and you can see how the spirit of discovery and experimentation soaks into everything that we do here in Vermillion.”
The VCDC, he noted, will celebrate its 90th anniversary in mid-April.
“Can you imagine how different Vermillion was, how different one day in the day-to-day of Vermillion and the Chamber of Commerce was back in 1929?” he asked.
Welch noted that the work of promoting economic development is much different today than then, especially as Vermillion and the nation was on the cusp of the experiencing Great Depression 90 years ago.
“We know that those folks who brought businesses together for the betterment of our community 90 years ago had many of the same hopes and dreams that we have today,” he said, “and they created an institution that can serve as a vehicle for improving that quality of life for our citizens while adapting to the needs for our times.”
Welch said there is no one single thing that will make Vermillion successful 90 years from now.
“There’s not one company coming to town, there’s not one housing development or one public project that will address every challenge,” he said, “and there are challenges awaiting us that we can’t even conceive.”
The April 2 banquet had a space-aged theme, and Welch talked about the rigorous testing of technology that sometimes resulted in failures to build the rockets and equipment that eventually would successfully take men to the surface of the moon.
Similar experiences await Vermillion, he said.
“By trying, failing, adjusting our strategy and our timeline, by pushing the boundaries of what we can expect of ourselves and what we can achieve, we can be ready to make those giant leaps when the opportunity presents itself,” Welch said. “Ultimately, that’s the exciting part about development and we, through the staff, the board, the members and the community, get to do that at the VCDC.
“What we can accomplish is only limited by our ability to stretch our imaginations and what we believe to be possible. We may not be able to see exactly what tomorrow will bring, but we can make sure that we have the flexibility to meet the next challenge,” he said, “that we have a solid infrastructure to build on and an attitude that there is no ceiling on how much better we can be. The sky is the limit and we’re just beginning to take off and reach for those stars.”