Sioux Falls: A City of the '90s With Leave-It-to-Beaver Values
Families are drawn by good schools and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation
SIOUX FALLS, S.D.
Not long ago, residents of Sioux Falls, S.D., were forced to confront a troubling problem that, to a large extent, had been absent from their peaceful, corn-belt community: violent crime.Skip to next paragraph
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A lone bandit was on the loose, holding up convenience stores and threatening the passive security that pervades this small Midwestern city located along the banks of the Big Sioux River.
Instead of cowering, citizens here greeted the crime wave with an enthusiastic call to action, Mayberry style.
The volunteers "weren't offering their assistance because they thought we were doing a poor job," says Sioux Falls Police Chief Terry Satterlee. "They responded because they wanted to protect their community from harm."
Such broad civic vigilance, while growing ever more faint in America's major metropolitan areas, is one reason why Sioux Falls, as unlikely as it seems, has emerged in the 1990s as a national model for urban living.
Mention just about any list of accolades, and Sioux Falls has won praise as "the best place to live in America"; a premier city for working women; home to the lowest unemployment rate in the country for four years running; a haven of affordable homes; a leader, per capita, in charitable giving; and among the nation's best in providing solid public education.
In every category, this inconspicuous hub of about 125,000 people has attracted laudable praise not by following the lead of other towns but by bucking national trends.
Yes, in Sioux Falls they will tell you, it's the economy. Yet in creating a business climate that is attractive to multinational companies, equally as important is fostering a high quality of life for workers.
During the last recession, Sioux Falls' economy hummed along virtually unscathed, fueled by a continuing flow of corporate relocations. It is home to NordicTrak, and regional headquarters to US West, and a growing cadre of software, credit card, and telecommunications firms. Last year, the number of building permits was double levels in 1985, and the valuation of new property development has tripled to almost $200 million over the same span.
Meanwhile, serious crime remains far below the national average, schools are free of gangs and hard-core drugs, commuters can make it to work during "rush hour" in less than 15 minutes, and the unemployment rate - a withering 1.7 percent - is so low that it's virtually impossible not to find work for well above the minimum wage.
And finally, with a new $19 million civic pavilion going up and a science-arts center in the works, visitors should not be surprised if they bump into world leaders ranging from Mikhail Gorbachev to retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf being brought to town through Augustana College.
So what is the catch? Can things be as utopian as they seem in a town that is frequently confused with another Indian namesake down the road, Sioux City? Aside from hard winters - including near cryogenic temperatures - and the fact that the phone company is backlogged with orders for new phone lines, Dan Scott, president of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Development Foundation, claims he isn't being a Pollyanna when he shakes his head in the affirmative.
As good as it looks?
"Not only can things be as good as they appear, but they are as good as they appear. We know from looking around at the rest of the country that things can also be a whole lot worse. That's why corporations are relocating to Sioux Falls and bringing their employees with them," he says.
Although Sioux Falls once billed itself as "the gateway to the West," the community has molded its identity around Leave-It-to-Beaver Midwestern values, a strong pioneer work ethic, and a population that regularly attends church or synagogue.