Summer Conference recap: Entrepreneurs and collaboration are pathways to prosperity

How is your city welcoming new residents and entrepreneurs? Will your welcome encourage them to stay?

Don Macke, co-founder and co-director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, posed these questions and more to guests at Heartland’s eleventh annual Summer Conference held in July. In addition to Macke, the event’s lineup included a Q&A with Paula Jensen of Dakota Resources, highlighting one community’s rural development success story and an update on Heartland’s strategic plan from Communications Manager Ann Hyland and strategic plan facilitator Brian Bonde.

After lunch, guests were treated to a round of golf or scenic boat tour of Lake Madison and wrapped up with awards and pin prizes. Attendance surpassed 100 as individuals from more than a dozen customer communities participated, joined by members of Heartland’s board of directors and staff and field representatives for the offices of South Dakota’s U.S. legislators. Several state legislators and officials from various state offices and entities were also present.

Energizing Entrepreneurs: The Pathway to Prosperity

Courtesy Don Macke, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship
Courtesy Don Macke, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship

According to Macke, there are three essentials for community success: 1) demographic renewal, 2) economic opportunity, and 3) quality of life. Every community must demographically renew itself to achieve prosperity. In order to do that, the community must create economic opportunities through job creation and business retention and expansion. In today’s environment where human talent is key, quality of life is essential. Better conditions for families, investments in education and civic and social improvements are strategies that can work long-term.

Also key: entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is a necessary component in any economic development strategy because entrepreneurs are innovative and open to change, pursue opportunities and make things happen, and build visions and teams. According to Macke, creating a supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurship requires a collaborative, regional approach. Success of your community depends on local commitment and a willingness to genuinely collaborate, not compete, with your region.

With over 40 years experience in the field, Macke is an expert on entrepreneur-based economic development systems for rural cities. As leader of the Center’s Entrepreneurial Communities solution area, he works throughout the United States and Canada supporting research, outreach, professional development and policy work related to rural entrepreneurship. For more information, visit

To view Macke’s presentation from the Summer Conference, click the link below.

Energizing Entrepreneurs: The Pathway to Prosperity (PDF)

Spotlight on Rural Development: One Community’s Success Story

After learning the tools and resources to help a community achieve economic prosperity, guests were treated to a real-life example of small-town success. Heartland Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree facilitated a question and answer session with Paula Jensen, resources and community development director for Dakota Resources and one of the founders of The Front Porch in her hometown of Langford, SD.

Jensen discussed how a group of residents in Langford, population 316, came together to create a new business and gathering space that has revived the community and its downtown district. Sharing behind the scenes details of the restaurant’s formation, construction, management and operations, Jensen painted a picture of a collaborative effort from local residents who had pride in their community and wanted to see it succeed. Her city’s story proves prosperity is possible, even in rural communities.

Jensen’s message of collaboration echoed Macke’s assertion that local and regional commitment are critical to community development.

Paula is the vice president of advancement with Dakota Resources, based in Renner, SD. Dakota Resources is a 501c3 Community Development Financial Institution with the purpose of stimulating financial and human investment in rural communities that are invested in themselves. Her role includes resource development, community coaching and implementation of programs throughout rural South Dakota.

Heartland Strategic Plan Update

Wrapping up the educational portion of the Summer Conference, Brian Bonde and Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland provided an update on Heartland’s strategic plan. Heartland began working on our strategic plan in mid-2015, gathering employee and board input and putting together a general outline. Earlier this year, we retained the services of Bonde, president of Advanced Certified Fundraising, LLC to assist in developing the strategic plan and facilitate the process.

Most recently, we’ve been collecting input from our customers through round table discussions at our Annual Meeting and telephone interviews with members of the Customer Connections Committee. All of the data is being formatted into an executable strategic plan that includes goals, objectives and implementation strategies.

Each goal will be assigned to a team of Heartland staff to track progress and work on completion. Progress reports will be made to the board and customers and each year, a thorough evaluation will be done to monitor progress and ensure we’re on the right track. Goals, objectives and strategies will be revised as needed.

Brian Bonde is an Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive and nationally recognized expert in not-for-profit management and fundraising. He is a noted consultant and trainer to non-profits and has been in senior leadership positions at Sanford Health, Children’s Care Foundation and Augustana College.

To view images from our 2016 Summer Conference, visit our online gallery.

The Front Porch unifies Langford region as founders and patrons

After years of witnessing loss of local businesses, a small group of residents in Langford, SD joined together under one common goal: to improve their community and revive their Main Street through the creation of a new business and gathering space. Acting as local incorporators, the residents formed a property management group and The Front Porch project began. After several more years of planning, securing investors, and construction, the 5,000 square-foot facility opened downtown in 2015. It houses four new businesses, including a restaurant and bar, and can be linked to more than 40 local jobs. As the building prepares to mark its one-year anniversary, project officials reflect on their small-town success and what it took to get there.

front porch logoThe idea for The Front Porch generated in 2011 from the belief that every rural community needs a gathering place–somewhere you can meet for morning coffee, dine with your family, relax after work or gather together after local sporting events. At the time, Langford, population 316, was lacking such place, and had also seen its share of ups and downs in previous years. Although the community had welcomed a new gas station and convenience store, and the school’s enrollment was steadily increasing, the local grocery store closed, many Main Street buildings were demolished and the long-standing bar and restaurant owner passed away. Some residents felt the need to fill a void.

A vision was formed by eight volunteers to engage local investors to construct a Main Street center with the purpose of creating new business, jobs and a community gathering space. They spent the next two years drawing out plans and handling legalities, and in 2013, Langford Main Street Center, Inc. was created.

“We understood that as a community, we needed to take responsibility for our issues,” said Paula Jensen, vice president of Langford Main Street Center, Inc. “We knew people weren’t going to come in and invest in our Main Street for us. If somebody was going to fix it, it had to be us.”

Heartland Consumers Power District supported the early vision work by providing a $1,000 economic development grant to help the project move forward. Next, a community leadership team helped pull together more funding sources to make the project a reality. Half of the funding came from an extensive financial package that included loans from Heartland and GROW South Dakota, and $250,000 in construction financing and a $50,000 working capital line of credit from First State Bank of Claremont. The remaining capital came from cash donations and stock purchases.

“What’s impressive is half of our capital came from the community,” said Jensen. “We have about 110 investors from within the community and surrounding area. That means we had 110 built-in customers from the start–110 people who would want their friends, family and neighbors to experience The Front Porch because they have ownership in it and want to see it succeed. If one-third of your population wants to see something succeed, my guess is the chances that it will are much higher.”

As the planning phase ended and construction began, the facility took on a new name.

“We held a local contest to name the restaurant and bar, and one of the entries was The Front Porch, ” said Jensen. “At home, the front porch is a place of comfort, a place to relax, and it is where friends meet, so we thought that name fit perfectly for the entire facility.”

The Front Porch shared this image in April of 2015 during construction.
The Front Porch shared this image in April of 2015 during construction.

Construction lasted about 8 months, and in July of 2015 the building was officially open for business. Today, it is home to the Front Porch Bar & Grille, Hair Salon 13, Northeast Chiropractic and GROW South Dakota. It has created and retained more than 40 jobs and dramatically increased the local tax revenue. It engages the local youth by offering part-time employment and indoor recreation.

“It has revived our community and our Main Street, and continues to draw investors,” said Jensen. “This building has become a social network of sorts where people are truly gathering to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. It is a social gathering space that we didn’t have before, and it’s drawing people from all over the region, not just the city of Langford.”

Jensen said far-reaching appeal is a crucial aspect of The Front Porch. As president of the board for Glacial Lakes Area Development, the regional economic development organization serving Langford and the greater Marshall County area of South Dakota, she recognizes the importance of “building the larger community.”

“At GLAD we have a philosophy: what’s good for Britton is good for Langford, and what’s good for Langford is good for Eden, and so on. This means something successful in my community will create a ripple effect that pours out to other areas in the region,” she said. “We all know it’s difficult for small towns to survive on their own. To thrive, we have to support each other.”

The unique building also serves as a history piece. The walls are adorned with photos, relics and original art sharing the history of Langford and the surrounding area.

“It is really impactful to have people from outside your community or former residents visit and see our story — their legacies — displayed on the walls. I find it very moving,” she said.

Most of the historic pieces are replicas of items donated by residents, and the displays are regularly updated. Like the building itself, the artwork helps create a sense of community pride.

“When Langford celebrated its 125th anniversary a few years ago, our theme was ‘Where Your Story Began,’ and that idea carried over into The Front Porch,” said Jensen. “Not only does this building showcase stories from the past, but it also serves as a place for new stories to begin.”

The Front Porch will mark its one-year anniversary during Langford’s Summer Fest July 30-31. This year’s event has also been designated as an All-Alumni Weekend, which encourages Langford High School alumni to return home and unite in celebration every five years. Appropriately, The Front Porch has been designated as one of the event’s official gathering spots.



*Public Power is Good for Business is a quarterly section highlighting successful businesses located in our customer communities. Public power communities help foster prosperity and growth by offering reliable electric service at low rates.

Estelline and Groton receive economic development grants for electronic signage

Hoping to enhance the atmosphere and improve attendance at community events, officials in the cities of Estelline and Groton, South Dakota plan to integrate electronic displays in their respective communities with help from Heartland.  Each city was recently awarded an economic development grant to help fund digital sign projects, which will be used in conjunction with a local rodeo in Estelline and to promote local events and city news in Groton.


From left to right: Heartland Director of Economic Development Ryan Brown presents a grant to Estelline Rodeo Club members DanDeWitt, Lance Mennenga and Donna Thompson.
From left to right: Heartland Director of Economic Development Ryan Brown presents a grant to Estelline Rodeo Club members DanDeWitt, Lance Mennenga and Donna Thompson.

Officials in Estelline look to provide attendees with more excitement  during the city’s annual Estelline Rodeo Days this summer by incorporating a digital display board from Daktronics, a leading scoreboard and video display board manufacturer.  The video board will be used for instant replay and general viewing during the two-day event.  Heartland awarded $2,000 to the city of Estelline on behalf of the Estelline Rodeo Club to help fund electric upgrades and service installation at the city’s rodeo grounds to accommodate the Daktronics sign.

“We strive to think of new ideas that will enhance the rodeo so that it becomes one of the best small community celebrations in this part of the state,” said Michael Ward of the Estelline Rodeo Club.  “The use of the video board will put our event on a bigger stage and people of all ages will benefit from its use.  With Heartland’s help, we will be able to complete these upgrades.”

Students from Estelline High School’s multi-media class will be making the displays and advertisements that will appear on the video board, as well as manning the cameras during events.  People unable to attend the rodeo will also be able to watch it on the local ITC television channel.

“This is a great opportunity to reach everyone in the community so everyone can be a part of our celebration,” said Ward.

The Estelline Rodeo Club is a division of the Estelline Area Economic Development Group under the umbrella of the city of Estelline.  The club’s main event is the annual Estelline Rodeo Days.  The first rodeo was held in 2011 and continues to grow each year, both in attendance and participants.  Ward anticipates crowds to swell to 1,500 people this year.


Heartland awarded Groton funds to help towards the purchase and installation of a digital-display community sign.  The sign would serve as a community message board, displaying a variety of city announcements, public events, school activities and more.  City officials believe it will lead to increased community engagement and local commerce.

Brown, right, presents an economic development grant to Groton Finance Officer Anita Lowary.
Brown, right, presents an economic development grant to Groton Finance Officer Anita Lowary.

“We currently do not have an efficient or timely way to promote community events and other items of that nature,” said Groton Finance Officer Anita Lowary.  “We hope this sign will help us do so, as well as help market Groton as a progressive and engaged community, as it will be visible on the major highway corridor through town.”

The total cost of the project is $60,000.  The city has secured funding from other donors in addition to the grant from Heartland.