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OPINION: Mitchell should encourage novel, pie-in-sky ideas

By Rick Snedeker

Lately, there’s been quite a bit of discussion in South Dakota media, including The Daily Republic, about the urgent need to attract new businesses and, thus, added jobs to our fair state.

But nothing proposed so far seems excitingly new.

There is no argument. A giant shot in the arm is needed to improve South Dakota’s economy and provide enough good jobs to keep our sons and daughters closer to home than if they were forced to look beyond our borders for employment and other essential life-building tools. Not to mention bring new life support to our slimming but still-broad-shouldered small towns.

A lot of practical steps are being taken within the state in this regard, including proactive strategies under the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Even within Mitchell, people are working hard to attract and keep new business and jobs, and increase our population.

The Mitchell City Council is sharply focused on upgrading our iconic Corn Palace and the important experience it provides visitors to the community, as well as encouraging new business with tax-increment districts and marketing, and working to reverse a dearth of in-city rental apartments to house current and future employees of local companies.

These are all excellent initiatives that will, no doubt, have a positive effect on Mitchell’s fortunes in the near and far future. But they are, at heart, timid — which is understandable, considering that capital projects like the proposed Corn Palace upgrade generally cost millions of dollars.

Much, if not all, of that cost will ultimately be borne by taxpayers one way or another, so we are fortunate to have elected officials who are extremely sensitive to what various projects will cost. We are also blessed to have business people who are willing to take financial risks (mitigated by temporary tax assistance in some cases) to build residential units to handle anticipated but not assured growth in the community.

In short, these are all very good things that are being done. But there is also a need to create and entertain some really radical ideas. Not just for the sake of being out there in the ozone, but to see if there are promising ideas that nobody has even imagined yet — and might never, without a critical mass of roiling inventiveness and excitement that can spawn game-changing concepts from the electric free-for-all of ideas, the zanier the better. Think iPhone. Or language.

So, here is my modest contribution to the start of this re-imagining. Two things: 1) Fly people (including business owners — and their employees) to Mitchell from around the country for a look, and offer incentives for them to move here. 2) Build a giant spire next to the Corn Palace, visible from I-90.

In the early 1970s, some of the people who had been involved in developing Disneyland, created a brand new city — Fountain Hills — in the desert foothills east of Scottsdale, Ariz. Their business strategy was to fly business owners and people looking for new beginnings to Fountain Hills for free weekends.

When the city was yet bare desert scrubland, these visitors were sold on what it could become. Many of them bought property on the spot or returned later to start new lives — and businesses — in the desert. Today, Fountain Hills is a teeming, prosperous, business-packed city of about 23,000. It all began with second-hand turbo-props from the Carribean. And a “wacky” idea.

Regarding the spire: Before you even get near to downtown Dublin, Ireland, you can see an impossibly thin, metal spire towering 400 feet above the city. It is variously known as The Dublin Spire, the Monument of Light, and, charmingly, the Stiletto in the Ghetto. You can’t ignore it, and it acts as a magnet to tourists, who, arriving at its base, see all the other wealth that this great city has to offer.

Something similar could be a giant pushpin magnet for the Corn Palace.

If you build it, they will come, it is said. But first, you have to imagine it.

— Snedeker, a semi-retired writer and editor, lives in Mitchell.