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Mitchell leader says there's business opportunity with no going 'back to normal'

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Signage on the Casey's General Store marquee at First Avenue and North Main Street in Mitchell advertises help wanted on Thursday. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Mitchell business leaders are trying to get a running start out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes attempting to land relocating businesses from out of state, fill currently open jobs and provide for businesses still feeling the sting of a spring with lost revenue.

Mitchell Area Development Corporation and Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mark Vaux said he’s focused on how Mitchell and the region can succeed with life picking up pace compared to March and April when the coronavirus paralyzed business and life throughout the country.

“We’re all trying to figure out how to adjust and to figure out what the impact is,” Vaux said. “People make comments about can’t wait to get back to normal. We’re not going back to normal. … If something is new, how is it normal?"

According to the South Dakota Department of Labor, Mitchell had 784 unemployed people in April, an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent. That ticked down to 8.1 percent in May, the most recent numbers available. For the state, unemployment swelled to 11 percent in April and improved slightly to 9.2 percent in May.

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Vaux made the remarks earlier this week presenting the quarterly report for the two organizations to the Davison County Commission.

“The jobs are there,” he said. “People just need to get motivated to get back to work. Those businesses that have the jobs available, that tells you the market share is there but we can’t capture it if we’re not filling orders and manufacturing products.”

Vaux said there are some promising developments regarding attracting new businesses to Mitchell. Community leaders recently hosted a California-based software development company that is looking to relocate, and he reported the city getting two retail business leads.

He also reported that development leaders have received seven leads from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development since June 1. That office has upped its visibility in light of Gov. Kristi Noem advertising the state’s business-friendly culture, especially considering the state didn’t have mandated closures or shutdowns in March, April or May.

Vaux said if South Dakota landed all of the projects, which he said is highly unlikely, it would include 900 new jobs and $1 billion in capital investment.

He said Mitchell has only applied for a few of those projects, because it did not meet the specific requirements of the other proposals, such as a certain location along a rail line or a large-scale existing building meeting a specific size requirement.

“There’s been a significant increase in lead activity from GOED,” he said. “That tells us business and industry across the country is paying attention to what is happening in South Dakota. … They’re taking a longer, deeper, better look at what we have in the state.”

Vaux also noted that there is funding available for existing businesses to help with the creation or retention of jobs. Up to $4 million dollars are available for new and existing businesses in a 15-county area in south-central South Dakota. The funds are available for a limited time, with loans starting at $10,000, with no interest for two years, no payment for 90 days and no origination fee. Funds can go toward buildings, land, equipment, inventory and working capital.

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The loans are available through the Areawide Business Council’s Regional Revolving Loan Fund, which is sponsored by Planning and Development District III, based in Yankton. For more information, contact the council at 605-665-0751.

Vaux said this moment in time is a chance for the region to “chart our own future.”

“The challenge is we don’t have the playbook and we can’t look at the history books and see how they came out of the pandemic 15 years ago,” Vaux said. “We get to turn toward the future. ... That’s what our community and citizens deserve.”

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Mark Vaux / CEO Mitchell Area Development Corporation

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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