KIMBALL — Kimball has a lot going for it. And Anita Holan is doing what she can to see that it lives up to its potential.

As challenging as that may be on occasion.

“I have a lot of passion for my job. It’s challenging. Extremely challenging. But I love a challenge,” Holan, economic development director for the community of about 700 on Interstate 90, told the Mitchell Republic.

Holan was recently recognized for her work with the Mentor Award from Dakota Resources, a community and economic development organization dedicated to helping rural communities thrive, according to a statement on the group’s website. The Mentor Award is one award given out at the organization’s Learning Network Awards Banquet held earlier this month.

“I was totally taken by surprise,” Holan said of receiving the award.

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The Mentor Award celebrates an individual who goes above and beyond to mentor others to build connections, gain confidence and develop professional skills. According to Dakota Resources, the individual who nominated Holan praised her for her dedication, “even if things move slowly,” and helps people see the value of economic development and that positive change is possible.

There are plenty of challenges that come with promoting growth in a small town in South Dakota. The work of attracting new businesses and residents to the community can be vital to the long-term health of a town, and getting everyone working together in harmony on that type of goal is often the first hurdle to overcome.

“Economic development is such a big term and can go in so many directions,” Holan said.

Holan said her work in economic development in Kimball takes on many forms. She said there has been a recent focus on more clean-up in town and the community was part of a First Impressions Tour. Such tours, administered through Grow South Dakota, sees economic development professionals visit communities and give their feedback on various aspects of the community.

“We did a First Impressions Tour, which was really great. The ideas from that we can share in the community, and hopefully take some of those ideas and make some changes,” Holan said.

As part of her work, Holan also promotes the resources the community already has to potential new residents, such as the existing business community and medical and public services. Kimball already sports several important small-town staples, including a grocery store, a sale barn and a health clinic. She noted the school district and having a good place for her son to get an education was one of the reasons she moved back to her hometown.

Economic development officials in Kimball are looking to jump start growth in the community by encouraging new businesses and residents to come to the small town just off Interstate 90. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)
Economic development officials in Kimball are looking to jump start growth in the community by encouraging new businesses and residents to come to the small town just off Interstate 90. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

“We have a booming sale barn here, and we are a cattle community. We’re working on getting a locker and looking for a manager. We’re looking for the right person,” Holan said.

Drawing people to town, whether to work or simply live, also means a need for housing, which Holan said is a priority. Apartments would be a good option for people just coming into the community.

“We’re also working on housing in Kimball. We have such a shortage of apartments and we’re working on that,” Holan said.

And there is interest, Holan said. She said she recently had a conversation with a woman from New Hampshire who was looking to relocate to South Dakota. Holan said there appears to be a growing trend where South Dakota has appeal for people outside the state looking for a change of pace or scenery.

“She had been looking into South Dakota and Wyoming, and she really liked Kimball for some reason. She had never been to South Dakota, but she wants to come here,” Holan said. “South Dakota is becoming a place to come.”

If people are interested in coming to Kimball, then the community needs to work to make it as attractive a destination as possible. Holan said her office recently held a community meeting last month to discuss different focal points for development in Kimball in the hopes it would kick start conversation on how to approach the future.

She said turnout was disappointing. But it also helped her to narrow her vision on concepts that will get more people interested in the subject.

“It was horrible. People didn’t show up, and so we’re going to take a different approach with it and (focus on) community pride and try to work that way and go into it a little slower than we were hoping to,” Holan said. “We hope we can get people to jump on board and be involved and show that community pride.”

Holan said that may be the biggest challenge in the world of small town economic development: keeping people actively engaged. She encourages people to get involved and share their ideas, thoughts and concerns about the community, even if they only have a passing interest in the future of the community.

There will always be those who don’t want to jump on board, and that’s fine, she said. She prefers to focus on those who are passionate or indifferent as opposed to trying to convert those who are opposed to changing the status quo.

“I learned my lesson. You can’t concentrate on the 20% who are negative Nellies in the community. They will eat you alive. You have to concentrate on the 40% that support you whole-heartedly and those who don’t care,” Holan said. “If you let that 20% control you, then you’re not meant to be an economic development director. We’re working for the whole community, not just that 20%.”

Holan continues to work for the betterment of Kimball, and also shares some of her knowledge with neighboring communities. She knows the potential for growth is there, and with a little time and patience, that growth can find its way to the community.

“Kimball is a very close knit community. We have a lot of possibilities and room to grow. What way are we going to go?” she asked. “It doesn’t matter if you’re served your time or what your age is. It can be an idea we share and work on together. Anything that can help the community change in a positive way.”