The Forward 2040 survey results are available, and community leaders used the data to converge their ideas for constructing a better future for the city of Mitchell.

At the recent Forward 2040 think-tank reconvene in early September at Dakota Wesleyan University’s Sherman Center, active participants who have been focused on making Mitchell a better community through Future iQ’s visioning process took a deeper dive into potential strategies that may put the community on a better path ahead. The think-tank session comes after several months of group discussions among city officials and business leaders.

David Beurle, founder and CEO of Future IQ, used the recent Forward 2040 survey results to lead the think-tank group of city officials, business leaders and community members. In total, the Future IQ benchmark survey saw 978 respondents ranging in ages from 15 to over 81. While the percentage of age groups who surveyed was balanced across the age groups of 31 to 60-year-olds, it was the age group of 31 - 40-year-olds who made up the highest percentage of respondents at 25 percent.

“There is some really great data for you all to consider, and I want you to build out what you think should be the actions that this community needs to take to close the gap between the expected future and preferred future,” Beurle said to think-tank group members. “I think the data sets you up as a community very well.”

A key area of the think-tank discussion centered around the city's workforce population. A statistic that wasn’t included in the survey data was where the city of Mitchell’s median income stacks up in comparison to similar sized South Dakota cities. Roger Musick, CEO of Innovative Systems, asked for suggestions as to how the city can raise the median income level?

Musick referenced the community of Huron having an 8 percent higher median income level than Mitchell, noting it as a serious concern for the local business leader, given Mitchell has a population of roughly 2,000 more residents than Huron.

“When I look at the distribution of income in Mitchell, we just have way too many workers trying to live off $25,000 to $30,000 who may have a hard time affording to buy a home,” Musick said, adding the income level doesn’t support the housing market.

Musick’s question generated discussion about the importance of Mitchell serving as a regional hub for a number of surrounding communities, such as Parkston, Ethan and Alexandria. To increase that median income level, Beurle highlighted the need for Mitchell to diversify the job market and maintain its regional presence.

According to the survey data, 5,183 workers commute to Mitchell from somewhere outside the city limits, while there are 5,646 workers who hold jobs and live in the city. The remaining 3,112 people included in the workforce population who reside in Mitchell commute to jobs outside the city.

“You’re a regional center and you’ve been soaking up people from areas around you, but what happens when you run out of people around you in those surrounding communities?” Beurle asked. “But comparing you to other cohort communities, you’re a well-performing Midwest regional center.”

After reviewing the data, each table entered into discussion to identify strategic goals for improving the future of Mitchell. Steve Larson, systems technician at Larson Data Communications, suggested the city must focus on technology advancements, which he said Mitchell has been falling short of lately.

“For Mitchell to advance -- to grow -- to become a better regional center, we need to focus on making technological advancements,” Larson said.

Considering the data relating to Mitchell’s regional footprint, Larson emphasized the need for taking care of the small surrounding communities to maintain its hub-like presence.

“We need to take care of them, because they are our lifeblood right now,” Larson said. “In order to connect to the global market, we have to recognize that we can be that connection for the small towns around us. If we don’t, we will become a satellite community of Sioux Falls.”

As a local innovator who brought many tech jobs to the city, Musick said it starts with education.

“The key to technology is all based on education. Because we can have the best desires in the world, but if we don’t have an educated group of people to execute the technology advancements, it doesn’t really matter,” Musick said.

Strategic pillars for the future

Toward the end of the think-tank reconvene session, Beurle provided seven categories he called “strategic pillars.” After explaining the background of each pillar, which ranged from recreational opportunities to agricultural advancements, the group of participants divided into groups and chose a pillar to discuss.

City Council member Steve Rice took part in the agricultural and food production strategic pillar discussion and presented several of the goals and ideas his group mapped out.

“We talked about identifying a cross connections list of agricultural players, such as Mitchell Technical Institute and South Dakota State University, which can help with educating more people about agriculture sustainability, along with exploring robotics and farming,” Rice said.

In addition, Rice said his group discussed filling more work shortages in the agriculture industry through establishing a recruiting company to provide more jobs for the community.

On the recreation and entertainment front, Mitchell Main Street and Beyond Executive Director Jared Indahl said the group discussion he took part in centered around better promotional campaigns for the many recreational opportunities the city offers.

“Evaluating what we need more of in terms of recreational opportunities can really improve the quality of life, and promoting what we offer could bring more people to the community,” Indahl said, noting the Lake Mitchell Bike Trails. “Specific to our events, we thought we could diversify more entertainment options to appeal to more groups of people.”

Factoring in youth engagement

As for the youth engagement, 102 students ranging from ages 15 to 17 who reside in Mitchell participated in the survey.

Despite the significantly lower survey participants in the youth cohort group, Beurle highlighted the need to listen to the youth's concerns and goals. According to the survey results for the youth respondents, technological improvements and future opportunities represented the two categories they saw as most important for the community to focus on.

“I thought it was fairly optimistic, and they saw particularly technology and the change of our economics has been very positive,” Beurle said, noting those trends are likely going to have a big impact on the future of Mitchell. “It’s clear they view new technology and their relationship to it as a friend.”

In addition, the survey asked which emerging trends that could impact the future of Mitchell frighten them the most?

“What they talked a lot about was essentially resource limitations and constraints, meaning the demand for food and the lack of water will be an issue in the future,” Beurle said. “By and large, I thought they were very thoughtful responses, and the thing that struck me was students who completed the surveys really put a lot of thought into these topics,” Beurle said. “The pulse of the responses was ‘let's get on with it,’ meaning, ‘we’re OK, but if we don’t act now we could get left behind.’”

Following the overview of the youth survey results, Beurle pressed the think-tank group on what they gathered from the responses and asked how they could implement some of the goals and concerns the youth identified.

In response, Lori Essig, workforce coordinator with the Chamber of Commerce, said she views the youth responses as a challenge for community leaders to consider for the future of Mitchell.

“I think we need to consider how to include the things emphasized in the youth survey, and understand we need to make some great strides forward,” Essig said.