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Brookings Council Candidate Meyer: Build Towns with Creativity, Not Tax Breaks

My friend Scott D. Meyer is running for Brookings City Council. His ideas about community development offer a welcome challenge to the conventional South Dakota wisdom about how to make communities grow.

In this explanation of why he’s running, Meyer identifies four factors that make towns grow:

People don’t move for jobs, jobs move for people. A community with skilled citizens attracts businesses. Businesses that move for people are more likely to stay and invest in the community. After all, a vibrant community retains talent, so it is in the business’ interest to make the community great. Chasing corporate headquarters with tax breaks is no longer the best way to develop an economy. Instead, the future is grassroots development focused on people and entrepreneurs [Scott Meyer, “Why I’m Running for Brookings City Council,” 2015.03.05].

Meyer isn’t knocking the big corporations like 3M and Bel Brands that have helped Brookings grow. He’s saying that we can more reliably draw big and small employers with a vibrant, well-educated populace, not tax favors.

Jobs increasingly require creativity. Everything from manufacturing to finance now demands innovative ideas. Over 1/3rd of Americans are now a part of this “creative class,” and the number is rising dramatically, especially in college towns like Brookings. What’s more, many jobs can be done from any location, so people can choose the community that best fuels their most important skill: creativity [Meyer, 2015.03.05].

As an online entrepreneur, Meyer understands that an increasing number of us workers don’t need to be in a particular place to do our work. We can thus choose to be in places that offer more of what we want outside of work.

Diverse communities are creative communities. New ideas and perspectives speed innovation and improve work. Communities that embrace diversity will thrive and will be more interesting places to live [Meyer, 2015.03.05].

Expect some critique from the retrograde conservatives of Brookings who can’t accept that South Dakota belongs to everybody, and “everybody” is increasingly different from the mental billboards we painted in the 1950s. South Dakotans of the 21st century not only are not all German-Norwegian-Lutheran settlers; they are also not all farmers and welders.

People choose a community based on social offerings, openness and aesthetic. People expect basic services wherever they go, but they move to a community based on its “soul.” Uniqueness, history and wide-ranging amenities will retain and attract creative, diverse talent [Meyer, 2015.03.05].

John Tsitrian and I might level the same critique of Meyer’s community-making manifesto as we have offered of South Dakota’s workforce development initiatives: they don’t mention the drag South Dakota’s low wages put on efforts to recruit workers. But Meyer is thinking bigger picture, about the creativity, diversity, and amenities that incubate a vibrant community where entrepreneurs come up with good ideas that generate well-paying jobs. It will be enlightening to hear Meyer discuss these ideas with his fellow candidates in the Brookings City Council race.


  1. Nick Nemec 2015-03-09 07:58

    One need look no further than Brookings and Daktronics Manufacturing to find an example of a home grown business that exists because local entrepreneurs took advantage of what the local area had to offer. In the case of Daktronics it was human capitol, SDSU trained engineers who jumped at the chance to have a good post college job in their college town.

  2. Heidi Marttila-Losure 2015-03-09 08:07

    One thing to remember about the new freedom to pick where you work: If you are working for a company that sets wages elsewhere, you can make more than you would otherwise locally. The same applies for entrepreneurs whose customers are elsewhere.

    One example: my mom has a small weaving business. She sells her rugs online mostly to people in urban areas on the coasts who think her prices are awesome. She sells far fewer locally–people compare her prices to Walmart and don’t buy.

  3. Roger Elgersma 2015-03-09 12:56

    Brookings has some bad experiences with subsidizing business. They spent more than three million to get a Lowe’s store. It was touted as the first Lowe’s in South Dakota. A week later they opened a Lowe’s in Sioux Falls. But the three million would have a thirty year payback from the sales tax collected in that store. Well a month later one of the old family owned hardware stores closed and that was a lose in sales tax revenue that had not been included in the formula for how ‘well’ it was to pay. The new store obviously competed with what they already had. They just threw good tax money down a hole. They found that playing into the hand of big business does not necessarily work out well.

  4. Bob Klein 2015-03-09 13:22

    Don’t forget that Patty Bacon is also one of the council candidates. She has decades of experience promoting government of the people,rather than the business types who run Brookings.

    The challenge for both will be to get their supporters to vote.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-09 15:58

    Patty Bacon—she’s some kind of awesome, too!

    Bob, curious: are you saying it might be harder for Meyer and Bacon to get their supporters out to vote than it will be for the other two, Lyle Bowes and John Kubal? If so, why?

  6. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-03-09 22:10

    YES! YES! YES!

    (Jumping up and down, waving my arms in the air.)

    What Scott Meyer said!

    I read the business section of the newspaper every day. Over and over again the business people, whether Fortune 500 or 3 person entrepreneurs, say they are looking for exactly what Scott described. Every damn time. There are well-experienced business people, some retired, who are experts, who interview other business people and write regular columns. They say exactly what Scott said.

    I’m telling you, South Dakota, believe all those experts. The evidence supporting what Scott said is overwhelming.

    DO IT!

  7. scott 2015-03-09 22:21

    It is time for cities to get back to doing what city governments were created for. That being protecting the citizen and operating infrastructure.

    City infrastructure is falling apart because so much tax revenue is lost to tax breaks and TIF’s. When you look at the numbers, it will likely take decades to recover the lost revenue from the tax breaks and TIF’s and by then the business may be closed and no longer providing any revenue or jobs to the city.

    Cities also forget that when a community grows, the cost per tax dollar to operate the city usually do not go down, but cost per taxpayer goes up.

    Business know that they can play city against city to see who will give them the biggest corporate welfare handouts. Until something is done at a national level to try and stop this out of control corporate welfare concept, it will be difficult for Brookings or any city to say no to corporate welfare.

  8. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-03-09 22:32

    Scott, cities can do some things to to attract business in spite of corporate welfare, though it is more difficult due to corporate welfare. You’ve described them as quoted in this post.

    I think one of the most egregious examples of corporate welfare is the NFL and its owners. The Wilfs in MN are a classic example. I think I can confidently say that a majority of Minnesotans strongly dislike Zygi and his family. Ick.

  9. Richard Schriever 2015-03-10 10:27

    Mr. Meyers take on work force needs and economic development foci are nearly identical to the policy I ran on in my Senatorial campaign two years ago. It’s the right approach – especially for SD, where the vast majority of businesses are local entrepreneurial endeavors that also happen to employ most SD’ns.

  10. Bob Klein 2015-03-11 20:54

    Sorry I didn’t get back sooner.

    I think the demographics of those voting in Brookings City elections favor old-timers and business interests.

    That said, Brookings has elected young people to city councils and commissions.

    Patty geared her last campaign more to the addressing the needs of low-income housing, for instance. The need is real, but many of the recipients don’t, or can’t, vote.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-11 22:32

    Bob, does Scott’s message sound like anything that the old-timers and business interests could dig?

  12. Bob Klein 2015-03-12 09:17

    Message? We pay attention to message?

    I will vote for patty and Scott and I am getting really old. But it’s been a while since my vote elected anyone.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-12 10:24

    Message! Yes, message!

    Keep the faith, Bob… and talk up all your coffee pals! We’ll get your vote to count yet!

  14. Scott Meyer 2015-04-06 13:05

    Late to the party but want to thank you for the article and great discussion. I look forward to new ideas and input should I have the honor of serving on the Brookings City Council!

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