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TenHaken Shares Marketing Clickbait About Sioux Falls

An eager reader pointed out that Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken boosted his city Thursday by promoting this article that sings the praises of our Queen City of the East:

Mayor Paul TenHaken, tweet promoting Sioux Falls, 2019.05.16.
Mayor Paul TenHaken, tweet promoting Sioux Falls, 2019.05.16.

Reason #7: Lots of parking.

I assume the fist punctuating the end of his tweet invites a friendly bump of congratulations and does not threaten a punch in the face of anyone who questions that Sioux Falls is a great place to live.

I don’t mind offering a fist-bump to a guy smart enough to build his fortune on a mound of shifting electrons and impressions and to move to a town that will elect a handsome white Christian evangelical to stand around and soak in accolades for overseeing one urban prairie economy that would blossoming even if the city elected a boiled egg as mayor. I will also evade any sock to the jaw by declaring my honest agreement that Sioux Falls is a heck of a town. Coming to the big city (hee hee!) always energizes me (ask anyone who’s seen me there lately). Lots to see, lots to do, lots of hills and trails to run.

But I don’t need to be paid to say those things about my favorite six-figure-population city in South Dakota, and I don’t need to pay someone else to say those things… which may be what happened to bring the article TenHaken vaunts to existence.

The article is standard click bait, headlined as and broken into the usual six-point list… which is one more point than she found to write about Fargo in a very similar article last September (one more point than Fargo! Fist-bump that!). It opens by promising home prices below the national going rate and mortgages as low as $311 a month:

The median home price in the U.S. is $200,000; in Sioux Falls, it’s $190,000. Even better, you can often find lovely homes for much less than that. A cursory scroll through Zillow found a charming four-bedroom for $169,000 or a three-bedroom with a clawfoot bathtub and a fenced in backyard for $149,000. We even found a cute two-bedroom stucco number for $55,000(!).

If you’re running the numbers, you’d have a $311 mortgage payment on that $55,000 house. Again: three hundred and eleven dollars [Sarah Von Bargen, “6 Reasons to Move to Sioux Falls, SD, Right Now,”, 2019.05.15].

That stucco dream is this 697-square-foot “investment property” in the Whittier neighborhood:

$55K Zillow listing for Sioux Falls, SD, retrieved 2019.05.18.
$55K Zillow listing for Sioux Falls, SD, retrieved 2019.05.18.

Sure, I’d live there, and there’d be room for my bikes. But if I move my humble family there, we’ll need something bigger.

To put a source to the author’s claim of home prices, the Census Bureau says the median value of a house in the United States is $193,500 and the median monthly owner costs are $1,515. In Sioux Falls, median home value is $168,600 and monthly home costs are $1,276. Median household incomes are $57,652 nationwide and $56,714 in Sioux Falls. So one may be able to buy more house with a little less income in Sioux Falls… but note also that if you’re shopping for a city, coming to Sioux Falls has a one-way feel, since your lower home value will make it harder to cash out and move elsewhere (not that you’d want to, because once you see the Falls and McKennan Park and the bike trail, you’ll never want to leave, right?).

The author creditably encourages people to come enjoy Sioux Falls’s top-notch public schools instead of throwing their money away on private school. She does inaccurately refer to Southeast Technical Institute as a “college” (although since Augustana and USF have all cast off that term in marketing disdain, who’d really mind if we started calling Southeast a community college? or will that just confuse folks looking into the new Regental Community College?).

But who is saying these nice things about Sioux Falls? Sarah Von Bargen is just a happy self-help blogger for hire who finds everything interesting:, screen cap, 2019.05.18., screen cap, 2019.05.18.

“…everyone and everything is interesting”? Well, I guess Von Bargen and I can’t be friends, because I believe some people are dull and some things are not interesting.

But Von Bargen’s prose reeks* of the kind of happy online buzz-building on which TenHaken built his reputation. We should not mistake the article TenHaken touts as some riveting and rigorous independent journalism. It reads more like the kind of marketing brochure that the Chamber of Commerce pays for and which freelance writers are happy to supply after Googling a few details about the town.

I love Sioux Falls. I just hate seeing marketing pieces promoted as reliable information.

*Update 14:29 CDT: See grammar notes below!


  1. chris 2019-05-18

    Think you meant “reeks”, not “wreaks”. She didn’t mention how Sioux Falls often reeks.

  2. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-05-18

    The reek of the packing plant wreaks havoc with the quality of breathing in SooFoo.

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-05-18

    My daughter and her wife just bought a home in a popular, north Denver suburb for the median price. $445,000. Median price in San Francisco is $1,200,000. It seems like a lot until you’ve lived in it a couple years and realize your house has appreciated in value more than your net earnings in two years. Then you’re very pleased. As always, in real estate you get what you pay for.
    *I have a friend who just retired in Sioux Falls from a life as a college professor. She’s building a loft with a retail space below in Sioux Falls Downtown and seems very pleased with the town. It IS the only large, liberal enclave in the Little State That Won’t, you know.

  4. Donald Pay 2019-05-18

    First, that reddish-brown brick building in the first photo is the Beach-Pay building. It wasn’t built by my great-grandfather, but it was bought by him not long thereafter. A lot of the historic buildings in Sioux Falls were demolished during the “urban renewal” fad of the early 1970s. This one survived.

    These sorts of articles are a dime a dozen, and easy to write, but they do reach the younger demographic, and they do address questions that young people may want to touch on if they are looking at moving there for a job. There isn’t much depth, but it gives folks a general feel for the place.

    The author has hit on a great formula for pumping out this sort of click bait, but I don’t fault her for it. It’s a great way for a young writer to develop skills. If she’s actually going to the places she writes about, she can write off the costs of her travel.

    As far as the smell in Sioux Falls, my mother always quoted her farmer father, “That’s the smell of money.”

  5. Porter Lansing 2019-05-18

    I’ve been to our mint. Money must smell differently here. :0)

  6. Porter Lansing 2019-05-18

    … for the pedantic among us. Money can’t smell so the proper grammar would be to use an adjective not an adverb. I.E. Money and dead pigs smell different.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-18

    Good eye on that building, Donald, and good historical note! We should also note than when bloggers-for-pay need a graphic to complete the formula (every blog post must have an image, a rule I regularly ignore and which thus explains why I am a terrible, unprofitable blogger) for Chamber of Commerce, they tend to choose pictures of old downtown buildings, not the dreary, cheap modern boxes that Donald notes sadly replaced many of those sturdy old architectural gems in the 1970s. (Take a look at the photo Von Bargen pulled from Flickr for her Fargo article: old historic downtown buildings, just like the photo she got from the Sioux Falls Chamber for the SF article.)

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-18

    And Porter, good grammar catch! You help us think differently and more effectively about things that smell different.

    (I was going to muse over whether “smell differently” could ever be used… and it occurred to me that humans and insects really do smell differently: we use noses, while insects use antennae.)

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-18

    Chris and Bob nicely tag team to catch and correct with a good example my own incorrect word choice! Funny that this post should inspire so much attention to language; that conversation alone makes this comment more instructive than anything these bloggers-for-hire generate with their formulaic rhapsodies about towns they haven’t visited and aren’t moving to.

    It must be tough writing stories about why people should move to this town or that town and then never actually take one’s own advice and move there. Von Bargen sees all these great things about Sioux Falls and Fargo, but doesn’t move to either city? Why not? What about her home city beats either of these two towns that she so praises? Where’s the “but” that would put this article in honest perspective?

    There’s the problem with clickbait promo writing. There is no but, there is no honest perspective, because there is no real author. The author makes herself disappear and simply cobbles together words that will please a certain audience. The author dares not connect the words to her own experience, because her own experience proves that her words are an incomplete expression of someone else’s wishes.

    But hey, Sarah’s making more money blogging than I am, and Paul TenHaken never retweets my stuff to his thousands of followers, so the market has spoken. Want to make good, regular money blogging? Write crap in which you make no personal investment.

  10. Debbo 2019-05-18

    The urban renewal thing destroyed some truly magnificent buildings in the Minn metro too. I’ve seen photos. What a loss!

  11. Donald Pay 2019-05-18

    Debbo, Opposition to urban renewal in Sioux Falls was the first non-antiwar piece I ever wrote for an alternative publication we started up in SF. The publication was not a success. It had two issues. It was interesting that the fiscal conservatives and the left sort of agreed on this issue. But a lot of destruction happened before the money spigot dried up. I also wrote an article on the brain dead idea of encouraging malls, while the city was trying to refurbish downtown. A lot of stupid ideas for development happened in the early 70s, in my opinion.

  12. RJ 2019-05-18

    Sioux Falls has some redeeming qualities, not as many as a city our size should have. Paul
    Has yet to do anything meaningful for the city..he promised transparency, yet has fought it at every turn. I was in ballet in the late 80’s(my mom made me) and today my niece had a recital in the samw building. The architecture, brickwork etc is awesome. Sadly, the dance studio will soon be relocating to the SW part of town and I fear that this awesome building will sit empty. Well, at least we have a 20+ million parking ramp and Lora Hubbel running for the school board( said no one ever).

  13. Debbo 2019-05-18

    Parking is a problem for every city. More political fights occur in St. Paul and Minneapolis over parking than anything else, and I’m including taxes in that.

    There’s a beautiful old church in St. Paul that a German Immersion charter school is champing at the bit to tear down so they can build a gym. Citizens have gotten pretty good at organizing historic preservation committees to protect those old buildings in Minn.

    For small towns those old buildings are a winner. The more economically successful small towns in Minnesota take good care of their old 3-4 storey downtown buildings, even if it’s only a few blocks. That draws visitors and that’s where all kinds of interesting little shops take up residence and summer festivals occur.

    Downtown Rapid City, Hill City. Philipps in SF? (I’m not that familiar with SF.)

    The same is true of cities. They need to have a neighborhood with that kind of character and sense of place to anchor it. St. Paul has Summit Avenue and Minneapolis has St. Anthony Main.

  14. chris 2019-05-19

    @RJ – agree entirely about the samw building. + also, scrolling through Lora Hubbel’s fb is like that boat ride scene in Willy Wonka.

  15. SFRENCH 2019-05-22

    Ahem…former Black Hills resident here. Rapid City Rulz; Sux Falls Droolz. No data, no argument for why this is true. I looked it up in my gut. Checkmate.

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