The Davison County Commission will discuss at tonight’s meeting a new economic development plan for the next 20 years. Chapter 7, on the economy of Mitchell, Mount Vernon, Ethan, and vast lonely spaces around them, shows that planners may want to pay less attention to agriculture and more attention to larger sectors of the economy.
In 1980, agriculture (along with forestry, fishing, and mining) employed 662 people, 8.1% of Davison County’s 8,124 workers. Retail trade, education/health/social services, and manufacturing each employed more people. Since 1980, while Davison County’s total workforce has grown 28.7%, agriculture and other extractors of natural resources has shed 220 workers, 33.2% of its jobs, and dropped to ninth place among industry sectors around the Corn Palace.
Only 4.2% of Davison County’s workforce makes a living farming (or cutting trees, catching fish, or digging gravel). Education/health/social services is now the county’s largest job sector, rising from 18.8% of the workforce in 1980 to 22.5% in 2020. Manufacturing is the second biggest employer, rising from 9.5% in 1980 to 12.7% of the current workforce. Retail, the only sector that shed jobs at a worse rate than agriculture, has slid from top employer at 24.6% to third-largest at 11.1%.
Among Mitchell’s top employers, Avera Queen of Peace Health Services, the Trail King trailer factory, and the Mitchell School District each employ more people than agriculture across the county:
While ag jobs have gone away, agriculture is still growing in dollar terms. Gross domestic output by Davison County agriculture (and here, the category includes forestry, fishing, and hunting) swelled 189.8% from 2014 to 2020. But agriculture still produced only 4.9% of Davison County’s total $1.19-billion GDP. That’s less than the 8.6% of GDP generated by government activities. In counties of similar population, agriculture in 2020 made up 14.1% of GDP in Beadle, 6.2% in Brookings, 4.2% in Yankton, and 0.36% in Hughes (where government generates 30.8% of GDP):
The comprehensive plan projects a continued diminution of agriculture jobs to a mere 2.1% of Davison County’s still-growing employment, while construction jobs will nearly triple and government jobs will double:
The new comprehensive plan projects that all that new employment may require 609 new acres for commercial development and 675 acres of new residential development. That’s about two square miles, 0.46% of Davison County’s 435.4 square miles, or about 0.52% of the 386 square miles currently used for agriculture in Davison County. That tiny fraction of land ag will have to give up while it sheds nearly 200 jobs will support the creation of over 2,500 jobs in other sectors.
The state continues to peddle the line that agriculture is South Dakota’s number-one industry. But agriculture hasn’t been Davison County’s biggest industry for 40 years, and it won’t be in the next 20. Davison County should plan accordingly, making sure that its zoning decisions welcome the new industries and workers in offices and factories who will do most of the economic heavy lifting around the Corn Palace for the foreseeable future.