When I visited South Sioux City, Nebraska, for the Midwest Rural Assembly, City Administrator Lance Hedquist gave a few of us a quick drive-through tour.
|Student-designed cabin in the South
Sioux City RV Park
He started by telling us all the bad things about South Sioux’s past, how it used to flood so regularly that no one would build a nice house there, how it had a high crime rate, and how it was seen as a bad place to live.
Lesson: always present the negatives first, then everything that follows seems like more of a miracle. And what follows in South Sioux City does seem like a miracle.
Today the town looks lively, is in full development mode, and expects 1500 new jobs in the next year or two. This in a town of 12,000 people. Hedquist said attitude was the key factor in turning it around.
They put in a development with mixed housing types: low income, moderate income, assisted living. Of course, “they” said that it was the end of the world, and it would be a slum. Today it’s attractive, clean, and lively, from what we saw. I was impressed by the houses built for assisted living. Homes seem better than institutions for those who need some assistance.
All new developments are required to include bike trails. A resident of neighboring (much larger) Sioux City, Iowa, said South Sioux was not perceived well by those who still remembered the way it used to be. But she chooses to ride her bike in South Sioux, just because it is so bike friendly and a great place to ride.
The city owns, but does not operate, their recreation, like the dozen soccer fields. They do operate an RV park, beside the river. They have a cooperative project with a university for architecture students to build cabins as their senior projects. The city buys the materials, and the students make the cabins. Each is uniquely designed. As they continue to add new, funky, interesting cabins, I think they will become a bigger attraction, as people come just to stay in one. The city earns $150,000 per year from the RV park.
The city council is known for moving quickly and cooperatively. They started a cooperative project with the school in a matter of days. Innovative agreements have been struck with neighboring cities, too.
Industrial development is in full swing, with businesses expanding, adding on, and new ones moving in. The industries are starting to cluster, especially around ag/food processing.
There’s more, but that was the starting point. Hedquist has worked as the city administrator for 30 years to get to this point. Another MRA participant who joined me on the tour said, looking at today’s successes, you don’t see the thousands of blocks put in place to get there.
I think when you hire a former regional economic developer as your city administrator, you get regional action and economic development for your city.
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