Employees Wanted

City of Aberdeen, South Dakota

A thriving agricultural industry is the primary reason. “We are very heavily ag based, and as the economy was going down, agriculture in this area was still going very, very strong,” Mr. Haar explains.

Manufacturing has also remained strong in Aberdeen, and Molded Fiberglass Companies (MFG) chose to open a new plant in the city just as the economy began to sour throughout the rest of America. The plant, which produces blades for GE wind turbines, “was ramping up right as the economy was going down,” Mr. Haar recalls. “So the few people that actually did get laid off and weren’t getting rehired elsewhere were getting picked up by them [MFG] right away.”

As a result, Aberdeen’s unemployment rate has always been shockingly low. “Our unemployment peaked at 4.4 percent during the recession,” Mr. Haar shares. With such a low unemployment rate and so many employment opportunities, Aberdeen is actively looking to bring in new people to fill jobs. “We are in a unique position in that we are looking for labor across all sectors, whether it be manufacturing, healthcare, back office, or education,” Mr. Haar remarks. The Department of Labor is still posting between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs every week, he adds. “So we have a lot of opportunity available here for anyone who is looking for a nice place to live that has a lot of amenities and good jobs available.”

The city is also a service center for the entire region, so in addition to agriculture and manufacturing, Aberdeen also boasts strong medical, back office, financial, and educational sectors. “We are a hub area for a radius of 50 to 100 miles in any given direction,” Mr. Haar reports. “We service that entire population.”

Aberdeen also boasts a business friendly environment that encourages companies – and people – to relocate there. For starters, taxes are refreshingly low. “We also have a very pro-business tax climate within the state of South Dakota. We have no state personal income tax, no state corporate income tax, and no inheritance tax.” Mr. Haar also credits Aberdeen’s citizenry for the city’s business success. “We just have good people,” he says. “They go to work and they get the job done.”

Entrepreneurialism is also commonplace throughout the community. “There is a strong entrepreneurial attitude in Aberdeen and in South Dakota,” says Gail Ochs, President of the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce. This entrepreneurial spirit can be traced to the community’s agricultural background, she explains. “We have been in agriculture for years; farmers develop their own products and fix their own problems, so we have that spirit in our community. You will see a lot of people starting their own business here.”

Aberdeen also has the educational framework needed to support business and to educate a workforce. One of South Dakota’s state universities, Northern State University, is located in the city, as well as Presentation College, a private Catholic university. In addition, Aberdeen’s high school graduation rate is an impressive 93.4 percent.

The city’s positive business environment has produced countless new enterprises, including three well known national franchises that have enjoyed significant success. The hotel chain Super 8 originated in Aberdeen and the company still maintains its worldwide reservation center in the city. The popular kitchen remodeling franchise Kitchen Tune-up also got its start in Aberdeen, as did the information technology company Expetec.

Aberdeen also has more to offer than just business opportunities. The city has been recognized by America’s Promise Alliance as one of the 100 best communities for young people – and, on the other end of the spectrum, CNN Money Magazine named South Dakota the #1 State for Retiring. “We really stretch the gamut,” Ms. Ochs points out. “We have great opportunities for young people and young families, but also for retirement age people, and for the workforce as well.”

Word has gotten out, and Aberdeen is enjoying a population surge. After years of having a population that hovered around 25,000, the city is now home to nearly 28,000 people. “That is a number that we are pretty proud of,” Ms. Ochs says. “A lot of us in the community sat around the table and talked about what our community could do to grow.” The community’s population increase is particularly impressive because it goes against a larger demographic trend in which rural Americans are abandoning smaller towns for urban areas. “We were proud of just being stable because that is pretty challenging in a rural community,” Ms. Ochs points out.

Not surprisingly, the population increase has launched a building boom. “The community needed to step up because we didn’t have the housing that was needed; we were underdeveloped. But if you come to our city today, versus five or ten years ago, you will see that the city has really invested in infrastructure and the private developers have really stepped up by opening new stores and new restaurants to meet the growing demand of the citizens.”

Aberdeen has also been working hard to revitalize its downtown. An entire 30 block area has been revamped and a city grant is currently available to property owners within that area to help them improve their buildings’ façades. The next step is to create more downtown housing by transforming the second stories of office buildings into apartments and condos. In addition, the city is working to raise money to bring sculpture and art to Main Street. “They have been really active making sure that the core of the community is really vibrant for local citizens and for business,” Ms. Ochs reports.

Aberdeen also has plenty of recreational opportunities. Most notably, the community is a leading destination for pheasant hunting, and a large number of hunters gather there every fall to take advantage of both public and private hunting lands. “Aberdeen is a great place for sportsmen,” says Brenda Moore, Executive Director of the Aberdeen Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In fact, we have so many hunters that come in [during pheasant season] that the airline puts on an extra flight to transport people in and out of the area.”

The city’s agro-tourism also draws visitors. “Most people don’t have any idea how the food actually gets to the table,” Ms. Moore points out. “So we show them the process, from the equipment that it takes, to grain handling facilities, to how fast they can load railcars. Aberdeen also offers tours of a traditional Hutterite colony, which allows visitors to see how this self-sustaining religious sect lives. “[It is] a different way of life that has been a big draw for the area,” Ms. Moore says. Tours often include a homemade, farm fresh meal.

Aberdeen also has three golf courses, ice rinks, an aquatic center, and an extensive park system. The centerpiece of the city’s park system is the 212 acre Wylie Park, which includes 120 campsites and cabins, miniature golf, go karts, bumper boats, swimming, walking trails, and a theme park called Storybook Land. Storybook Land is based on well-known nursery rhymes and also includes a section that recreates the Land of Oz. L. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz books, actually lived in Aberdeen, so the Oz attractions are particularly appropriate. The Brown County Fair is also held in Aberdeen. “It is the largest fair in the state, with close to 275,000 attending,” shares Ms. Moore.

There are also plenty of athletics in Aberdeen. The city just hosted the Midwest Regional Water Ski Championship – and the Aberdeen Aqua Addicts won the 2014 Division 2 Regional Water Ski Show Tournament. The city’s minor league hockey team, the Aberdeen Wings, is also very popular. “They have the highest attendance in their league,” Ms. Moore reports.

The cost of living in Aberdeen is very low, so its many amenities and attractions are quite affordable. The jobs that Aberdeen has to offer may not pay as much as jobs in America’s metropolitan areas, “but it doesn’t cost us that much to live here either,” Mr. Haar points out. As a result, most people moving to Aberdeen still come out ahead financially. “You can really live a good life here on not a lot of money.”

With so much to offer, and so many jobs available, it is no wonder that people are moving to Aberdeen. “It is an all-around good place to live,” Ms. Moore summarizes. “From our tax structure and our park system, to our university system and our healthcare system – we have everything you need.”

July 17, 2018, 7:09 AM EDT

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