Our case studies

Forward Sioux Falls

A transformative vision meets united leadership.

Situation Analysis

In the mid-1980s, economic development in Sioux Falls, SD – as in so many other communities in the heartland – was largely an exercise in trying to attract companies, jobs, and investments to a place that wasn’t at the top of – or even on – many site selectors’ or corporate decision makers’ lists.  

In the three decades since, Sioux Falls has grown to a metro of ~300,000 residents with a diverse economy that is consistently ranked near the top of best communities for business and living lists. As a result, Sioux Falls has become the “example to follow” for countless other places across the Midwest.  

So, what’s their secret? Free land and huge incentives? No. Did they get lucky with a homegrown entrepreneur who grew a huge company? Not really. So, what’s their secret? It may sound like a cliché, but the answer is vision and leadership.  

Launched in 1987, Forward Sioux Falls is a joint venture of the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Foundation. Their most recent campaign brochure says it best:

Forward Sioux Falls Fundraising Capital Campaign Case Study Image 1

NCDS Approach

In 1987, NCDS’ Howard Benson and the Sioux Falls Chamber’s Evan Nolte proposed the now widely accepted model of the multi-year strategic initiative (MYSI) as a way to fund and execute bold community growth initiatives.  Key leaders bought in, taking a leap of faith in an approach that had worked in larger metros like Denver and Atlanta but was somewhat unproven in smaller communities. 

The first Forward Sioux Falls campaign raised a modest $1.8 million for more aggressive marketing and business attraction efforts, including 5,000 targeted industry reports sent to corporate decision-makers across five business categories. The five-year program produced 6,200 new jobs, $250 million in capital investment, and $100 million in new payroll. The concept worked. And every five years since, Sioux Falls’ “A-Team” of business leaders and elected officials have been “setting agendas and executing strategies in pursuit of long-term objectives – aligned with near-term needs and opportunities.”

NCDS has directed each of Forward Sioux Falls’ eight campaigns, with the 2021 campaign securing over $16 million in five-year commitments from over 200 private sector companies and five local governments and authorities. Every campaign followed our tried and true model:  

  1. Develop a new multi-year plan
  2. Market-test it with stakeholders to determine enthusiasm and funding potential
  3. Refine the plan to align with stakeholder feedback
  4. Enlist credible and influential champions to establish the plan as a community priority
  5. Professional solicitations that secure capacity-level investments based on each investor’s capacity, interest, and direct economic benefit 

In total, eight Forward Sioux Falls campaigns have raised almost $70 million for a wide range of programming and projects focused on new business attraction; existing business retention & expansion; entrepreneurial support; housing; place-based amenities; workforce & talent; air service; and other community priorities. 

Forward Sioux Falls Fundraising Capital Campaign Case Study Image 2

Partnership Highlights

The success of Forward Sioux Falls cannot be overstated, nor can every accomplishment be captured.  A few highlights include:

  • Money Magazine’s #1 economy three times in 10 years
  • Economic and population growth rates well above the national average over the past 30 years
  • Established a new 980-acre industrial park – South Dakota’s first mega site
  • Initiated and funded the Sioux Falls Tomorrow community-based planning process
  • Created the Sioux Empire Housing Partnership
  • South Dakota Technology Business Center to assist new, and early-stage technology businesses 
  • Provided funding to help launch the USD Discovery District, an innovation community bringing together research, education, and business to capitalize on the region’s growing medical and biotech sectors

From NCDS’ perspective, the greatest indicator of Forward Sioux Falls’ success and impact is the almost reverential regard that current stakeholders have for the program and the many leaders who have led it for over three decades. Almost every economic success and many of the place-based assets and amenities are widely credited to the work of Forward Sioux Falls – even those they may not have directly influenced. 

For more information about this truly best-practice initiative, visit some of the links below. They even wrote a book about it! 

See Forward Sioux Falls’ book here


Share this post

Get NCDS Insights in Your Inbox

The most up-to-date intelligence on the most important topics, sent directly to you.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

By clicking Sign Up you're confirming that you agree with our Privacy Policy.