Governor Noem likes to say that we are “open for business” in South Dakota. I generally like and agree with that sentiment. But recent history suggests we might also want limits.
Two Big Surprises
Not long ago two surprising bits of news hit Sioux Falls. A group announced that it intended to build a new pig slaughterhouse inside city limits, and at about the same time Amazon notified us that it was bringing a huge warehouse operation to town. Both new employers seemed to be offering similar job opportunities and seeking similar types of employees.
The slaughterhouse proposal especially appeared to catch the public by surprise, and not in a good way. An opposition group quickly came together and collected signatures opposing the move. We will now be voting on a zoning law change that probably should have been considered years ago. I and others wonder why our zoning laws wouldn’t prohibit things like a new slaughterhouse in town. After the public vote, they likely will.
According to what I read and heard at the time, city and development officials didn’t recruit these businesses. They found us on their own. At any rate, I don’t see either the Amazon arrival or the slaughterhouse plan as good for Sioux Falls. Here’s why.
More Low Paying Jobs
Sioux Falls has a workforce availability shortage. My friends in business tell me that we still have more jobs than people looking for work. Given this, our community may not benefit from the arrival of an Amazon warehouse with 1,000 lower paying jobs.
Likewise, the community may not benefit from a significant increase in the number of slaughterhouse industry jobs.
Not All Jobs Are Equal
Not all jobs are equal. Some pay well, many don’t. Some have great benefits, others have none.
Similarly, not all employers are equal. Some pay fairly, others don’t. Some treat employees well, others won’t. Some are good corporate citizens and improve the community; others drag it down. Some harm the environment.
Some businesses externalize their costs into the community. A big employer with low wages can place significant burdens on the community’s social services agencies and resources. Its employees likely can’t financially contribute much to help those agencies, and if the company doesn’t, then the community ends up with the tab.
At the other end of the spectrum, Citibank’s arrival in 1980 was a game changer for the community. They brought good jobs and strong community leadership. We could use more growth like that!
The Pro-Growth Lobby Is Always Motivated
Growth has many supporters. In the short term, any type of growth is a feather in the cap for state and local elected officials and other promoters of development. Of course, it is presumably profitable for the business opening a new operation. And there are several other businesses in town who thrive on the arrival of new customers to serve. So, they naturally support growth of all types.
But who is compiling the long-term costs and benefits to our community to see if a particular opportunity really makes sense for Sioux Falls?
People Don’t Want to Live Next to Noisy, Smelly or Noxious Industrial Sites
I have been told that our zoning laws were created long ago to discourage neighbors from being able to complain about an owner’s land use. Considering the recent slaughterhouse proposal, maybe it is time to rethink that approach.
We inherited an in-town slaughterhouse, active rock quarry, big railroad complex and airport from prior generations. Our community would be a better place today if they were all a few miles outside of city limits. But that train has left the station.
No one wants to live or work next to noisy, smelly or otherwise potentially noxious industrial sites. Those who can’t afford to live elsewhere sometimes end up living nearby. If you are curious, drive through the neighborhoods east of Falls Park sometime. Or near the rock quarry or airport.
Sioux Falls Has a Good Thing Going
Sioux Falls residents care about the community. It has a lot going for it. We don’t want to compromise it because of ill advised growth.
Residents, or their representatives should have a seat at the table when projects are being considered which may have an impact on the environment and life quality. I resist the notion that landowners should be able to do what they want on their land, regardless of the impact on neighbors. I don’t trust developers, promoters and corporate locators to be the sole deciders of the type of growth that will happen in Sioux Falls.
In the meantime, I suspect there are things we can do to avoid adding to the life quality challenges for future Sioux Falls residents. Now would be a great time for the city council to consider strengthening our zoning laws to prohibit any additional undesirable heavy industry sites inside city limits.