Siouxland Ranks First in the Nation for Economic Development for Eleventh Time



From Site Selection magazine, March 2023

Places You Can Trust

That’s a strong indicator across the Top Metros of 2022

Tier 3: Superb Sioux City Again Tops Cumulative & Per-Capita Rankings

No matter how you slice the data, it seems the tri-state area of Sioux City, Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota, always comes up roses. This year the region repeats its feat of the No. 1 ranking by total projects and No. 1 ranking by total projects per capita among Tier-3 metros (those with populations between 50,000 and 200,000).

The region is not alone at the top. Three other communities appear in the top four of both rankings, in slightly different order: Lima, Ohio; Bowling Green, Kentucky; and the upstart university town of Manhattan, Kansas, which was unranked in both categories the previous year. Toss in each category’s No. 5 finishers Dubuque, Iowa, and Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, Kentucky and you have a veritable Midwest-fest.

Among the projects landing in the area was a $185 million, 149-job expansion by pet health nutrition company Royal Canin in North Sioux City, South Dakota. It was helped by a nearly $4 million Reinvestment Payment Program grant from Governor Kristi Noem’s Office of Economic Development. It was also helped by the pet care habits of a nation.

“Over the past two years, the country experienced a boom in pet ownership and heightened focus on pets’ health,” said Royal Canin North America President Cecile Coutens, “Royal Canin is seeing significant growth as a result … We already know what an incredible place the North Sioux City community is and are thrilled to expand our presence here.”

Other investors last year included Cargill, MidAmerican Energy, Thompson Equipment Co. and Cold-Link Logistics in Sioux City proper and Sioux City Tarp, Dakota Supply Group and Lite-Form Technologies in South Sioux City, Nebraska, among others.

In Sioux City in November, local leaders joined with U.S. EDA representative and three executives from Omaha-based Oracle Aviation to break ground on the company’s new 40,000-sq.-ft. Aviation Center at the Sioux Gateway Airport / Brigadier General Bud Day Field, where hangar space, office space and classrooms will serve needs in training pilots and mechanics. A release from the city explained that city officials, collaborating with leaders at The Siouxland Initiative, “facilitated an ongoing dialogue with executives from Oracle Aviation as they sought to increase activity and enhance aviation operations locally. After establishing initial interest from Oracle, the parties began to communicate with Morningside University and Western Iowa Tech in exploration of the possibility of adding degree awarding programs. One year later, Morningside announced the creation of a degree in aviation fields, while WITCC plans to offer an Associate of Applied Science in Aviation Maintenance.”

“We have developed similar operations in the past and believe this market has exceptional untapped potential,” said Oracle Aviation Vice President of Business Development Dave Poole. “We are not only confident, but absolutely convinced, that Sioux Gateway Airport can become one of the leading centers for aviation in the entire upper Midwest. Brigadier General Bud Day Field is perfectly located and ideally situated to see exponential growth in the near term and Oracle Aviation intends to help Sioux City realize this potential.”

Quality of Life Draws Quality People

When I traveled to the area in March 2022 to recognize Siouxland for its previous No. 1 rankings, then-Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts (now a U.S. senator filling the spot vacated by retired Sen. Ben Sasse) told the assembled in a room overlooking the Missouri River, “No company invests in a generic place called Nebraska or Iowa or South Dakota. They invest in communities. As governors, we’re all competitive — we have a friendly rivalry with South Dakota and Iowa. But we also celebrate the great success of the tri-state area,” built on a foundation of agriculture, food and manufacturing, and cemented with the very real Midwestern work ethic.

Ricketts then took to a field along the river to have a game of catch. No, this had nothing to do with his family’s ownership of the Chicago Cubs. It had everything to do with a $100,000 fundraising effort by Miracle League of Sioux City Executive Director Kevin Negaard called “Wanna Have a Catch?” that involved him playing catch with a different person every day for 365 days. I was lucky player No. 44 the next day at the largest Miracle Field in the world complete with playground, mini golf and baseball fields designed so that all children with and without special needs can play together. In January, Negaard wrapped up the 365 days of around-the-world catch back at Arena Sports Academy, which recently took ownership of the Miracle League, playing catch with his father, among others. The funds raised came to more than triple the goal, at nearly $350,000, which will support such new programs as Miracle Dance, Miracle Volleyball and Miracle Basketball.

The facility is just one part of an array of recreational amenities now springing up around the region to complement increased career and technical training and deepen quality of life needed to attract and retain the talent needed by so many growing companies. Cone Park offers a tubing hill, ice skating rink, an outdoor fire pit, and day lodge for warming, rentals, and concessions during the winter. Next door a professionally designed mountain biking park is beginning to cut a path through the hills. At the spot vacated by an Argosy casino boat when the successful Hard Rock Casino came to Sioux City, a new riverside park with a great lawn, yoga areas and scenic overlooks is taking shape. Meanwhile, 33 miles of trails with more on the way are branching throughout the region, providing infrastructure for everyday workouts as well as tri-state marathons and cycling events.

In June 2022, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) announced the Siouxland area would receive $7 million to support Siouxland Regional Trail System projects from the state’s new $100 million tourism attraction program Destination Iowa after leaders in Sioux City, LeMars and Sergeant Bluff had jointly applied for funding to support the construction of five regional trail connection projects. Over $2.2 million was raised in the 13 days leading up to the acceptance of applications.

The Siouxland Regional Trail System will provide over 100 miles of recreational trail — including a unique Plywood Trail project — linking the communities of Sioux City, LeMars, Hinton, Merrill and Sergeant Bluff. “We know that connecting communities and providing unique offerings such as the PlyWood Trail and Cone Mountain Bike Park can help fuel tourism and economic development opportunities in the area,” said Mike Wells, CEO Wells Enterprises.

Things Change But Trust Remains

Yes, that’s the same Mike Wells interviewed in this space one year ago, when he told Senior Editor Gary Daughters he was enjoying his company more than ever after a reorganization brought him back to walking the plant floor more and connecting with people. He also told him, “We haven’t seen any significant population growth in a number of years, and the pandemic put a further strain on that. We see the need for population growth, and we believe quality of life is at the center of that.”

And it’s the same Wells Enterprises — maker of Blue Bunny Ice Cream and other treats that has helped nearby Le Mars, Iowa, become the ice cream capital of the world over the company’s 100-plus years — that in December was acquired by Italy’s Ferrero Group. What might that mean for a regional stalwart?

“For over a century, Wells Enterprises has been an outstanding corporate citizen in the Siouxland tri-state metro, and we do not expect that to change in any way,” says Chris McGowan, president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce and The Siouxland Initiative, where Mike Wells has long served on the board. “Over the years, the Wells family and their executive leadership team declined countless unsolicited offers because they wanted to be certain that any entity that acquired the company would share their values, as well as their commitment to community,” McGowan says. “The key decision-makers at Wells believe that they have identified and selected the ideal partner in the family-owned Ferrero Group, which has indicated that Wells will remain a stand-alone business with offices in Le Mars.”

Ferrero also is a family business, tracing its roots back to a pastry shop in Alba, Italy, that started up in 1946 after World War II. 

“As Wells transitions from one family to another, we are committed to a long and successful future, building on their legacy of fantastic products and looking after the welfare of employees and the wider community in Le Mars,” Giovanni Ferrero said at the announcement in December. “I strongly believe that Wells and Ferrero are the perfect match and would like to thank Mike Wells and the Wells family for entrusting ownership of this great company to us.”

It was the great Russian writer and playwright Anton Chekhov who said, “You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.” The same might be said of the places those people live and work. The Ferrero acquisition should close this year. The possibilities for Siouxland — and other top-performing metros that cultivate the sort of trust that makes prosperity possible — are just beginning to open up. 

Adam Bruns
Managing Editor of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns has served as managing editor of Site Selection magazine since February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

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