Balancing our small town charm  with steady growth — part 6 of 7

The city and Spearfish school board recently approved an amendment that would allow for a restaurant liquor license on the former Meier Ranch property, which could entice a restaurant to the location. Pioneer photo by Kaija Swisher

SPEARFISH — “It’s a balancing act,” Spearfish City Councilman Doug Schmit said of working within the needs and revenues of the city.

“Even if you keep what you have, it’s going to cost more. It costs more as time goes on to take care of the roads; it costs more to build bike paths and everything else that makes Spearfish what it is,” Bryan Walker, executive director of Spearfish Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), said. “And if you do not have a growing tax base to keep up with that, it’s going to be very difficult to sustain the infrastructure you have, so through growth, hopefully, you’re pumping more dollars into your economy. Therefore, you cannot only take care of what you have, but then also try to provide additional amenities that the residents want.”

The city’s budget, what runs the day-to-day operations of the city — drinkable water coming through the faucet, trash collection and disposal in a timely manner, law enforcement keeping the citizenry safe, plows clearing the streets of snow, and so on — comes for the most part through sales tax.

“We’re at a time in the city’s growth, we’re kind of at a tipping point, where there’s a lot of demand for the same levels of service, but of course, the city’s general fund revenue stays about the same every year,” City Planner Jayna Watson said.

Mayor Dana Boke added that the city tries to look forward and keep ahead of the city’s infrastructure needs while being fiscally responsible.

“Change requires a lot of adjustments,” she said.

Sales tax comes through people buying goods and services, and SEDC’s mission is to grow jobs in Spearfish by assisting with local expansions, helping local businesses grow and bringing in new companies to employ people. Walker described that a community is moving forward and trying to create more opportunities for its residents or it is being complacent and could decline.

“There’s communities across the Midwest that were so dependent on ag for so many years, and they were really the hot spots of what was going on, and then you drive through them now, and they’ve become ghost towns,” Walker said. “I think the thing that people need to remind themselves is that we can either move forward as a community and try to make Spearfish a better place to live and an opportunity for young families to raise their kids, or we can look back at the way things used to be done and fall victim to withering away as a vibrant community.”

Walker describes Spearfish as a unique community for having so many different industries represented, and his hope is that the city continues to see sustainable growth.

“We need to be mindful of keeping that quaint feel to the community,” he said. “ … so long as we can plan for our growth and do what’s in the community’s best interest — sustainable development, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the abilities of the future generations — I think so long as we always keep that in mind, that we’re always kind of looking toward the future and making sure that the decisions that we make now will provide us that same feel that Spearfish is today, I think we’ll be in good shape moving forward.”

When Walker considers a business or industry as a potential employer in the community, there are two primary factors: 1) do we have the labor force to support that industry? And 2) what is the environmental impact of that business or industry on Spearfish?

Nick Caton, a restaurant owner in Spearfish, sees the addition of new businesses to Spearfish as a positive thing, creating competition and the ability to share with the public a product that is in demand. Before moving to Spearfish 14 years ago, he lived in Bozeman, Mont., and saw the same kind of growth happen there, which he said raised the value of independent businesses. Though it may make it more difficult for new independents to get started, it’s a representation that a community is growing in a positive way, he said.

“People have always chosen to live here for its environment, but these days, more than ever, the hiking/biking/climbing/all natural, the accessibility, the inexpensive accessibility to mountain town/outdoor lifestyle, fishing, hunting, all that stuff – it’s all right here, and I think it’s being discovered more and more,” Caton added.

When he moved to Spearfish, Caton heard people say that the population would double in 10 years, which is what he’s heard other people say they’ve heard for the last 40 years — but it hasn’t happened yet. Since 1990, Spearfish’s population has grown by approximately 3 percent annually.

“My hope is that we don’t grow too fast,” Caton said. “The slow and steady wins the race, truly.”

The largest industries in Spearfish, based on employment, include hospitality, government, and healthcare services.

“From an economic development perspective, we need to make sure that the businesses which are currently here continue to thrive, while also trying to keep our eye on future opportunities which complement the community,” Walker said. These could include knowledge industries (telecommuters working from home), light manufacturing (supporting the timber industry, metal, specialty food and beverage manufacturing), and energy services (supporting oil and gas industries).

“Historically, the Spearfish economy has largely been dependent upon the growth and development (of) service-based industries,” he added.

“In reviewing the statistics, the city will grow,” City Administrator Joe Neeb said. “The goal of economic development is to help it grow in a way to better the community.”

As Spearfish grows, the city leaders try to balance the growth with Spearfish’s small town charm.

“I am very protective about how Spearfish looks and feels,” Mayor Dana Boke said. “We don’t want high-rises, we don’t want big billboards, we don’t want that —we want to remain quaint and protected in this valley … and we also want to feel like we’re part of a community, and not a city.”

See tomorrow’s Pioneer for the final installment of the series.

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