Why the half-cheer discount? Because Oldham is promoting its free lots program by portraying itself as a convenient bedroom community:
A variety of employment opportunities can be found within an easy commute from Oldham. There are businesses that have located or are expanding in the cities of Brookings, Madison, Sioux Falls, Arlington, Lake Preston, DeSmet and Howard [Roger Eide, City of Oldham, press release, 2008.10.23].
Regular readers know I'm all about our small towns making efforts to attract new residents and keep their local economies alive. Small towns have to build on what they have, and when it comes to jobs, Oldham doesn't have much to offer but proximity to jobs in other towns. Mayor Eide is being straight with prospective homebuyers about job options, and that's to be appreciated. But $4-per-gallon gasoline last summer showed us the limitations of an economic development model based on commuting. Even if experts assure us gas prices won't surge this year, oil and commuting are only going to get more expensive, not less.
Now we've probably got some chickens and eggs here: it's hard to bring new residents to town if you can't offer them jobs, but it's hard to create jobs if you don't have residents to fill them and places for those residents to reside.
If Oldham's neo-Homestead Act can attract new residents and make it possible for a working family or two to build a decent house that they couldn't otherwise afford in Madison or Brookings, then more power to 'em all. But in the long term, Oldham and other struggling small towns will want to be more than sleeping suburbs for bigger towns. They'll need to get creative and find ways to sustain their own local economies, with less dependence on cheap transportation.