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Friday, May 21, 2010

LAIC Celebrates Past, Fails to Build Future

The Lake Area Improvement Corporation publishes warm and fuzzy praise of Jerry Prostrollo. Yes, yes, he saved DSU, recruited Gehl, built Prairie Village, brought back the railroad... we should just rename the town Prostrolloville.

But that was yesterday. What's happening today in Madison?

A new group now is working on economic development and Prostrollo is satisfied with the direction economic development is moving in Madison [LAIC puff piece, May 2010].

The minor note: "A new group"? Really? You mean someone has replaced the old rich guys who gather 'round the traveling card table and make all the rules for Madison? The "new group" must not be the LAIC, since the LAIC wouldn't be so dense as to publish its own rah-rah propaganda and not name itself, would it? Good grief: can the LAIC never just say things directly?

The major note: "satisfied with the direction economic development is moving in Madison"—really? Let's see...
  1. Rapid Air, also mentioned as one of Prostrollo's successes, announced the closing of its Madison plant last fall.
  2. Another Prostrollo "success," the Mafia-run Guerdons, disappeared 30 years ago.
  3. We closed a competitive video store this winter and replaced it with another liquor store.
  4. The LAIC cancelled its much needed Main Street and More redevelopment program.
  5. The Forward Madison initiative dreamed of creating 400 new jobs but has actually overseen the loss of 500 jobs.
  6. The LAIC's homebuilding project has stalled, with, as far as I know, only one house occupied in the Silver Creek tax increment finance district the LAIC facilitated with its money.
That's an awful lot of either no direction or backward direction... and we're satisfied? Satisfied?!?!

It's no wonder the LAIC wants to write puff pieces about our wonderful people and our wonderful past. If I were an economic development corporation failing to produce lasting results for the future, I'd want to publish happy distractions as well.


  1. Yesterday at Menards (while saving 30 to 50 percent) the sales rep said he worked at Custom Touch for 8 years. A bad back sent him looking for work but he was unhappy with jobs slightly over minimum wage, so he's driving his Honda Civic to Sioux Falls because we can't employ our own people. I just lost a tenant to Sioux Falls because of no local work.

  2. Hasn't this always been Madison's dilemma? The handful of Madison business owners petrified of competition keeping businesses out and those elected into civic office wipe their asses? My father did it as a civic politician in Madison for nearly a decade. I seem to recall the excuse for Madison's lack of economic development was because the interstate didn't touch the city. Yes...that's it! :)

    I would LOVE to sit in on a month's worth of strategic planning meetings. Hell, I'll even do a few pro-bono. There are lots of creative ways in which to change the economic course. In the business world, it's called 'founders syndrome'. Madison has needed to clean house for decades.

  3. LAIC, or as what it was known back then, Madison Development Corp, was never as productive or progressive as when it was all volunteers, business operators who spent their own money and invested countless hours of time to fly or drive to attract new companies. They did it because it was paramount to our survival as a growing community, especially after John Morrell closed in Madison.

    The early boards did so without a hired director, whose failures or lack of job production are considered "acceptable" today. An economic development director must be held to goals and if they don't reach their goals send them to another city.

    Madison has seen a strong decline in population the past ten years and an even more dramatic loss of families in the past two years with the loss of key industries. Some of that population decrease will be masked by the new Census figures which also count 1500 full-time RV'ers who claim Madison as their home, but don't live here or spend money here or own a home or pay taxes other than sales tax on their vehicles. Let's not be lulled into complacency by the new Census figures. While we've potentially lost 500 jobs, that equates into over 1000 people who have left Madison recently. If it ain't workin', the fix should be obvious.

  4. An Economic Development Director can only be effective if the board LISTENS and quorum is reached on a strategic plan. The key is here is the board that hires that director needs to think outside the box. I found when living in Madison, there were a handful of folks holding the power and progressive change in the city never happened.

  5. Michael Black5/21/2010 11:41 AM

    Jerry Prostrollo has been out in front trying to build up Madison. Prostrollo Auto Mall is a leading employer. I have many friends that work there. I've bought several cars there. Jerry Prostrollo helped make Madison what it is today. Not every risk is a home run. Most businesses fail. At least Jerry Prostrollo was out there trying.

  6. Let's not forget that the reason the interstate isn't running through here is that the Madison business community of that day TURNED IT DOWN. Why? They were scared people would use it to run down to Sioux Falls to shop.

  7. There are alot of positives here in Madison too, let's not overlook that for the sake of it's better elsewhere, which it's really not folks.

    We should also remind ourselves of the recent world-wide economic setbacks, which have devasted many regional economies, and for the most part, we have not seen the scale and scope of those losses here, we're fortunate for that.

    I also realize that volunteering is essential to build a vibrant community, if you want to change the world, volunteer, there are alot of opportunities for that here, and often that sparks the positive economic growth we all want.

    So let's not pile on LAIC for our woes, even if it's a popular target for some. Instead, let's look at what we've done ourselves, and for our community recently, that is where the light should shine.

    Maybe if we work from the bottom up, then that will have the best result for everyone, and lets all work together to make it happen.

    Lets start fresh too, forget about history, who said what, I've had enough of the past all around. We live for the day, and look for tommorrow, so face forward, head up high folks, we can make this work yet!

  8. I couldn't have said it better, Chris.

  9. Yes, it's fortunate Madison hasn't suffered more as some communities have. In part lets thank our conservative bankers but realize to a fair extent we are a retirement community. Regarding employment however, the real lifeblood of a community, even now opportunities are better elsewhere. Another tenant, middle aged, finished school and packed up for greener pastures. Why can't we keep some of our college grads? Although she planned on staying there wasn't enough of anything to keep her here.

    Since we pay the LAIC for their efforts we must have reasonable expectations and look at ourselves in a realistic way. Downtown used to be a vibrant place to shop, now we are dependent on Brookings and Sioux Falls for that (as well as employment to just what extent?). Maybe we should simply accept the trend. It would be so much easier than actually facing the problem, which clearly a lot of people aren't ready to do. Maybe it's not reversible. It's been going on for what, 20 years at least. With a nod from Detroit, fire up the bulldozers and knock a few buildings down. The old Wenks buildings should have been gone years ago anyway. As far as the rose colored glasses some like to wear, when driving up and down main street, please hand me a pair.

  10. Bring in Walmart!!! I know lots of people don't like this, but it creates jobs, brings in shoppers who spend money in other places (gas and food), or keeps our own shoppers in town. It also spurs other development. Heck, I couldn't even find a zipper in town a few weeks ago!

  11. Michael, I do not question that JP has been trying. I question how anyone can claim to be "satisfied with the direction economic development is moving in Madison." Rod makes excellent points about how the LAIC fails to perform better than the volunteer group of old. Hans rightly points to the secretive, exclusive nature of how the elites rule the city, which guarantees lots of people don't feel like stakeholders and don't have the chance to contribute their talent and energy.

    Chris: We have offered to volunteer. The LAIC never returns our calls. Does the funding the Arts COuncil receives from LAIC come with stipulations requiring you to run interference for them in the press? The LAIC is getting a whole lot of our money; we have every right to pile on them when they fail to perform. And "forget about history"? The LAIC was the one putting out the warm fuzzy yesteryear piuece about JP. I'm the one asking about what the LAIC is achieving right now and what foundation it is building for future success. And the general answer from most people in the community (even though so many of them are absurdly afraid to say it publicly) is that the LAIC isn't getting the job done. "We can make this work yet!" -- not if the LAIC refuses to let everyone participate and keeps everything it does secret.

    Kristen: ditto on the financial interest question. The only two positive comments about the LAIC here come from individuals whose organizations or relatives (Kristen's dad Randy) have received direct financial support from the LAIC. Show me someone with no financial interest who will say, "Yes, the LAIC is a success."

    John echoes my question: where's the Main Street Program? Overall, where's the vision?

  12. Madison is probably in the difficult position of not being big enough to attract a superstore and not being close enough to Sioux Falls to fully benefit from being a bedroom community so there is no simple vision. Maybe this is as good as it gets (I don't want to say), but if there is a viable vision, there's no leadership in place right now articulating it and getting it done. Instead, major incentives seem only to go to those with the connections, and yeah, they think everything is wonderful. If Madison had given my father more than 300 grand in tax incentives I would probably be a Madison cheerleader too.

  13. Chris and Kristen, This is a little off-topic, but you should contact Bulldog Media about getting an Arts & Culture page up on the MadisonSD website!


  14. Chris Francis (eastofegan)5/22/2010 12:27 PM

    Yes, I think we all want to make Madison better, we all are vested in some respect to that idea. We need to make use of the tools available to us, like LAIC or the Chamber, or City Goverment, and challenge them to work with us towards these mutual goals. I think we can all agree that we need to work better together, I'm willing to try!

    I believe we have a great opportunity to make incredible things happen, especially when volunteers step forward, cool things happen. Look at Shelterfest for instance, or Prairie Village even!

    I also wanted to clarify, the arts council has not recieved direct financial support from the LAIC, our complete supporters list from this past year is available on our website for review. Thanks!

    Yes Erin, I'd love to see some links on madisonsd, and amazing Madison too, for all of these great volunteer groups within our community. On facebook, there is a group called the Madison Volunteer Network, check them out for more on these groups, and get active!


  15. Rah rah rah... urging others to get active does not negate the original argument that we should not be satisfied with the current direction of economic development. The original argument supports the call for others to take action... but we must also acknowledge that the LAIC has not taken the right actions.

  16. Ah, yes, the support to which I referred apparently comes directly from MadisonSD.com, not the LAIC. Hard to tell the difference, sometimes.

  17. I was at first (years ago now) surprised at how few people speak up on local issues (where are those Teabaggers when you need them), but in small towns we are well trained to know our place and not bite the hands that feed us. There are some that really seem to get off on being a big fish in our small pond and a few that are totally open to feedback (we appreciate those). In private however, the good citizens of Madison will give you an earful.

  18. It would help if some of the jobs that came in paid more than in the $8 an hour range. Let's face facts: $8 an hour = 240/week gross, $207 net. This is $832 a month in cash. An apartment in Madison costs at least $300; say another $150 for utilities (heat/water/lights/etc.); that leaves not quite $400 a month for food, clothing, gasoline, telephone, etc. Certainly two people couldn’t live on that; nor could a family of four. Even with both parents working, they're going to be treading water to just break even. Oh, and may I mention that $8 an hour jobs do not come with health insurance?

  19. Chris Francis' thoughts are exactly what we should all be doing, but reality is something other than that, unfortunately. I love the phrase, "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" because only when people are faced with challenges do they step up, become innovative and meet the challenge or fix the problem. Call center employees in Sioux Falls are earning $28,000 to $38,000 and more per year. Insurance, credit card, claims services and many other potential companies are looking for hard working people who can speak clearly. We just need one or two of them to set up shop in Madison.

  20. ...exactly what we should all be doing...

    Rod, I'm intrigued. Are you suggesting that we should all get on the phone and start making individual calls to businesses we'd like to recruit to Madison? Are you saying we should invite them to visit, tell them to skip the LAIC, and just let us show them around the city ourselves? I'm game—I rather like what you said earlier about how economic development used to be an all-volunteer effort, and if we could create a volunteer effort that would welcome all community participants, that might be fun (and effective!). But can we mount such a volunteer effort when we also have the LAIC draining funds out of the city and county budgets and out of the community with its capital campaigns?

  21. Chris Francis (eastofegan)5/22/2010 8:51 PM

    I'm a big believer in making things happen, big or small, through the efforts of dedicated and passionate individuals, working together behind a common vision, or goal in some instances.

    I'm more personally drawn towards the smaller projects, and even smaller budgets, I often find the smaller the budget, the more grass roots, the more honest and truthful a project feels. Community is often built on pennies, not the millions of economic plans and grants

    So maybe that's a direction for this ongoing dialogue. What can you do for your community, what can you do to make it better, stronger, safer, more rewarding and beyond that, when can you start?

    There are a number of volunteer based organizations within our community, and many outside, so share your passions, work together, and we'll all have someting amazing to share in, and be a part of.

    The biggest need often is only time, a little heart, and a burning desire to make things better, for everyone! Volunteering for any cause, working on the ground level, boot-strap style, I always dig that. It's fun to see something grow, and be part of it, that alone is enough.

  22. Again, same question to Chris: what are we supposed to do at thhe volunteer level to recruit businesses and create jobs? Are you saying we should form a volunteer organization to do the job the LAIC is failing to do? What steps do we take to do that? Or do we just start calling call center owners, Wal-Mart, and Hy-Vee?

  23. Shouldn't the emphasis be on creating local businesses rather than bringing businesses in from outside? What is the point of recruiting just another chain store in to leach away dollars from Madison to their headquarters in exchange for the salaries of the employees it hires? The equation is much better for industrial production but there isn't much Madison has to offer those and little leverage to keep them if they want to leave again later.
    It might be effective to try to create a short term major attraction to pull in lots of people for several days. Expanding crazy days by including it with other events like Prairie Village and the Prarie Rep Theater and maybe develop a few additional attractions like a convention. Just do them at the same time and actually spend money on advertising instead of gimmickry.
    The best thing volunteers might be able to do would be investigative work. Find out what all the obstacles are for small business owner success in town. How hard is it to start up? What is the biggest hurdles, Financing? Regulation? Taxes? Data Collection? Knowledge? 'Incumbent' Business owners? With the plethora of things NOT available in Madison the problem is not the lack of entrepreneurial possibilities.
    A specialty store for art supplies is not going to employ scads of people, but it would employ a few and would improve the landscape. Every small improvement in the landscape makes the big changes that much more possible.

  24. We really need to host a community development summit in Madison. An opportunity to bring all these organizations and citizens together to brainstorm where Madison is right now, the direction we'd like it to go, and what we need for business and jobs to keep us viable. Once you know what the challenges are for the entire community, laying out a plan and executing it is much more focused and will have a greater chance of success. Shotgunning and hoping we hit something won't work. We, as a community, need to target specific needs, primary and secondary jobs, retail growth, service growth, infrastructure, housing...It all has to be part of one vision for Madison. LAIC would be the natural choice to host a community development summit, but it might also be a combination of organizations with a clear leader to guide it. We're never going to get there if we don't know where we're going.

  25. Roger: Agreed! An economic development strategy that focuses on real economic gardening, encouraging local entrepreneurs to take the plunge, offers real hope for Madison. The difference between gambling on recruiting some big outside employer and energizing local businesses is like the difference between going to Vegas and going to the grocery store. Instead of throwing the $2M+ Forward Madison money away on its apparently unsuccessful marketing campaigns or secret recruiting projects, we could invest that money in renovating Main Street and seeding dozens of local startups. I wonder: how far would $20K as a matching grant go in helping a new business get going? $20K, out of $2M... that's 100 local small business grants we could offer. Someone smarter than I, please run the ROI calculation...

    Rod: a community-wide summit. You mean where everyone could speak? Where all ideas could be heard? Where we wouldn't just hear the rah-rah speeches of the LAIC annual meetings but would actually identify problems, brainstorm solutions, and vigorously analyze, debate, and maybe even vote on courses of action? I'm in! Are you hosting, or am I? And how do we get the LAIC and every other stakeholder on board?

    (Of course, we've been holding a model of that community development summit right here in the comment section, haven't we? ;-) )

  26. Chris Francis (eastofegan)5/23/2010 9:07 AM

    Here's an idea.

    For around 1K, we changed the face of our venue, The BrickHouse Community Arts Center, in downtown Madison. It's incredible what you can do with some lighting, paint, and graphics, I think it looks great, and makes Madison seem even more vibrant. Drive by, look us up on the web, what do you think?

    Let's create some 1K sigage, fix-up, grants for local business owners, even a little more would be great too, if you're a local business owner, you qualify, just have to show that the money was used, and these improvements were completed. Maybe a volunteer board could oversee the whole process.

    LAIC would be a natural partner for that, so let's ask them, are you on board? Is the community on board? I think it would be great, kind of grass-roots based too!

    We don't need millions to change the world, just a little awareness, support, and tlc.

  27. I am curious what both Madison residents and former Madison residents have to say. What they like about Madison now, what they want to see changed, what's changed in positive and negative ways, what would lure them back, etc. I just started to use my Facebook page and was amazed at how many friends some people have, many of which have strong connections to Madison. I'm wondering if Facebook could be used gather that kind of info with a question if they want to share their thoughts on Madison with a link below to a web page to gather their thoughts. Then ask them to repost the link on their home page so their friends see it. There's a lot of good ideas out there.

  28. Chris Francis (eastofegan)5/23/2010 3:11 PM

    I just started a discussion on our facebook page about all of these thoughts, look for Madison Area Arts Council, check it out, become a fan too, feel free to add, let's make a postive go at it too!

  29. Hang on, Chris: I tought economic development was outside the purview of the Arts Council. That said, if the LAIC won't do it, someone must. I've been doing it for five years; maybe they'll listen to someone else.

    John: another excellent idea. Any community development summit should definitely include the perspective of former residents/ex-pats who can tell us why they left and what they've learned in their new commmunities.

    On renovating downtown: that's among the projects we're hoping for. That's exactly the project the LAIC abandoned after trumpeting a new initiative in 2008.

  30. The arts council has a responsibilty to maintain and promote community dialogue, especially when that dialogue is centered on making Madison better, or at least thinking outside of the box.

    Fostering the arts, culture, and a stronger, better, more successful community, I think that's a natural role for us, we've been advocates of our community for almost 50 yrs, and will continue to do so. I believe every other organization shares that same outlook, and yes, we all should be much more vocal, and visable too.

    We've invested into the downtown corridor this past year, as seen with The BrickHouse Community Arts Center. We love the Madison area, and beyond, and we'll continue to be vocal advocates and supporters, afterall, it's just what we do, and should do at that.

    We also continue to remain committed to providing rewarding and fulfilling programming, such as our Chautauqua Series and White Night efforts, for the whole of our community. Like everything else we do, our programming is free and open for everyone, so how's that for opportunities!

    We're making incredible things happen here, and working with our community, so join us, find your volunteer spirit, because we work better together!

    Volunteers can change the world, or at least our own backyard, so let's give it a go, and make it happen!

  31. Thank you, Chris, for again turning a discussion of one issue into another promotional spot for the Madison Area Arts Council. Yes, we are all aware that MAAC has been doing good work for the community for over 50 years. The point here is that the LAIC has not been doing successful or open work. yes, the MAAC is a model for how the LAIC should operate. So how do we change the LAIC? How do we reclaim economic development as something everyone can participate in? How do we get the resources currently squandered by the LAIC back into our hands?

  32. At this point, Madison would need to do something pretty dramatic to turn the tide. Sorry folks, I don't see that happening. Madison's biggest hurdles: location, lack of community, and civic leaders.

    Want change? Make the area inviting to artists, gay people, loosen marijuana laws with a focus on organic sustainable farming in the area and you'll see a renaissance. There is no area in eastern South Dakota like that, or at least the last time I was there a couple years ago.

    Small towns like Mendocino, CA have done just that and have become destination points with people wanting to move in as have countless other small communities.

    Artists and gays are key in every renewal. I've seen it time and time again for decades in many different cities and areas throughout the nation.

    Another issue: The last two times I've been back in South Dakota, the police saw that I was driving a rental car from FSD, pulled me over, saw my San Francisco drivers license and held me for 20 minutes one year and 35 minutes the other running every check known to man. Not so inviting... Any community that is being protected and served by it's police force rather than policed, will always flourish.


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