By: Patrick Anderson, The Argus Leader
Russell Halgerson and his wife wanted a place closer to their family that also fit with their vision for raising a family.
They wanted somewhere with a small-town feel but big enough to have things to do on nights and weekends.
Brookings was a perfect fit for the South Dakota State University graduates, who returned to the city of their alma mater seven years after Russell took an engineering job in Rochester, Minnesota.
“Since we started a small family Brookings, in my mind, has really invested in supporting small business and local companies,” Halgerson said.
Brookings has benefited from steadily population growth during the last decade, but economic development experts in the city are using a new tactic to draw even more families back to the town of nearly 24,000.
Officials for Brookings’ Economic Development Corporation created a website, appropriately called liveinbrookings.com, with resources for finding a job, buying a house and applying for child care or health care.
Organizers have a specific target in mind for their year-old digital marketing campaign: families that left Brookings when they graduated, and are at a point now in which they want to put down roots.
“It’s just reaching them at that right time,” said Stacy Aesoph, the group’s workforce development director.
Kirstin Girard and her family lived in Dallas, Texas, for about 10 years, but she and her husband never lost their taste for living in a small town. The high school sweethearts grew up in the same Minnesota farming community and lived in Brookings as they attended elementary education courses at Dakota State University.
They moved to Dallas to teach.
“We always knew we wanted to come home,” Girard said. “And you know, life just happens and all of a sudden it’s 10 years later.”
Much like the rest of South Dakota, Brookings needs workers. The city’s biggest workforce needs are in manufacturing, retail and construction, but there are also signs that the town will soon need manager-level job applicants as older Brookings residents retire, Aesoph said.
Halgerson’s wife Katie got a job at the Bel Brands facility in 2014 and the couple moved back Valentine’s Day of that year. Both have degrees from the university. Now, they are season ticket-holders for wrestling and football.
“Our plan, our intention: this is kind of where we’ll stay,” Halgerson said. “We really love it here.”