With A Little Self Promotion, Sioux Falls Will Change the Headlines

Over the past two decades, one of the prevailing narratives of American society has focused on our renewed love affair with urban living. Millennials are credited with (or blamed for, depending on the tone) a rebirth of the country’s major cities from coast to coast.

The current COVID-19 exodus from the city notwithstanding, there is plenty of statistical and anecdotal evidence that our large coastal metros are only getting bigger and more crowded. The allure of working in finance, tech, and entertainment — or simply living in the vicinity of the opportunities those industries create  — has a solid grip on the imagination of twenty- and thirty-somethings willing to sacrifice personal space for a high-powered career and a bustling social life. And so, all those coastal cities with appealing initialisms — NYC, LA, SF, DC, SEA, MIA — have gained the talent and tax dollars necessary to prolong innovation, culture creation, and development within their city limits. 

With a handful of places taking up more figurative space in the collective consciousness than their physical footprints suggest, it’s important to consider which (or rather, whose) stories are lost among endless conversations about which coast is best. Rural areas and the suburbs certainly don’t get their due. But there are also countless mid-sized cities in Middle America, or “flyover country” to coast dwellers, that deserve their time in the spotlight for the incredible things that are happening there, seemingly in secret. 

Chances are that if you can’t tell one Dakota from the other, you have no idea that the City of Sioux Falls exists. And unless you go in person or do extensive digging online, you won’t understand why a medium-sized city in the heartland is so special. Still, what we found out about Sioux Falls — by visiting and asking the right questions throughout our months-long research process in 2019 — was nothing short of extraordinary.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota unintentionally timed its growth spurt to coincide with the renaissance of New York City, San Francisco, et al. Since the 1980s, Sioux Falls has doubled in size to become a full-fledged metro home to two hundred thousand people, smack dab in the middle of the country. For many people in the surrounding areas, Sioux Falls is the “big city,” the largest they’ve ever seen or will see. It’s got a class of young professionals working in the usual professions (finance, healthcare, and tech), every modern amenity imaginable (microbrew with a view, anyone?), and real natural beauty at its core (make way for the Falls, Central Park). But the key to Sioux Falls, what really sets it apart, is the routine excellence of everyone and everything there.

You know how super-gifted athletes make home runs, slam dunks, and otherworldly tricks look…mundane? Sioux Falls does a version of that: with the quality of healthcare that it offers to everyone within a hundred miles; with the ingenuity of hi-tech companies that influence life on the ground by using satellites and balloons somewhere in the stratosphere; with the beauty of artistic expressions out in the open for pure, unobstructed enjoyment. It is almost unfair that the people who make this stuff happen are also generous, community-minded, upstanding folks across every socio-economic bracket. In a city of lifelong residents, transplants, and refugees, it feels like everyone in Sioux Falls has a real shot at the American dream, something that can’t be said for every giant metro.

Of course, there’s a downside to having such distinction: when you’re a city that great, all the time, you start thinking that it’s simply normal. While residents showed widespread enthusiasm for their home in our advocacy measurements, they were not eager to brag about themselves at length. Sioux Falls proved to be humble to a fault, eschewing what the kids call “hype” and “clout” in favor of quietly doing a bit of good in the world, business as usual. Their new tagline sums up this phenomenon, though in a way that’s less restrained and more, dare we say, deservedly boastful. Where Extra Is Ordinary acknowledges the fact that Sioux Falls will never be a New York or LA — its people work too hard and think so far ahead that they’re able to meet and exceed every goal, challenge, and benchmark they face. 

So maybe now we can have a different conversation, not about whose traffic is worse but about which cities are really worth talking about.