Blaine Crissman left a private equity career in Chicago after nearly 20 years to return to the state where he was born and do something he’s passionate about: growing businesses in South Dakota.
Along with other investors, his Badlands Capital firm bought Design Tanks — a Sioux Falls-based manufacturer of fiberglass storage tanks — in 2013. With a commercial loan from Wells Fargo, the company expanded so it could serve even more agriculture, chemical, energy, food and beverage, and wastewater customers.
Now Crissman is starting South Dakota Equity Partners to fuel early-stage companies originating from the state’s university system, as well as other businesses in South Dakota.
Recent USA Today/Wells Fargo research lends credence to the reasoning behind Crissman’s business decision: Seven years after the end of the Great Recession, the research found Americans think economic conditions are better in their communities than in the U.S. overall, and South Dakotans are the most bullish on the present and future.
Only 28 percent of Americans think the U.S. economy is strong, but 58 percent of South Dakotans think their local economy is — the highest percentage reported in the survey. That’s also 15 percentage points higher than respondents rate their local economies in Indianapolis, Indiana, and 20 percentage points higher than those in Reno, Nevada, the other areas included in the survey.
“I came back and started my new business here because I believe that the economic environment is one of the best in the country, and this latest USA Today/Wells Fargo research shows that,” Crissman says. “The key reason is our people. At Design Tanks and the companies we own, we don’t view employees as expenses, but as assets. If we help people become more productive and invest in them, then everyone benefits and we’ll be more successful.
“Other business people here who I know feel the same way. South Dakotans see themselves and their neighbors as hardworking and efficient people, and with that kind of environment you’re going to be successful.”
Collaborative, can-do spirit drives opportunity
The survey results come from an online Ipsos poll for Wells Fargo and USA Today taken Feb. 4–11 of 2,511 adults age 18 and older.
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed in South Dakota (72 percent) agree that there are plenty of opportunities for economic development within the state.
This sentiment is especially true among those who rate current conditions in their communities as good (79 percent), and those who expect improvements in economic conditions at both the national (80 percent) and local (77 percent) levels. Nearly half (49 percent) of all South Dakotans further agree that compared to other states nearby, young adults have good job prospects in the state.
Agriculture was seen as particularly important. Ninety-one percent of those surveyed in South Dakota agree that the overall success of the sector (which includes ranching and farming) affects the economic health of their local communities.
Finally, South Dakotans are significantly more likely to describe their current financial situation as being very good or good versus poor than other survey respondents and also are more optimistic about their future prospects.
“South Dakota is by nature a pretty optimistic state.”
Like Crissman, Dan Murphy, Wells Fargo’s regional president for North Dakota, South Dakota, and western Minnesota, isn’t surprised by the research: “South Dakota is by nature a pretty optimistic state,” Murphy says. “It’s a large state by geography but a small state in population, and the bread and butter of South Dakota is agriculture. Many residents grew up on family farms or ranches, and they learned how to work cooperatively, so when they get in businesses off the farm or start businesses, they take those qualities with them.
“We see those same values in the 2,650 team members we have working for us in Sioux Falls and among the 700 who work outside the city in our 47 banking stores across the state. Their community-mindedness and care for their neighbors show up in volunteerism and service on nonprofit boards.”