Since North Dakota is in North America, then South Dakota ought to be in South America. At least that seemed logical to one of my friends, back in kindergarten when she was just beginning to learn there was such a thing as geography.
Maybe she wasn’t the only one to use that logic. When I travel, I’ve become accustomed to being the only person from “Sout de Cota.” From comments I hear, a lot of people seem to regard it as a third world country.
I’m a second generation South Dakotan, born and raised in Rapid City. While growing up I heard over and over from friends, teachers, and the local press that to make anything of my life I would someday need to go elsewhere. “To get a good education, to earn a good living, to ascend to the top of your field, you’ll have to leave,” they said.
This assumption, I now realize, was a money script: “You can’t make a good living in a small, rural state.”
Fortunately for me, that particular money belief was not one my parents shared. They seemed to think they were doing just fine in South Dakota. So I chose not to leave.
Like a lot of South Dakotans, I did drop out of college. Like a lot of South Dakotans, I struggled for years to make ends meet and make my mortgage payments.
Eventually, however, I went back to college. I obtained a master’s degree in personal financial planning. I became the first Certified Financial Planner® in South Dakota. Eventually, I was able to earn an income equal to that of any of my peers nationwide. My South Dakota values helped me to spend far less than I earned and save enough to become financially independent at age 50.
More recently I’ve become known nationwide as a pioneer and thought leader in my field. I’m used to the exclamation, “Your work is so cutting edge, and you live where?”
I tell them, “I live in South Dakota: 2,000 miles west of New York City, 1,500 miles east of San Francisco, 1,200 miles north of Dallas, and directly south of North Dakota.”
And they laugh.
Then I tell them in South Dakota we have clean air, fast commutes, low crime, and friendly, hard-working people. I tell them in South Dakota we don’t run budget deficits, we have no income tax, no corporate tax, and no inheritance tax. I tell them in South Dakota we have airports, indoor plumbing, and even the occasional sushi bar.
We also have high-speed Internet access. One of the things that makes it possible for me to work with clients all over the country is technology. With audio and video conferencing, secure file-sharing capabilities, and of course my trusty Blackberry, staying current in my profession and communicating with clients have never been easier.
Can anyone make a good living in South Dakota? Obviously, that depends to some extent on their career choices. We don’t offer the same opportunities as larger industrial areas in technical, scientific, and engineering careers. Our salaries for teachers, to cite only one example, are among the lowest in the nation—though, as a former member of the state Investment Council, I have to point out that our state retirement system is one of the best in the nation.
In many fields, however, it is indeed possible to prosper in South Dakota. We have many creative entrepreneurs, hard-working small business owners, and dedicated employees who thrive here. Their belief, like mine, is: “South Dakota can be a good place to make a living and a great place to live.”