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“You Live Where?”

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.”

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6 Responses to “You Live Where?”

  1. Russell April 11, 2011 at 6:09 am #

    Great points Rick. I get the same, only likely more so, coming from West Virginia. 50% are certain that I mumbled western Virginia…

  2. Dick wagner April 11, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    You forgot to mention that SD has the most friendly asset protection laws in the country together with he smallest but most productive and effective C of C.

    Dick Wagner

  3. Eric J. April 11, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    When I was little I thought the US Civil War was between North and South Dakota. It took me a while to overcome the confusion around the idea that “the north won” and “we won”.

    It is true that for some of us leaving the state was a better financial move than staying would have been. Plus there’s the whole weather thing. 😉

  4. Joanne April 11, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    We once ordered zoysia grass plugs from a company which thought we were in the southern U.S. Lots of backbreaking work for grass which just couldn’t make it in northwestern South Dakota.

    We too have had a good life here and live the midwestern ethic.

  5. Jim April 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    Well Rick I wasn’t so lucky as to grow up in RC. I grew up in Dwd. where the teachers told you success was to not go to prison. My folks thought I should go on to higher education. Went to the U of SD for 4 years and left the state. 5 years later I had the opportunity to come back to RC at a greatly reduced salary but we came for the life. At 46 I hated my job. With no debts we decided to move on to other things in RC. We have raised 4 kids who all have been educated in SD and are living well in and around the RC area.

    I’m writing this from our condo in Arizona where we spend a fair amount of our winters.

    Life isn’t what your teachers tell you that is going to happen. Life is what you want to happen. Everybody has luck. It’s up to us as to whether we want it to be GOOD or BAD.

    Turn the furnace up–we’re anxious to get back.

    Enjoy your articles.

    Jim & Sharon

  6. R. Bryant April 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Amen…Brother Rick.
    Mary and I certainly miss SD. the hard work ethic, the humility that comes from a wide open prairie, and…well many things. but leaving has provided a wealth of experiences that SD just couldn’t.
    But I sympathize with you Rick…Mary and I have been introduced as the people from Fargo, them that live in “Dakota”, from Canada, certainly from ND, and even Rapid City, Minn.
    SD will always be home and we try hard to keep the secret from the rest of the world of a beautiful little Eden called Rapid City.