OCT. 5, 2017 - VOL. 54 No. 1

Chair's Column
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Building Sioux Falls
Steve Van Buskirk takes over as volunteer leader of the Chamber

By Jennie Doyen
the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce

Steve Van Buskirk has been helping to build the Sioux Falls area since his childhood. His parents, Myron and Joan, founded Van Buskirk Companies in 1971 and soon began building houses in Brandon, which at the time was still an unincorporated community. As a young boy, Van Buskirk earned spending money by cleaning up after work crews in the new homes being constructed in the Kingswood neighborhood on what was then the western edge of town.

Sioux Falls has changed drastically since the 1970s, growth that Van Buskirk attributes in part to the Chamber of Commerce. "The Chamber is a building block and a foundational piece of our community's success," he said. The Chamber is so ingrained in the community that many people may not realize all the areas that the organization touches. "People seem to understand that the Chamber is a leader, but they may not fully grasp how or why," stated Van Buskirk. "It is because they are involved in all these different programs, year after year, and they bring people together to help move Sioux Falls forward, to build our economic base and our quality of life."

As but one example, Van Buskirk points to the 2015 Legislative Session when a change to the way the bank franchise tax was calculated began to emerge in Pierre. This change targeted Citi due to their unique banking operation in the State of South Dakota. The financial impact of the proposal was significant and would have jeopardized keeping Citi's charter in-state (which would also jeopardize unclaimed property revenues for state government). Chamber leadership took an active role in the conversations and invited the Governor and his key staff to Sioux Falls to meet with leaders of our area financial institutions. "People may not realize that Chamber leadership was at the table for those conversations between bank officials and the governor," Van Buskirk said. "Whenever big issues arise, people look to the Chamber." That Friday afternoon meeting was instrumental in stopping the proposed change and eliminating the risk of losing Citi's charter to another state. This example of the Chamber's role in advocating for businesses is replicated over many other public policy issues in our state.

On Oct. 1, Van Buskirk began a 12-month term as Chair of the Chamber's Board of Directors. Workforce development continues to be challenge in the region, and Van Buskirk expects the Chamber to maintain its focus in the coming year on ways to improve recruitment and retention efforts to strengthen our workforce.

The Sioux Falls region is increasingly diverse. More than 5,200 people moved to Sioux Falls last year, and as our community grows, so does its diversity. Creating a community that celebrates diversity is a first step toward building an inclusive workforce culture. If Sioux Falls is intentional about inclusivity, it can continue to grow.

Achieving a culture of inclusion requires the long-term vision and commitment of business and community leaders, said Van Buskirk. He calls inclusivity "Workforce 101" and says the first step is to take the time to listen to what people need. "If there are barriers to engaging in the workforce that we can knock down for people, then let's do that."

The Forward Sioux Falls 2021 plan identifies short-, mid- and long-term initiatives to address workforce challenges. These include external marketing, career-based training and education opportunities and the development of Sioux Falls Thrive—a cradle-to-career coalition. "We are working on all fronts," said Van Buskirk. "It won't be any big glamorous headlines, it's just a lot of hard work year after year. We'll just keep doing the right things to make our community better."

After graduating Lincoln High School, Van Buskirk left the state to attend the University of Minnesota. He returned to Sioux Falls in 1992 to join his father in the family business and since then has filled a number of roles in the company, from construction manager to property manager, then residential and commercial development. Today he is the Director of Land Development, turning cornfields and vacant lots into finished projects. The role requires him to work with multiple stakeholders to keep projects moving forward. City planning and engineering officials, business owners and customers are a few of the parties that have influence over how a particular development comes to fruition. Van Buskirk puts it this way, "My job is to find the gaps. I work to coordinate all the parties so that we stay moving toward the end goal."

The ability to collaborate to achieve a goal is a defining characteristic of the Sioux Falls business community, according to Van Buskirk, and something he believes has long been the key to the city's strong growth. "Sioux Falls is collaborative. Our businesses might compete fiercely, but when needed, we all come together to make things happen. That's how our community was built."

Another of Van Buskirk's goals in the coming year is to help member businesses understand the value they receive by investing in an organization that is working for the betterment of the community as a whole. He encourages people to think long-term—a Chamber priority from years ago may be benefitting your business today.

"Someone is out there every day, year after year, working to make our business community better. That work results in population growth, which allows us to expand our businesses organically because there are just more people to serve," he said.

The advocacy work the Chamber does is another benefit that members may not immediately appreciate. The Chamber tracks activity at a city, county, state and national level and keeps members informed of issues and policies that have the potential to impact their business. Van Buskirk said his business, like many others in our community, doesn't have the time or resources to do that work. Instead they contribute to a larger organization, the Chamber, that can actively look out for the best interest of business and the community.

Van Buskirk shared a piece of advice he received from his father: "When you decide you need a membership organization to help you get past a hurdle in your business, it will probably be too late. You need to support the organization now, so that they can support your business when you really need it."

Van Buskirk will share more about his vision for the coming year during the Chamber's 111th Annual Meeting, which will be held Oct. 24 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. The event is a chance to celebrate the business community and opportunities for moving the Sioux Falls area forward. The keynote speaker is Elizabeth Gore, Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Dell Technologies. Gore will discuss how businesses of all sizes can unlock hidden innovators within their organization.

As he begins his year in the Chamber's top volunteer leadership position, Van Buskirk is keeping his eye on building for the future. "I feel privileged to do my little piece to keep this community moving forward. It has required a lot of people over the course of a lot of years to accomplish what we have," he said. "This is how we've been successful in the past, and it will continue to keep us strong in the future."

Steve Van Buskirk

Steve Van Buskirk

2017-18 Chair of the Board
Sioux Falls Area
Chamber of Commerce

Director of Land Development,
Van Buskirk Companies

Born in Dubuque, Iowa;
raised in Sioux Falls

Graduated from Lincoln High School, earned a Bachelor of Business Administration and later an MBA from the University of Minnesota

Wife, Shannon, and two sons Jacob (14) and Simon (12)

• Leadership Sioux Falls class 7
• Forward Sioux Falls campaigner

• Home Builders Association - past president of the Sioux Empire chapter, also served as a director at the State and National levels
• Boy Scouts of America-Sioux Council, co-chaired the Friends of Scouting Committee.

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