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Avera and REED Fund Announce Rural Housing Fund to Improve Workforce Development

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Jackie Hendry
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Lack of housing is one of the biggest challenges in workforce development of rural areas. On Tuesday, Avera Health and the Rural Electric Economic Development Fund announced a housing development partnership. The $10 million fund will give developers incentive to build homes in rural areas with Avera facilities.

The Rural Electric Economic Development (REED) Fund is operated by electric coops that provide financing throughout South Dakota. REED is committing $4 million along with Avera’s $2 million, with plans to grow the housing fund to $10 million.

Ken Schlimgen is the Board Chairman for the REED Fund. He says this money will provide low-interest financing as an incentive for developers.

“You won’t see it like a developer coming in and putting 20 houses in a small community," says Schlimgen. "What we’re looking at happening is having 20 houses go up in 20 communities, and starting there as a building block and keeping the ball rolling so we can continue to have affordable housing in all of our communities as they see they need it.”

Investors say it’s a win-win. Tom Boyko is the General Manager of East River Electric Power Cooperative. He says rural businesses depend on a growing workforce.

“To have that growth you need jobs, to have jobs you need people, to have the people you need housing. It all goes together. You know, we live in rural South Dakota. These are our neighbors, our friends, family. It helps everybody.”

And with 1,300 open positions across its footprint, Avera hopes the housing will attract employees at all levels. Avera Health President and CEO Bob Sutton explains plenty of those open positions are in rural areas of the state where housing options are limited. Not all of the openings are for physicians either. Sutton says many are for food service, housekeeping, and other employees.

“It’s important that people know these jobs are across our spectrum, and in Avera all those jobs are equally important," says Sutton. "We need to fill all of those positions in order to take care of all of our residents and our patients the way they deserve to be taken care of.”

Sutton says affordable housing was critical during his childhood. As one of seven children raised by a single mother, he says a program like this will make a difference for families just like his.