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#1 Reason People Consider Leaving South Dakota? Survey Says It's Politics

SDPB / Joshua Haiar


The Number #1 Reason People Consider Leaving South Dakota? The Politics 

South Dakota’s population has gone up 9% over the last decade according to the 2020 US census. There are many reasons people move here-- no state taxes, low cost of living, recreation and politics.? 

But people are also moving away. A recent SDPB survey asked more than a thousand people why they might leave and the top reason was politics.  

South Dakota Public Broadcasting worked with the Chiesman Center to conduct the studyThe Corporation for Public Broadcasting provided funding. 

South Dakota is overwhelmingly conservative, but not everyone leans right.  

Cody Ingle is the Vice President of Sioux Falls Pride, an LGBTQ nonprofit. He’s originally from Indiana and moved here seven years ago.?For the most part, Ingle likes living in Sioux Falls. But he says it can be exhausting.  

“The legislature is constantly, consistently attacking our community. These ridiculous things that marginalize us even further, it just makes it really hard to want to stay in this state,” he said. “No matter how much work you're doing or how much time you're investing into organizations that are trying to create change to, every single year, have the same exact situation occur, at some point it just becomes tiresome.”? 

But he’s not leaving South Dakota just yet.

“Because if everybody leaves, it's just going to stay stagnant. People are just going to continue on with their antiquated beliefs,” he said.   

  But not everybody wants to bring change to South Dakota. Some people just want out.? 

Jeff Kleeman was born in Vermillion. He and his family left last May. 

“South Dakota is so behind on the times with everything. That was one of the main reasons we left,” he said. “A lot of people are repressed and treated differently if they're not your traditional white person.  

Kleeman added some South Dakotans deal differently with people who are transgender, gay, lesbian, or people of color.   

“They're all not treated as equal as white. And that was the reason we moved because I want my kids to grow up in an environment where they're welcoming of all people. And that's not South Dakota, unless you share their similar views,” he said. 

Kleeman actually left twice. The first time, he couldn’t find a job after graduating from the University of South Dakota.? 

“The college experience is great, especially in Vermillion, but then you know, when you get your bachelor's and you graduate, you're one of many. And you’re not going to find a job,” he said.  

Kleeman graduated in 2008 during the Great Recession, but he said a lack of employment opportunities made it hard to stay. 

“And a lot of the older people will be like, pay your dues, and go work,” he said. “But, I mean, you have a lot of student loan debt, and you're trying to find a home and start a family. It's difficult.” 

He and his family now live in Lincoln, Nebraska. He has a job he loves, and his family is happy. He says while Nebraska leans conservative, Lincoln is more progressive and his family is not moving back.? 

“I gave it a shot the second time. I just never want to go back there except to visit,” he said.  

Kleeman’s experience is not unique. Many people leave the state after graduating. A 2019 study from a Congressional committeefound that South Dakota loses highly educated citizens at a higher rate than almost any other state.?   

  Paul Beran knows this all too well. He’s the former executive director of the Board of Regents and his goal was to attract, and keep, college graduates.?

“The problem that South Dakota has is it's a very insular state,” he said. “So, while you want people to stay there, they also need to have growth from the outside. It's not necessarily a particularly engaging place to be?if you are not from South Dakota.” 

After politics, employment is the second most common survey response to why someone might leave. And while some actively look for job out of state, not everyone wants to. But, as Beran points out, there just aren’t as many options.  

“I think it's difficult to recruit people to a state that has really two centers of commerce and enterprise, essentially. You know, East River and West River,” he said. “On the east side, I mean there's only one big city. On the west side, there's tourism. And, frankly, there's just not a lot in between other than agriculture.” 

Beran isn’t from South Dakota and he no longer lives there. He was let go from the Board of Regents after less than two years, and he thinks he might know why.? 

“They're really not friendly to outside ideas,” he said. “They're limited because, frankly, people in the state, the board, they don't want to hear about or discuss, or have anything brought up about equities of different people.”  

But Beran says he really enjoyed his time in South Dakota. He thought it was beautiful and the people were friendly, but it wasn’t enough to stay.? 

“When my job ended, you know, that was not the place that we are going to retire,” he said. “One of the one of the things that we both wanted is a place where you measure snow in inches and not feet.” 

But the SDPB survey also reveals some people would never leave the state. In fact, that’s the third most common answer.? 

Kelsey Collier-Wise is one of those people. She’s from South Dakota and is the current mayor of Vermillion. 

“I love South Dakota and I'm a fourth generation South Dakotan,” she said. “This is where my dad is from, and his parents, and his parents’ parents. And so in that way, I have a connection to the whole state.” 

Collier-Wise went to college in Minnesota but was homesick the entire time. She moved back to Vermillion the day after she graduated. She says she’ll never leave again, even though she doesn’t agree with the current political climate. 

“I struggle with some of these calls to get random conservative people to move to South Dakota, when it doesn't even mean anything to them,” she said. “It's like, this place doesn't belong to you just because you've got the same letter after your name as our governor.” 

She finds the idea that only conservatives would want to live in South Dakota frustrating. 

“I think Gen X and early millennials, there was sort of this message that was sent to us that if you're a progressive person, if you're a smart person, you leave the Midwest,” she said “And I think that now you just have a lot more people that are saying, no, I can be a progressive person and live in the Midwest. I can build a life here.” 

Collier-Wise says she does understand why people might move away, she’s just not going to join them.? 

Other responses to the SDPB survey for why people would leave the state include increasing crime rates, particularly in larger cities, and wanting to be closer to out-of-state family. The full survey results will be available for public viewing at starting June 1st.?