Lalley: The why behind the burst in South Dakota population

Planning, not politics, enables growth in the Sioux Falls metro area.

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Phillips Avenue in downtown Sioux Falls.
Adam Thury / Sioux Falls Live


Why, out of all the states of the Upper Midwest, is South Dakota growing at such an accelerated pace?

It’s the first question that comes to mind when you look at the most recent population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

As I wrote this week, our state grew by 1.5% for the year ending on July 1.

That doesn’t seem like a big jump but it was good for fifth in the country over that stretch.


And it was well ahead of Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin, which all came a 10th or 2 percentage points on the plus side.

Our neighbor to the northwest — Montana — also was at 1.5%, but just behind us in sixth place. Montana is clearly not in the Midwest, however, even if we do share a bit of border.

So, again, why us?

More specifically, why Sioux Falls?

The Sioux Falls metropolitan area fueled 1.5% population increase for the year ending July 1.

We know that a lot of that growth comes from people moving to the metropolitan area, which covers Minnehaha, Lincoln, McCook and Turner counties.

I love Census data and spend more time than I should digging into the spreadsheets, looking at the trends and socioeconomic factors that define who we are.

That’s especially true when it comes to the Sioux Falls metro. Through the decennial hard count and the annual estimates that follow we know a lot about who we are.

But not everything.


There’s no box to check for motivation.

It’s tempting to attribute much of the recent why to Gov. Kristi Noem’s high-profile extolling of the state’s freedom credentials.

That’s probably true to some extent.

It’s also simplistic.

That’s not to downplay any one thing but decades of urban planning laid the groundwork for growth in Sioux Falls, not television appearances.

Freedom requires a good sewer line.

And water, and roads, and schools and fire stations.

None of it is cheap.


We can quibble over what growth should look like, how neighborhoods are designed, where the streets will go and how many parks we need.

That’s just good, clean fun.

Make no mistake, though, it’s those nerdy bureaucrats in cubicles at City Centre that make sure we’re ready.

Our ability to accept 5,000 or 10,000 new residents to our city depends on planning 20 and 30 years ago.

I’m lucky enough to get to talk to some urban planners at length about the hows and whys of what will happen where. If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s fascinating.

Unfortunately, the well-educated and well-intended planners often aren’t the ones who make final decisions. That usually falls on politicians, influenced by developers and average citizens who want life to be easier, not more communal.

There’s a dance to it all. A local government two-step where it’s not always clear who’s leading.

If you want to know why we’re growing, spend a little less time watching talk shows and show up for the next public input session about a road project, pools or parks.


Instead of streaming some YouTube hero, click on the occasional city council meeting.

There’s a lot of why there.

Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at
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