Small towns, entrepreneurs can create strong business environment

Witte is new member of FDC board

Towns such as Flandreau can more quickly create an environment that showcases businesses and draws visitors to town because the community can be nimble, the state director of the Small Business Development Center told Flandreau Development Corporation members last week.

“People are looking for authentic experiences,” said Jeff Eckhoff whose agency provides business consulting. A small community can clean up its downtown, make it easy for restaurants to serve guests outside and capitalize on its local history, for example. “Those are the places where small towns can really win.”

Small businesses are growing faster than big box stores, too, he said. “I think you have to be judicious, and I think you have to target what you want.”

Eckhoff, along with Michael Haskett, chef and owner of M.B. Haskett in Sioux Falls; Katie Luttmann, owner of Mason Jar Boutique and Mason Jar Consulting; and Ashley Podradsky, associate professor of digital forensics at Dakota State University and co-founder of CybHER, shared a panel discussion at the FDC annual meeting that drew about 75 people April 5 to the Royal River Casino.

During the business meeting, members re-elected Jessica Hovland and Shawn Jaacks and elected newcomer Mike Witte to its board of directors.

Panel members told how they started their businesses and what they have learned.

  • Luttmann, an Arizona native who married a Flandreau man, said her husband, Levi, told her they wouldn’t live anywhere but South Dakota. When it came to opening her business, Mason Jar Boutique, she said she just decided to go for it.

“No matter where you are, you can reach millions of people online,” she said. “Nothing is impossible, especially in a small town.”

In Dell Rapids, she has a retail store and has added an 8,000-square-foot warehouse that serves her online business.

Because Facebook has changed its algorithms and because the boutique business is getting more saturated, the last year in business has been more of a challenge, she said. But those challenges have helped her gain business knowledge, she said. She also has added a consulting company and is hosting a workshop this month in Sioux Falls.

“When I first started Mason Jar, I had no clue what I was doing. I got lucky,” she said. “The hard times have taught me so much more than the good times.”

  • Podradsky, a Flandreau graduate, said the technology coordinator in high school helped her figure out her career interests. As a result, she has been establishing programs to get more girls and women interested in cybersecurity and founded CybHER, an effort to increase diversity in the industry.

Starting out, “One of the things that I saw when I was around a table and in a room, I was the only woman,” she said. She works at hosting camps for girls to get them interested in cyber careers in middle school.

When starting something new, it’s important that efforts aren’t wasted, she said. “One of the things you’re always looking at is sustainability.”

  • Haskett said South Dakota should try and preserve its rural agriculture culture through food. While much is done to support industrial agriculture, he is interested in supporting farmers that can provide vegetables, meats and artisan cheese for the marketplace, including his restaurant.

“I’m all about rural. I’m all about South Dakota,” he said. “Since Flandreau is my county seat, I want to get to know you guys better.”

He grows some of the vegetables for his dishes at M.B. Haskett on his Moody County property.

“I’m not a vegetable farmer. I’m terrible at it,” he said. But he wants to support others who could grow food for a living.

He encouraged potential business owners to find a niche and do something interesting. You need to make darn sure it’s good and you need to keep it that way,” he said.

To illustrate, “We do a diverse menu. We buy local ingredients. We cook everything from scratch,” he said. “We do serve interesting, unique ingredients that you’ll find in fine dining restaurants. We’re fast casual.”

Haskett said it is important to know the industry you’re getting into because business is hard work. Once you’re in business, make adjustments as needed, he said.

“The only reason I’m still doing this is I’m too stubborn to give up.”

It is important to take advice when you’re in business, Eckhoff said.

“If you’re going to be in business, be coachable,” he said. “The smartest thing you could do as a business person is know what you’re doing wrong.”


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