SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A Sioux Falls-based company has a unique goal. To help the 150 small towns in South Dakota not only survive but thrive.
The owners of Porch Light believe there are many advantages to living in a small town that are often overlooked.
Since the pandemic, the number of people working remotely has skyrocketed. Jessica Meyers, one of the owners of a company called Porch Light Services, sees this as a huge opportunity for smaller communities. They work with towns to help them find their own unique way to grow.
“It’s a new idea, by no means go into a rural community and say we have all of the answers. That’s a fast way to be welcome to leave,” said Co-Founder Jessica Meyers.
Meyers gets it. She grew up in a small town in South Dakota and, like many young people, moved away. She lived in New York and Chicago before coming home.
Highmore in central South Dakota, with a population of around 700, is one of the first communities to buy into the Porchlight idea.”
“I am in love with Highmore,” said Meyers. “I love that with a population of under a thousand people, they’ve raised three-quarters of a million dollars for a pool. They are looking at public Wi-Fi accessibility, they are putting festivals together, they have an attitude of why not, let’s go for it.”
Porch Light helps communities focus on four categories.
Basic needs like housing, food, and health care. Amenities, what’s on Main Street. Is there a coffee shop? A gym? Does the town have a swimming pool or ice rink? Tech, anything from broadband expansion to website updates to social media presence. And Community Engagement, special events like Highmore’s first Sunflower Festival planned for next summer.
Once a town tackles those issues, Porch Light goes to work providing community development support.
“They have access to our job board. We will promote them on our website,” said Meyers. “We do social media spotlights. It’s all of the marketing pieces that many times, rural communities don’t have access to. Those are the things we will be doing for them.”
Paula Haiwick grew up on a cattle ranch near Highmore. She moved back home in 2010 with her husband and kids after her mom passed away.
“My dad was out here by himself, and there was nobody that was coming back to the ranch. I had kids in DC, and I wanted them to grow up in a rural area. There are a lot of benefits,” said Haiwick. “I loved growing up and being in a small school. You get to be in everything. You don’t have to choose debate team member or cheerleader; I could be both. And I wanted my kids to have that well-rounded sort of experience.
Haiwick is on the school board and works closely with Highmore School Superintendent Quinton Cermak. He’s also part of the committee that voted to partner with Porchlight. He says they have excellent schools and 20 teachers with a combined experience of 400 years. Cermak says he has several students whose parents work remotely and enjoy knowing their kids are safe in Highmore.
“Driving around town during the summer, there are kids out on their bikes, and they’re all over the place, and nobody really feels uncomfortable allowing their kids to do that,” said Cermak.
Beth Simonson owns the Hydeout Bed and Breakfast. She is one of the leaders of an effort to build a new swimming pool that started two years ago. There is no better example of Highmore’s commitment to the future than the Chase the Ace fundraisers for the new pool.
“My friend Mary said we are going to raise a million. I thought she was absolutely crazy, but here we are two years later, very close to that million dollars. The pool cost 2.35 million dollars, and we just committed our fundraising efforts of a million. The city and the county will come up with the rest of it,” said Simonson.
“The survivability of our state depends not only on Sioux Falls and Rapid City but every single rural community that resides within the four corners of our state, said Meyers.
“I think we can do whatever we put our minds to, and any small town can be that way,” said Simonson. “And I think Porchlight is another way to help us. I’m so inspired by the people in this community and what we can do together.”