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Press Release

Milbank honored as Community of the Year; Jesse Fonkert and Steve Watson receive Excellence in Economic Development awards

April 25, 2023

SIOUX FALLS, SD – The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) celebrated economic growth and success during its annual conference on Tuesday. During the event, Governor Kristi Noem announced three major award winners: Milbank as Community of the Year along with Jesse Fonkert and Steve Watson as the recipients of the Excellence in Economic Development Award.

“Together, we are making South Dakota the best state in America to live, work, and raise a family,” said Governor Noem. “We have the strongest economy in America and the lowest unemployment rate of all time. Make no mistake – Freedom generated these blessings. And the folks at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development certainly helped!”

The Community of the Year award honors a community that has made strides in economic development, community enhancement, job creation, and quality of life. Milbank is striving to create an environment of economic development success. The community has experienced multi-million-dollar growth from Valley Queen Cheese and Koch Center Senior Living. To accommodate future development, the community is in the planning stages of expanding their industrial park. Housing development is also a priority with three housing developments in the works with opportunities for both single and multi-family housing.

The Excellence in Economic Development award recognizes individuals who have excelled in economic development over their careers.

Jesse Fonkert, President and CEO of Sioux Metro Growth Alliance (SMGA), the largest regional economic development organization in the state, was honored as the first recipient. Fonkert led efforts to rebrand the former Lincoln and Minnehaha County Economic Development organizations into SMGA, with the intention of expanding the organization’s footprint. He firmly believes that a regional approach to economic development enables all communities to achieve success.

Steve Watson, development strategist with ISG, was also honored. Watson has been serving South Dakotans for the past 18 years with his work in economic development. Watson provides growth and mentorship to communities and has worked to build strong partnerships with communities and state officials. Watson is leading the Infrastructure First Project for the state, developing a statewide infrastructure plan, identifying 18 high impact economic development sites, along with completing a capital improvement plan for eight communities.

Jesse Fonkert receives the Excellence in Economic Development award.
Steve Watson receives the Excellence in Economic Development award.
Milbank receives the Community of the Year award.

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