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Assessment shows Philip's strengths

At the town hall meeting last Thursday night, four officials who donated their time and expertise presented the information gathered in 16 listening sessions. Far left, Lynn Jensen adds a compliment as Ted Haeder, Darlys Baum and Shawn Pritchett agree.

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“Philip is a proud community, and rightly so.”

Ted Haeder of the Community Assessment team said this to start the list – a long list – of strengths already visible concerning the community of Philip.

Haeder is a planner/project manager with the South Dakota Department of Tourism and State Development of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. He was joined by Lynn Jensen, State Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development; Darlys Baum, Executive Director of South Dakota Housing Authority; and Shawn Pritchett, Executive Director of South Dakota Rural Development Council.

After listening to over 157 individuals during 16 different listening sessions and reading scores of written comments, the team summarized their findings at a town hall meeting last Thursday evening, October 14.

Main strengths in the Philip community are: the quality of the school system, the extensiveness and quality of health care, a bank that supports bringing in other businesses, and the people. A commonly stated strength is the people, people, people; nice, giving, hardworking people who eagerly respond when something needs to get done. As the team heard one citizen state, “When I ask for one volunteer, ten show up.”

Jensen said, “People across the state say that Philip is a community that is on the right track. You already have a lot of what other communities are wanting.” These include a solid core of established businesses, one of which is a home-grown industry where executive decisions are made right here. What the team did not hear in the sessions was apathy and negatives.

Some community-voiced weaknesses are: a lack of housing, a lack of school funding, a lack of work opportunities, an out-migration of the youth, some public works issues such as drainage, an average age of firemen and EMTs that is increasing, and an overall aging population. One older citizen amended that with, “Only those people over ninety are senior citizens.”

The team heard many short-term and long-term projects suggested by individuals, including: the community should entice business – new businesses being created, current ones being expanded, and enticing some to move to the area. Philip needs a cafe. Philip needs more and better housing for the elderly, the middle class, and newcomers. Philip needs to expand or relocate the library. A safe walking path is needed. More recreation is needed, especially for the youth and elderly. For the youth, a skate park was suggested. For short-term goals, Baum suggested, “The 2007 Philip Centennial provides an endgame.”

The Philip Chamber of Commerce had asked the South Dakota Rural Development Council for the community assessment for several reasons. Community-based planning is needed to keep Philip a sustainable rural community. The assessment was affordable: the team only charges for room and board, and the South Dakota Community Foundation gave $500 toward those expenses. The sessions gave an opportunity to voice local and ‘outside’ ideas, and to discover new resources for future use. The team also records its time as a cash value already expended toward any future grant applications.

Many other cities have benefited from such community assessments. Douglas, Wyo., is strengthening its tech center and hospital. Lovell, Wyo., is creating an affordable-housing subdivision. Worland, Wyo., is celebrating its ethnic diversity and incorporating it into its leadership. South Dakota cities include Mobridge, Edgemont, and Wall. Wall will be working on re-connecting its community with its school, and with community projects like a wellness center and more assisted living.

The next step in the Philip assessment is the team’s report. It will be finalized in four to six weeks. The report will contain suggestions and recommendations, and possible resources. Everyone will have the opportunity to directly review the report. It will also be on a website: www.sdcommunitynetwork.com.

There will be a follow-up. The team members will return in approximately eight weeks for a priority-setting meeting. The community of Philip will be given all the recommendations so it can set priorities and the direction of the community.

Pritchett emphasizes, “It’s very important that you come to the follow-up meeting. It needs to be a community-wide decision and effort.”

Glenn Parsons, president of the Chamber of Commerce, was appreciative of the turn-out and support of everyone. He said, “Everybody rallied together in the last three days. Everyone made it a neat deal.”