Marketing Hometown America (MHA) was originally created as a response to the demographic changes happening in the rural Great Plains. USDA funded research indicated that there was a disconnect between what rural communities were showcasing as their assets and what newcomers were looking for as they relocated.

South Dakota State University Extension logo with a blue "S" and a yellow D"

The program features a series of small community group conversations that encourage participants to see their community assets through the eyes of new residents. Through these discussions they identify and implement actions to create a more welcoming and inviting place for those wishing to relocate, and those already in residence.

From 2020-2021, a team of Extension staff from four states (SD, NE, MN, and IA) focused MHA revisions on three main goals: (1) highlight and incorporate the principles of diversity and inclusion throughout the process; (2) incorporate group facilitation practices from contributing institutions; and (3) provide a variety of electronic tools and resources for sponsoring organizations and communities. In South Dakota, Martin (population 1,100 situated between two Reservations) was the first community to use the new materials, with White River (population 800 bordering a Reservation) signing on in the last quarter of 2022. These communities are very racially diverse, which made the new materials relevant to their populations, and challenged them to bring together new voices at the table.

Steering committees in both communities recruited diverse conversation hosts who were trained by Extension to lead small groups. In Martin, seven were trained, including two Native Americans and five Caucasians. Small group participants varied in ethnicity with many still working on priority projects selected at the community forum. Leaders have been asked to be more involved in City Council activities, joining the Chamber of Commerce, and connecting with other organizations to address key needs in Martin.

White River has three committees working, which are quickly connecting to other groups in town, and stepping into leadership roles. A resident there wrote, “Thanks for all that you did for us! We appreciate your guidance and knowledge. We look forward to the next ‘chapter’!”

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