DWU student economists prepare regional reports

Recently, Dr. Tracy Dice’s students in Dakota Wesleyan University’s Principles of Macroeconomics course undertook the creation of a business and economic data analysis summary report, leveraging the expertise of local professionals, data from the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office and online resources. The project was motivated by a desire to highlight the economic story of the Mitchell area, recognizing the importance of local economic dynamics and providing students with a practical application of their economic knowledge.

The final report was debuted on Friday, May 3, at a university press conference, hosting South Dakota Secretary of State Monae Johnson as a special guest.  Nearly 20 entities and individuals were consulted as part of the research.

Findings of the report included:

  1. A net increase of 35 new businesses in Mitchell since 2017.  This growth in business entities correlates with a decrease in unemployment rates, suggesting a positive economic trend in the region.
  2. Since 2020, gas prices peaked at $3.88 in 2022, but subsequently declined in 2023. South Dakota’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has shown a remarkable increase of 155% since 2003. Finally, the 0.93% increase in the 30-year interest rate translated to an additional $54,000 in interest over the life of a 30-year mortgage on the median-priced home in Mitchell.
  3. Gender income disparity is evident in Mitchell, with women earning an average of approximately $20,000 less than men. While the majority of workers currently earn less than $50,000, recent years have shown a trend toward higher incomes. An interesting trend emerged in 2020 when high school dropouts began earning more, on average, than individuals with a high school diploma or some college education. The top three household expenses in Mitchell are shelter, transportation, and food, with shelter comprising about 21% of total expenses.
  4. Mitchell experienced an unemployment rate above 3.5% solely in 2020. The city’s population has remained relatively stable, ranging between 15,000 and 16,000 over the past decade. The workforce in Mitchell is predominantly white, with 88% of workers identifying as such. In 2015, job openings in Mitchell doubled, attributed to the opening of Performance Pet Products.
  5. With a small percentage (8%) of unoccupied housing, the Mitchell housing list prices have increased since 2017. The median sales prices surged in December 2022. The active median list price also experienced a notable increase, followed by a subsequent decline. Notably, in 2022, the average sale price briefly exceeded the average list price.
  6. Tourism plays a significant role in Mitchell’s retail and gross sales, particularly during the summer months when downtown businesses thrive. Retail sales constitute a substantial portion of gross sales, with the penny sales tax serving as a reliable indicator of the local economy’s health. Local retailers often collaborate to drive growth collectively. Automotive dealerships have particularly contributed to Mitchell’s retail sales growth in recent years.

The data was presented by Dr. Tracy Dice, Associate Professor of Business and Economics, and students Morgan Edelman, Salvatore O’Neill, Lily Ranschau and Quenton Walls representing the class of 29 students.  CEO of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and Chamber of Commerce Mike Lauritsen was instrumental in bringing the idea for the project to DWU.

About the project, Dice stressed the value of the exercise.  “This is an effective way to teach economics because it is applied, relevant, and practical.  It makes data meaningful.  Students are retaining information because they see how it applies in the real world and they see the relevance in their own lives.  I know that after creating this report, these students will be able to interpret data at a higher level.”

During the press conference, those attending also heard from DWU president Dr. Dan Kittle, provost Dr. Derek Driedger, Secretary Johnson, Lauritsen and Dice.