St. Joseph’s population declined to 72,000 people in the last 10 years. But Sioux City, Iowa, has defied the odds of the rural exodus and offers insight on how to grow.
Sioux City is a straight shot up Interstate 29, about two hours north of Omaha. Like St. Joseph, it sits on the banks of the Missouri River. But unlike St. Joseph, it’s grown to 85,000 people.
Local citizens and city officials have pointed to aspects of Sioux City that St. Joseph could imitate, the first being its Riverfront.
“I think their river is more open than what ours is,” said Brad Lau, the vice president of economic development for the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce. “Perhaps we can learn with the opportunity with I-229 is that opens up the river potentially for future development.”
In Sioux City, I-29 cuts between the Riverfront and Downtown, similar to I-229 here in St. Joseph. But the space along the Missouri River in Sioux City is much more open and includes trails, parks and a small amphitheater. The city is actually in the process of further redevelopment that will cost between $12 million and $16 million.
“There’s an enormous project being undertaken on the Riverfront at this time, which includes parks and recreational spaces, and basketball courts and pickleball courts,” said Chris McGowan, the president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce. “Just basic recognition that the river is an asset to the community and we have historically underutilized it.”
Sioux City does have an advantage over St. Joseph. It can develop on the other side of the river in what is considered South Sioux City, Nebraska. This area includes a campground, baseball fields and a hotel. St. Joseph doesn’t have the space for that kind of development.
Directly across the highway is Downtown Sioux City, with a Hard Rock Cafe Hotel and Casino and the Tyson Event Center — a 10,000-seat arena.
“They do have an actual casino hotel with a big restaurant and convention center in their downtown,” City Councilman Brian Myers said. “One thing our Downtown really is lacking is a modern convention center that’s big enough to host the events that some of these other cities our size are able to do.”
The revitalization of St. Joseph’s Downtown is nothing to scoff at, though. Mosaic Life Care moving into the German American Bank building spurred growth and brought the rise of new restaurants and shops.
But when Scott Meierhoffer, of the Meiehoffer Funeral Home, visited Sioux City, he noticed the central location of the casino, arena, hotels, bars and restaurants created more business and foot traffic.
“I think the infrastructure — events center, casino, hotel, all kind of in the same locale, entertainment district,” Meierhoffer said. “Just the amount of people that were out and about and enjoying and utilizing that infrastructure.”
McGowan said constant investment in the city is what keeps it competitive and growing.
“It does require major investments in quality of life, so that we can not only retain the people that we have, but attract new people, so that the companies that we have that want to grow, have access to the human capital to be able to do so,” he said.
However, Sioux City has valuable aspects that St. Joseph just doesn’t have. For example, it’s a tri-state area.
“When a company looks at our community, when I’m recruiting a business, I have the opportunity to show them sites or buildings in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota,” McGowan said. “Very few locations have that much flexibility.”
While there are clear differences between the two cities, their geographic locations provide opportunities to learn from one another.
“What we do as a community doesn’t include a lot of reinventing the wheel,” McGowan said. “We’ve looked at other communities that we have identified or recognized as successful in certain ways, and we’ve tried to imitate and replicate what they’ve implemented to be successful. If the leadership in St. Joe is taking that same step, I applaud and encourage that.”